Shedd Aquarium: How Ambassador Fundraising™ Made the Giving Experience Easy


Shedd Aquarium, home to downtown Chicago’s favorite otters, belugas, seahorses and many other aquatic animals, is a beloved cultural jewel in the Windy City. Like many nonprofits, its mission is sustained by the gifts of the dedicated patrons who love, understand, and cherish it.

The aquarium is supported by active groups of charitable boards, like the Shedd Aquarium Auxiliary Board, where professionals and wildlife enthusiasts join together to make a difference for the aquatic animal world by raising funds and spreading the aquarium’s mission.

This year, Shedd Aquarium engaged their Auxiliary Board in a successful Ambassador Fundraising campaign, ran in conjunction with its signature summer fundraising event, Out of the BLU, to leverage the social networks and raise more funds.

Ambassador fundraising provides nonprofits an innovative and easy way to harness their most loyal supporters and turn them into active fundraisers by pairing peer-based fundraising with signature events (think gala, auctions, golf outings, and other ticketed events).



Like many charitable institutions, Shedd has a “give & get” requirement for Auxiliary Board members. They are required to either donate or raise an annual amount as part of their membership. Shedd decided to make it fun and easy for members to reach their annual pledge by using social fundraising leading up to their signature party with a purpose, Out of the BLU!

Today’s donors are constantly on the go, digitally connected and presented with a multitude of charitable causes that they can give to. So, the question for Shedd and many nonprofits, is how to reach them.

With a small special events staff and a jam-packed event calendar, the aquarium needed a creative strategy to attract social donors; especially one that kept fundraising easy for them and the board. By utilizing their board with an Ambassador Fundraising strategy on OneCause’s Peer-to-Peer platform, magic happened.



The Shedd staff armed their board members with OneCause peer-to-peer fundraising tools and asked them to broadcast the Out of the BLU event on their social networks. The board members went to their social channels, getting friends to purchase event tickets, make donations, and spread the word about the aquarium and the impact of their fundraising efforts.

Make it Easy & They Will Come

Shedd’s event team set up their Ambassadors for success with one “Social Toolkit” full of content to post on social media. These ranged from videos communicating Shedd Aquarium’s mission, rescue animal success stories, and various pictures. The Ambassadors posted, and their networks responded.

Shedd Aquarium Social Toolkit

Sample Content Provided in Ambassador Toolkit

Best of all, the OneCause peer-to-peer software made social posting and giving easy. Auxiliary Board members could post solicitations and updates right from their personal participant pages with the click of a button.

The key to success for us was really easy, user-friendly software that made it simple for us and for board members to setup, and for people’s grandparents, friends, co-workers to quickly give a $5, $10, $20 or higher donation,” said Abby Siwak, Manager of Individual Giving at Shedd Aquarium.

Because giving was easy, it took off the pressure of the Shedd team and their Ambassadors. Gone were the days of worrying if adding another event would stretch the team and board members too thin.

Motivate & Reward Ambassadors


Sample Leaderboard & Social Recruitment Tracking

Motivating participants is core to building momentum and hitting goals. Because the OneCause software allows for challenges and milestone recognition, donors and board members were able to stay engaged in fundraising. Shedd’s team used the built-in point system to pump up Ambassadors throughout the campaign.

By motivating and rewarding social media reach and recruitment, the focus wasn’t solely on dollars raised. Board members were encouraged to amplify the cause, creating a viral fundraising network.

There was also a donor wall that showcased who donated, giving digital recognition for each donation. Automated emails also went out to donors—simplifying communication and creating mass donor touchpoints without the Shedd team having to do anything. OneCause enabled the fundraisers to truly “set it and forget it”!

With the built-in social and communication tools, we were able to use our board members to get the word out to a wider network. We got our mission out there and raised a lot of funds online without having to bring people into our building. It made everything so easy!” said Emily Edwards, Manager of Special Events at Shedd Aquarium.

Connect Them to the Mission

By educating new donors on the vital importance of their gifts and the impacted created, Shedd’s team made sure that content and Ambassador messaging connected these new donors to their mission. Research shows that Social Donors need to feel a connection to the cause and understand of the impact to be motivated to give.

Personal mission statements were a huge motivator and connector for donors who weren’t as familiar with Shedd Aquarium. With the OneCause software, Ambassadors could customize their personal giving pages with reasons why they were fundraising. Through personal mission statements, board members powerf­­­­­ully communicated why the cause was so important to support.

Personal Messaging

Sample Personal Fundraising Message

The power of social proof came alive, connecting virtual donors to the Out of the BLU event and propelling the fundraising forward.

I found virtual fundraising to be way more personal than people like to think. When your Ambassadors put the mission in their own words, it’s so impactful and resonates with donors everywhere,” said Edwards.

Demonstrate the Impact

According to the OneCause Social Donor Study, almost 60% of respondents said they donated because they knew their gift would make a difference. Shedd used images and impact statement features, which are built into the OneCause platform, to communicate how meaningful a gift would be.

Impact Statements

Out of The BLU Event Impact Statements

It wasn’t just providing them with materials, they were able to easily use the software to communicate impact to their networks. Combine this with personal mission statements and we had something very powerful,” said Siwak.



By making giving easy, communicating the mission, and showing impact—Shedd Aquarium’s Ambassador fundraising effort engaged a new donor network to get involved, give, and make a difference.



Shedd Aquarium and their Auxiliary Board’s peer-to-peer efforts on the Out of the BLU fundraiser surpassed their goal! Highlights include:

  • $31,276 raised
  • 104% to goal
  • 61 active fundraisers (Ambassadors)
  • 324 social donors
  • 220 donations

People like to be a part of something bigger, and this was a great way to engage people who wouldn’t be there night-of the Out of the BLU event to see our goal come to life online and to individually support our mission to spark compassion, curiosity and conservation for the aquatic animal world,” said Edwards.

The development team at Shedd Aquarium designed the perfect virtual campaign that allowed them to quickly and easily add another event on to their busy event calendar. Another example of how Ambassadors, a great cause, and easy to use technology, come together to make great fundraising happen.

Connect with a Cause

Want to learn more about Shedd Aquarium’s Ambassador Fundraising campaign? Check out their peer-to-peer site here.