Canine Companions: Powering Their Mission with DIY Fundraising

Canine Companions is leading the service dog industry, and their mission is to help their clients live with greater independence. Their team provides service dogs to adults, children, and veterans with disabilities and facility dogs to professionals working in healthcare, criminal justice, and educational settings.

Since their founding in 1975, Canine Companion’s dogs and all follow-up services are provided to clients at no cost – meaning raising money for their cause is not just important, but essential.

The Canine Companions team, like many national level nonprofits, was looking for a new way to reach untapped donor segments and engage existing supporters. They wanted to grow the organization’s fundraising impact, at scale, without overburdening local chapters and staff.

“Canine Companions frequently hears from our supporters that they want to raise money on our behalf. And the trend is they’re wanting to do so online,” said Nancy Murray, National Events Manager, Canine Companions.

Insert: Do It Yourself Fundraising, also known as DIY Peer-to-Peer Fundraising.

Callout: With DIY fundraising, supporters create personal fundraising pages to raise money on behalf of your cause. (Yes – it’s that easy!) Your nonprofit can harness the creativity and personalized passion of supporters, helping them fundraise their way, without the heavy burden of managing campaigns.

We have seen rapid growth in the adoption of peer-based DIY campaigns. From 2018 to 2021, the percentage of nonprofits using DIY in their fundraising efforts rose from 12% to 20%, and the average gift increased from $99 to $215.

While this proves to be an exciting opportunity for nonprofits to:

  • Leverage social networks and reach new supporters
  • Expand reach and awareness for their mission, and
  • Raise more money for their cause…

There are many myths surrounding DIY Fundraising. Too often, these myths hold organizations back from reaching the full potential of supporter-led fundraising campaigns or deter nonprofits from implementing DIY Fundraising.

Let’s dive into each and how Canine companions was able to de-bunk them all.

  1.   DIY Fundraising is limited.
  2.   We don’t have time to manage a DIY campaign.
  3.   If we build it, they will come.
  4.   DIY Fundraising is not for our supporters, they are ____.
  5.   You can’t retain peer-to-peer fundraising donors.

Myth #1: DIY Fundraising is limited.

The first myth surrounding DIY Fundraising is that it’s limited.

When individuals think about DIY, what typically comes to mind is birthday fundraisers. But DIY Fundraising is so much more!

DIY Fundraising is all about giving your supporters the tools to be creative and fundraise in any way that fuels their passions. When you do so, the opportunities are limitless.

For the Canine Companions team, it was all about making it easy and giving options to their supporters.

We made it so simple for them. They had an easy-to-use platform to create their page and they were set. From there, they really were creative in how they raised money and shared why they were supporting us. And it was all right on their fundraising page – you can tell your story right there!” explained Murray.

There’s no denying the creativity of Canine Companion’s supporters. Here are just a few examples of successful campaigns:

  • Virtual cocktail party with a mixology class from a bartender
  • Memorial fundraiser in honor of a supporter’s dog that passed away
  • Fundraiser on behalf of a couple in lieu of wedding gifts
  • Fraternity pizza party with a guest appearance from service dogs in-training

During the holidays, a neighborhood even hosted a light party and bake sale to raise money for the cause. The planning committee created a QR code for people to scan when they entered the neighborhood, and it took them straight to their DIY site. They raised over $10,000!

DIY can take on many different forms. Equipping and empowering your supporters to be creative is key, and the OneCause peer-to-peer platform has enabled us to do both,” said Murray.

That’s what it’s all about – empowering your supporters to fundraise their way. When you do that, DIY Fundraising is anything but limited.

Myth #2: We don’t have time to manage a DIY Fundraising campaign

The second myth surrounding DIY Fundraising is that it is time consuming for staff.

Think about it this way – when you launch a DIY campaign, it’s like having an employee who works for you 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You set it up once and you benefit from it all year round!

Take Canine Companion’s annual Dog Fest for example. This national event is volunteer led and staff supported. So, all the event logistics, publicity, and overall fundraising efforts are handled by their passionate volunteers.

This is one of the reasons that Canine Companions was drawn to the OneCause Peer-to-Peer platform. When it came to creating an event site for their national signature event, DogFest, the staff only had to create one template in the software that was then easily replicated. With a few minor customizations, the organization was ready to roll with 15 events in different communities, with very little staff time required!

What’s most valuable to us, as staff, is that it’s really easy to set up and even easier for our supporters to get fundraising. So the standardizing and streamlining of our efforts lends itself to the success of Dog Fest as a whole,” said Murray.

While the team provides each volunteer planning committee with the software, training, and collateral needed to be successful, it’s really up to the volunteers to get creative with the event. And the staff, with the help of OneCause Peer-to-Peer software, is there to support them and cheer them on.

What’s so great is that, although the event is templated, it reflects the local community. And that’s how we as staff are able to bring in extra creativity – because the team spends less time on set up and more time on donor and event engagement,” said Murray.

One of Murray’s favorite features is the supporter recognition tools. Whenever a participant recruits someone to their fundraising team or reaches a donation milestone, they get instant recognition and gratitude from the organization via the customized emails built into software.

With the right technology and a passionate volunteer base, the Canine Companions team was able to spread their mission far and wide in no time.

Myth #3: If we build it, they will come

Unlike the lesson from “Field of Dreams,” just because a DIY campaign is built, doesn’t mean that contributors will come or that donations will flood in.

Here’s the good news though – the work isn’t in helping your supporters launch their campaign (they can do that on their own). The work comes down to making sure people know about the opportunity to create their own DIY fundraiser. And that’s relatively easy!

Canine Companions took to many different channels to promote their DIY campaign, including:

  • Prominent location on their website
  • All social media channels
  • Online newsletters
  • Monthly magazine feature

Their key to success though, was their volunteers.

Makes sense, right? Volunteers want to do more for your organization, they’re just looking for the right avenue to do so. They’re the perfect people to market your DIY campaign or create one themselves!

Creating a DIY fundraiser is a great opportunity in this post-covid world because volunteers can still support your mission without physically coming on site to your facility or office.

One of the most successful ways that Canine Companions spread the word about DIY and sparked creativity with their donor base is by including a “Featured Fundraiser” section at the top of their site. They were able to show off their donors, show their appreciation, and inspire other supporters to join in on the fun.

Even though DIY fundraising campaigns are an individual peer-to-peer activity, people are still competitive! When they see what others are doing, they’re inspired to tap into their own passions to create a unique event or up their fundraising goals,” said Murray.

By featuring their supporters, Canine Companions was able to…

  • Recognize and thank top supporters
  • Inspire others to create a DIY campaign
  • Fuel their participants’ competitive spirits

…all at once!

Myth #4 DIY Fundraising is Not for our Supporters, They Are _____.

Many nonprofits discount the willingness and ability of their supporters to harness the power of DIY Fundraising by saying they’re…

  • Too old
  • Not tech savvy
  • Stuck in their ways
  • Not interested in doing more

We’ve heard it all!

Here’s the reality though. DIY Fundraising is not hard, so long as 1) your peer-to-peer platform is mobile friendly and 2) it’s easy to donate.

We thought our older audience wouldn’t connect with the technology. But we found that people were able to register and create their fundraising pages with ease,” said Murray.

Canine Companion’s supporter demographic skews female, ranging from 40-65 years of age. Murray explained that before switching to OneCause, Canine Companion’s supporters frequently held Facebook Fundraisers.

They were grateful for the support, but knew that with Facebook Fundraisers came no donor data. That meant the Canine Companion team couldn’t reach out to, thank, or educate the donors supporting their participants’ fundraisers.

That’s why we were really excited to switch to OneCause in 2020. We were able to provide not only an easy-to-use peer-to-peer platform for our donors, but also that Facebook integration. Now we’re able to capture their information, steward these donors, and educate them about our mission. And our supporters love it,” said Murray.

Moral of the story? Don’t underestimate your supporters! They’re ready to help you push your mission forward. If you give them the right tools to do so, you’ll reap the benefits for years to come.

Myth #5 You can’t retain peer-to-peer fundraising donors

According to the OneCause Giving Experience Study, 47% of social donors who donated to a campaign said that they were likely to become regular donors. That’s almost half of social donors saying they would sustain giving to your cause!

You just have to follow up and make the ask.

But it’s important to note that you can’t treat these donors like any other donor. Most donors are showing their support because their mom, friend, coworker, uncle, asked them to – not necessarily because they know about or are connected to your mission.

That’s why it’s important to not throw these individuals straight into your normal newsletters. Put them in their own email group, and from there, educate them on who you are, what you do, and the impact you’re making on the community.

If someone has donated through a DIY peer-to-peer activity or event, we limit our communications to mission-based messaging as a means to educate them. We wait months before asking them to make another donation because it takes time to build that relationship,” said Murray.

Wrapping up!

We know from recent OneCause research that today’s donors:

  • Hear about giving opportunities from their social networks,
  • Give to nonprofits to support their friends & causes they are passionate about,
  • Are motivated by the fun of fundraising, and
  • Want an easy & seamless giving experience, above all else.

So, what does this mean for your nonprofit? DIY Fundraising is the perfect way for you to dramatically grow your fundraising impact, at scale, by reaching and engaging new donors.

Don’t let the myths surrounding DIY Fundraising hold you back. These campaigns, if done right, can be turn-key, presenting nonprofits with an easy way to make fundraising easy for your supporters and raise more.