Your first fundraiser: making donations easy

In 2011, I co-founded the Ada Initiative, a charitable organisation promoting and supporting women in open technology and culture. Between 2011 and 2014, we ran five fundraising drives, four successfully. This article is part of a series sharing what I learned in the hope that new women in technology groups and other activist groups can skip to advanced level fundraising much sooner and spend the least time and the most joy on fundraising that they possibly can.

You need a donation website

Before you launch an online fundraiser, you need a tested, reliable, way to accept donations online by credit card, or by your location’s primary online payment mechanism. You might accept donations through an existing product such as a crowdfunding platform, or through a more customised donation website that you developed yourself.

This article goes through the considerations that go into whether to use a turn-key solution, and if not, how to design a custom donation website.

Get the basics set up

Before you get into the nitty gritty of a specific donation website, make sure you have the following:

  • a name for your organisation
  • a registered domain name
  • a website at that domain name that prominently answer the questions “Who we are”, “What we do”, and “How you can help”
  • all the social media accounts you plan to use registered and at least ready to go, ideally already active and beginning to attract followers
  • a way to send announcement emails, and a way for people to sign up for the emails
  • a way to contact the organisation’s leaders or spokespeople directly (usually an email address)

Remember that your drive is a major publicity event for you, and will attract not only donors, but potential staff, volunteers, members, allies, and journalists, not to mention donors to future drives. Be ready for these people, both to help them find what they need, and to keep them up to date as you grow.

“How you can help” can list your donation website, any membership signup you have, and any job or volunteer opportunities. “How you can help” took a few revisions for the Ada Initiative, which was a non-membership service organisation relying mostly on the labour of salaried staff rather than volunteers. But if you have, as we did, programs that individuals can reuse in their own communities, or actions that people can take to advance your cause without formally joining, this is where you can describe those too. Think of it as “how you can help our cause” as well as “how you can help our organisation”.

Paypal button?

One of the simplest donation options is the Paypal donate button. The Ada Initiative ran our first successful campaign and raised over $80,000 with a Paypal button supported by blog posts and social media. These are worth considering because they’re so easy; here’s some tradeoffs.

You’ll need to work with Paypal.

Aside from the ease of setting up the donate button, in the US it also tends to be the case that you can set up a Paypal account fairly easily, at some risk of them holding funds if they later find you aren’t a customer they’re willing to work with. (In other countries, this varies. Setting up a Paypal account may be no less difficult than any other payments processor.)

But there are potential disadvantages:

  • While it’s possible to whitelabel Paypal to various extents if you do more development, the simple donate button option will send your donors through Paypal’s branded payment flow, which will encourage donors to do things that benefit Paypal (signing up for or logging into a Paypal account) rather than you (finishing their donation as quickly as possible).
  • Some donors resist using Paypal for user interface, ethical, or business practices reasons. The Ada Initiative, which targeted tech industry workers, had a lot of complaints when we only accepted Paypal from people who could use Paypal technically, but refused to.
  • Paypal accounts aren’t as widespread as other payment mechanisms in some markets. (I’ve found it difficult to find country-by-country statistics, but in Australia industry reports guesstimate that about 25% of Australians have an active Paypal account, and about 70% have a credit card.)
  • For your international donors, their exchange rates are pretty awful compared to card networks.

You’ll need to suggest donation amounts elsewhere. There’s advantages in suggesting donation amounts to your donors; you can influence their donation amount considerably. But Paypal will have them enter it themselves. You’ll want to give them some guide to donation amounts before sending them on the Paypal workflow.

You’ll need to keep your donors informed of your success elsewhere. The Paypal donate button won’t track your donation amounts or provide any guide to donors that they’re donating to a new campaign, or one that’s finishing up, or one that needs more support or one where they’re joining an already successful campaign. You’ll need to give them this information elsewhere.

Custom development or a fundraising website?

It’s not 2011 any more and there are a growing number of ways to build a donation website beyond a Paypal donate button. There’s several factors that will go into the decision about whether to use an existing fundraising platform or whether you develop your own donation website.

Fees. Payment processors and payment infrastructure often charge a fee that is a percentage of funds that flow through their systems. Small changes in this fee can result in large changes in the amount of money you receive at the end of the drive.

Let’s say, for example, that your payment processor charges 3% for their services, and your donation website host another 4%. (Neither are unrealistic figures.) If your campaign raises $100,000, you will pay $3,000 to the payments processor and $4,000 to the donation website host, and $93,000 will be deposited in your bank account from which you must fund your activities as well as any fundraiser rewards and followup.

If those numbers were 2% and 3%, you’d get $2,000 more right there. Payment processing fees are an inevitable part of taking online donations, although you should certainly see how much you can reduce them. Fees paid to donation software companies aren’t inevitable, and can be reduced or avoided with a custom donation website.

On the flipside, the fees to maintain a highly available donation website may also be non-trivial. The Ada Initiative used $100 a month managed VPS hosting during our last fundraising drive, so there’s $1,200 for a yearly fundraiser right there.

Time and labour. This is where custom websites fall down. If you need to pay a programming consultant $200 an hour to develop and maintain your donation website, and they take 10 hours in total to do so, you’ve just spent $2,000. Spending your own time on this (as the Ada Initiative did in spades) will cost in both staff salaries if you pay them, and even if you don’t, will cost in opportunity (the things you didn’t do with that time).

Custom donation websites will also have an ongoing maintenance burden that needs to be budgeted for.

Downtime. Availability of your donation website is very important, particularly in the closing week of the campaign where downtime for a couple of hours could have cost the Ada Initiative tens of thousands at times.

Every link in your chain is a little vulnerable to downtime: payment processors have downtime, fundraising platforms have downtime, your paid host will have downtime, your social media will have downtime.

Generally speaking a larger and more established platform will be the most on top of this; see if you can find their status page and some information about their most recent downtime. With a custom donation solution, you could cut-over to at least a barebones page that still allows donations. Can you, say, switch over from WordPress to a static HTML page on a different host quickly? Can you swap in a different payments processor promptly? (The Ada Initiative had a Paypal button standing by even when our default donation page was much more customised.)

Flexibility. A custom developed website will have much more flexibility. If you have thank you gift structures that don’t match the platform you want to use, or you want to lay out your text just so, or you want to display photos of donors only on even numbered dates, you will tend to lean towards a custom website.

If you’re leaning towards an existing platform, accept that you may have to design your drive around their features rather than the other way around. Build time for comparing platform features into your fundraising timeline.

Recurring donations. If your activities are ongoing and you’re going to be donor-funded indefinitely, taking recurring donations is nearly essential. Many donors will not be able to give as a lump sum what they could give over the course of a year. In addition, recurring donations provide a predictable cashflow which over time reduces your reliance on running constant fundraising drives, improves your ability to budget accurately, and allows you to spend energy elsewhere.

Many crowdfunding websites are designed entirely for one-shot donations for a particular purpose, not for signing up recurring donors. Think very carefully before choosing a platform that locks you out of accepting recurring donations.

Continued availability. If you are going to continue to be donor-funded, don’t ever take your donation form down and thus don’t choose a donation platform that will shut off donations when you reach a given total or a given date. At the end of your drive, you will turn the publicity pointing people to the donation form way down, but it should still be there for people who donate out of season, or who saw the drive but weren’t ready to donate at the time.

Direct donor relationships. You should consider the portability of data from the donation website or system that you use. Can you extract payment information for your bookkeeping and receipts? Can you transfer credit card numbers to a new processor? Can you extract donor emails or other contact details so that you can keep in touch with your donors even if you switch donation systems?

Being unable to migrate payment information or donor contact details is very expensive. You can end up losing half your recurring donation income if you need to ask your donors to manually reenter their payment details into a new system. If you cannot contact previous donors you could lose most of the one-off donations for your next fundraising drive.

Payment processing gotchas

Sign up for your fundraising platform well in advance of your drive’s launch. Most Ada Initiative fundraisers were delayed by discovering that we couldn’t accept payments in the way we wanted to, or couldn’t accept them in a way that was safe and convenient for our donors.

Some examples of issues you may run into:

  • many platforms and processors require that you are incorporated as a not-for-profit in some form before using them to raise funds and quite a lot of platforms are only available for recognised charities (and it’s likely that you can’t afford to apply for charity status without the funds from your first fundraiser!)
  • some platforms require that you apply to use their platform (eg, Kickstarter, which isn’t a charity fundraising platform in any case) and your campaign may not be a fit

What we chose

The Ada Initiative usually found the fee and flexibility arguments persuasive in rejecting turnkey donation websites. During our final, most successful, fundraisers, we were using Gravity Forms on self-hosted WordPress software, with payments processed by the donor’s choice of Stripe (white-labelled, ie, we termed it “credit card”) or Paypal to process payments. (We consistently found that, while our form defaulted to recommending credit card payment, about a third of our donors actively preferred to donate from their Paypal accounts.)

Stripe and similar products that have come onto the payments market in recent years make taking credit card payments through your own website fairly unburdensome and there are lots of cheap and free software such as WordPress plugins with increasingly good support for payments processing.

Designing a donation website

If you have some degree of control over your donation website design, whether because it’s a custom solution or because your host gives you design tools, you should spend a great deal of time and attention making it clear and easy to understand, with as few decisions as possible.

Your audience is people who have already decided to donate. You don’t want someone who has made that decision to have to scroll down to even find the payment form, or to feel they need to review your ten paragraph mission statement one last time. So: have a short statement of your mission, less than 50 words, which has one link (eg to your About or What We Do page) to follow for further information, a supporting image, and a donation form to fill out. End the page with a very short statement about tax deductibility if any and in which countries it applies (since this will be a truly frequently asked question otherwise). Otherwise remove all sidebars, links, headers, banners, menus, and other prominent navigation elements from the page.

Your donors will be strongly influenced both by your suggested donation amounts, ie, if you ask them to choose between $10, $20, and $50, they will donate less than if you ask them to choose between $100, $200, and $500. However, the number of donors at the latter levels will be lower. Tailor the suggested amounts to your expected donors. In addition, consider the “default” donation amount (the one that is pre-selected when people arrive at the page) carefully. Many people will leave it at the default, so if you have $10 visibly selected when they reach the page, $10 you will get.

Throughout the donation form, limit decisions your donors need to make. Collect the minimum information necessary, which unfortunately may still be a lot (between email, credit card fields and shipping addresses).

Streamline your thank you gift structure: filling out web forms is boring, it’s tiring to make decisions, and sometimes when people are deciding whether they want to be listed as a C class supporter of the website or a Q class supporter of the cake sale, they close the tab and go and have some food instead of donating and never come back.

Where possible, have several people make test donations through the website and ask all of them “what should we remove from it?”

Key takeaway: Make your donation page easy to find and easy to fill out. Doing so can easily increase income from your fundraising drive by three or more times.

Disclosure: I had an employment relationship in the past with a payments processor discussed in this article: I was employed at Stripe in 2016. The Ada Initiative used Stripe’s payments product prior to my employment at Stripe, but not concurrently with it.

At the time of writing, I have no financial interest in and receive no compensation from Stripe. I’m currently employed by Google; but not in relation to their payments products.

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Your first fundraiser: making donations easy by Mary Gardiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Your first fundraiser: your early donors

In 2011, I co-founded the Ada Initiative, a charitable organisation promoting and supporting women in open technology and culture. Between 2011 and 2014, we ran five fundraising drives, four successfully. This article is part of a series sharing what I learned in the hope that new women in technology groups and other activist groups can skip to advanced level fundraising much sooner and spend the least time and the most joy on fundraising that they possibly can.

Pre-drive pledges

In my article on how much to ask for I wrote:

To estimate your donors’ ability to give, it’s time to start asking people for money. Specifically, you need to figure out who is very likely to donate, and begin asking them to pledge to donating once your campaign kicks off. The pledge total will comprise a reasonable fraction of your donation total, somewhere between 10 and 25%. Once you have your pledges in, multiply the total by four. Is that enough to do what you need? No? Then you’re at serious risk of not reaching your goal, and you need to either bring your goal down, or figure out who else to ask for pledges.

Specifically, you’re going to send core supporters and likely large donors a message like this:

Dear [Name],

[1–2 sentences: Express excitement about your organisation and its progress.] [1 sentence: Explain your organisations’s need for money.]

To help us get [organisation] off to a great start, we’re going to be doing a fundraising drive, aiming to raise at least enough for [12 months of salaries? 6 months of rental? 6 months of rental costs? 5 memberships for folks who can’t afford one? 10 scholarships?] and get new people involved at the same time.

We need your help! Can you pledge to giving [$X] during our upcoming fundraising drive during [month]? Having your support, especially in the campaign’s early days, could make a big difference in the success of the campaign.

Thank you!

Key things in this message: it’s short, concrete, and asks for a specific amount towards the goal. Each person sending these will want to write a version in their own voice, possibly also tailored to the recipient.

Who to ask, and will they hate me?

This bit is scary, because it is the first time you are putting your name and your relationships to the service of your fundraising. But this doesn’t require cold-calling or asking people who you know will be annoyed you asked.

Here’s who you’re looking to ask: people who already have expressed excitement about and commitment to your mission, people who are interested in you personally and want to see you succeed, people who can afford donations. This isn’t the time to harass a broke friend who is sceptical about your cause into donating. There’s never a time to harass that friend! It’s also not ethical to ask people who you have other financial power over, eg your dependants and your employees (including the organisation’s own employees). Ask people who can say no to you.

Instead, here’s some people you should consider:

  • yourselves, your board, your other volunteers
  • your members and attendees
  • people in your circles who have expressed enthusiasm about your organisation or mission
  • people in your circles who are supportive of you personally, and want to see you succeed

In later fundraising drives, this set of people will also include some of your previous donors, specifically the ones who gave large amounts, the ones who wrote in asking how they could please help further, and the ones who have since become volunteers.

One thing you may find reassuring: angry replies to requests are exceptionally rare, and in fact so is a polite “no”. There are plenty of people who won’t agree to pledge, and the way you’ll know this is their silence; they simply won’t reply to the request.

Estimating pledge amounts

Since you are asking money from committed and interested people, ask for an amount that is meaningful to them, and that represents a commitment when they reflect on it. Once you’ve run other fundraising drives it would be usually be one of the higher suggested amounts on your donation page, which in turn are suggested because some reasonable proportion of donors have proved to be willing to give that amount.

For a first fundraising drive, you and your board and core volunteers can consider your own donation histories. What amounts do you give to organisations you are particularly interested in and want to see succeed? You can also, as always, avoid originality, and survey the donation webpages of similar organisations and those with similar donor profiles (eg, donors are retirees, donors are wealthy professionals, donors are anticapitalists…) and look at their suggested donation amounts. You’ve probably made it onto a few organisation’s mailout lists, how much do they try and solicit from you as a year-end gift? These amounts are around about the right size.

It’s quite common for people to ask if they can pledge a smaller amount than you asked for. Of course you should agree to this.

Other things to ask for

If any of the pledges come in and offer additional help, take it! Depending on who is offering, you could:

  • ask them to volunteer for fundraising: either to join your core fundraising team, or to spread the word on social media, in their workplace, amongst their online community and so on
  • ask them to appear in your marketing: eg ask if you can interview them your website or quote them on your social media about their reason for donating, or if you can use their photograph on your donation website
  • ask them to volunteer their pledge as a matching donor, as in “if you donate during the next 48 hours of the campaign, Mary will match your donation dollar for dollar!”

You probably don’t have the capacity during planning your first fundraiser to also be recruiting and training non-fundraising staff and volunteers for your board or your projects, but if you think your pledged donor would be a better fit for that, you can of course make sure to follow up with them after the drive.

Follow up pledges!

Build a basic tracking list, eg a spreadsheet. Enter in:

  • The potential donor’s name
  • The reason you believe they may pledge
  • The relationship they have with your organisation and who should ask them
  • How much you’re asking for
  • Whether you’ve heard back, what their final pledge amount is, and whether they’ve donated it yet
  • Any complete opt-outs you get (“no, and never ask again”), so that you don’t ask them for future drives

Since silence is a ‘no’, you shouldn’t follow up with people who didn’t respond to your original ask. However, those who did reply and agree to pledge should get two or three followups.

First, contact your agreed pledges first thing after the launch of your campaign (or during any soft launch you do), with a specific message that the best way to help is to donate as early in the campaign as possible and share their participation. A sizeable proportion will enthusiastically do so and let you demonstrate to other donors that there’s a community that has faith in you.

For the others, you’ll want to remind them a couple of times; around halfway through your drive, and shortly before its close. Stay friendly; these are people who have some faith in you, and even if they do not fulfil their pledge they may contribute at some other time. But it’s perfectly fine to follow up along the lines of “you pledged $X to our campaign. If we’ve missed your donation please let us know, otherwise, we’d love it if you donated $X at [site] so that we can [reach our fundraising goal/work on our mission]. Thank you for your support!”

Usually more than 90% of your pledges will be paid, and as per the previous article on setting your goals, they will make up up to 25% of your fundraising total. And they will contribute immeasurably to your belief that your fundraiser and your organisation can succeed!

Matching campaigns

Extremely large pledges are best converted into matching campaigns; the “you give $1 and [person] gives $1” style of campaign. These are usually more time limited than your campaign as a whole, perhaps 3–5 days. Announce big matching challenges in the last two weeks of your campaign to encourage the least committed donors.

Be careful to make the matching total achievable; it should be a stretchy but not unrealistic goal for that time period. Donors won’t act on “help us reach our $250,000 match pledge” if you’ve only raised $10,000 to that point. As a guide, you probably don’t want to announce a matching pledge that exceeds half your total raised to that point. In addition, people should always be encouraged to give immediately. Don’t announce something like “a big donation reward/matching campaign is being announced Friday! look out for it!” or people who were intending to donate will wait until Friday and some of them will forget to come back. Plus you’ll be worried because suddenly your donations have dried up.

Your matching donor should be willing to work with you to promote their matching offer to their own community. You should actively help them: offer them a them a hand preparing or reviewing draft blog entries and social media about their offer. Seek their advice about your outreach during their matching campaign. Check in with them daily during the period of their match offer, letting them know how close they’re getting to their total, how people are hearing about the match and (where you have permission) who donated. Treat your matching donor as the committed fundraising partner they are.

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Your first fundraiser: your early donors by Mary Gardiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

US tech resistance cheatsheet for Australians

I gave an Australian friend a rundown on my sources of information about US opposition to the incoming Trump administration, focussed on tech workers, and she pointed out that my resources were worth sharing; the “Australian technology worker following US tech industry organising” position is not very common. Here’s my little collection of links:

Tech Solidarity. Tech Solidarity is a series of meetings being run in major US cities for technology industry workers on the subject of solidarity with other workers and with technology users, against an authoritarian Trump regime. There’s a Tech Solidarity website, but the best place to find out about their meetings is their Twitter account, and the best place to find out about their politics is the @Pinboard Twitter account run by Tech Solidarity co-organiser Maciej Cegłowski. This is a specific pledge by technology industry workers to not be involved in building technology for the US government to target individuals based on race, religion, or national origin, as well as advocating for specific policies in our workplaces and protesting unethical practices. I am a signatory and several of my friends are organisers. A Tech Solidarity meeting was key in launching the pledge.

Indivisible Guide. A guide to influencing members of Congress when your goals are largely defensive and obstructionist, ie, to hinder the dominant party in Congress or the President’s party in implementing their policy platform.

While this guide is interesting, I think considerable caution is called for in applying much of it to Australian politics without asking Australian activists and staffers for their advice. For example, party discipline in Australia is extremely strong — your representatives, if members of a major party, almost invariably vote with that party — and Cabinet and the ministry are appointed from amidst the members rather than separately. The executive being drawn from the legislature is very very different to how the US executive branch works. The chapter on four local advocacy tactics that actually work may have some inspiration for beginning to engage with your state or federal MP’s local activities if you haven’t done so before.

There are several guides to opposing specific Trump administration policies and initiatives, such as Resistance Manual and the re:act newsletter. There must be more of these appearing every day; I’m not following them closely since the calls to action usually require being a constituent of US members of congress and/or being a US resident.

Your first fundraiser: how long for, when, and how much?

In 2011, I co-founded the Ada Initiative, a charitable organisation promoting and supporting women in open technology and culture. Between 2011 and 2014, we ran five fundraising drives, four successfully. This article is part of a series sharing what I learned in the hope that new women in technology groups and other activist groups can skip to advanced level fundraising much sooner and spend the least time and the most joy on fundraising that they possibly can.

How long for?

Aim for a campaign length of 3½–4½ weeks, beginning on a Monday and ending on a Wednesday. The Ada Initiative donors told us that they often donated after seeing around three calls to donate from different sources; if your fundraising drive is much shorter than three weeks there’s not time for people to see two or three people telling them to donate, and beyond that and you’re just tiring all the volunteers out and making onlookers wonder when they’ll finally stop hearing about this. Expect almost all donations to come in on weekdays and most between Mondays and Wednesdays; hence a Monday launch and Wednesday conclusion.

Try to straddle a month boundary, ideally finishing the campaign in the first or second week of a month. Some of your donors will need to wait on their payday to donate, particularly if you are asking for donations of significant size, and many people are paid towards the end of a month. Starting on the 1st and concluding on, say, the 25th would miss these donors.


This series is aimed at organisations running their first fundraiser, and the best answer to when is as soon as you can because you need the money to achieve significant goals. Don’t hold off your fundraiser for months trying for the magic right month to run it in.

As a caution: it’s best to just launch a fundraiser, and not announce the dates publicly to donors in advance. There’s two reasons for this: it’s quite likely that your dates will slip (the Ada Initiative’s major slips involved being rejected from Kickstarter on one occasion, and needing to fix payment processing issues on two other occasions); and, as discussed later in the series, you should never encourage people to wait until later to donate, unless you are willing and able to personally follow up with them, because short of personal followup they won’t not come back to do so.

That said, for future fundraisers, when you have time to plan a little more in advance, the conventional wisdom that was passed onto us was, in the United States, to hold fundraising drives very close to the end of the calendar year. In the US, the tax year ends on December 31 and so the time when people want to maximise their tax deductions coincides with the lead-up to Christmas when observers of the holiday are focussed on giving and the pleasure of giving. In Australia, where our tax year finishes on June 30, and Christmas coincides with expensive summer holidays, I am less clear on whether there’s a single best time to run a fundraising drive. A time of year that’s reasonably predictable for your regular donors will be useful; the Ada Initiative settled on the September/October period and had good success despite conventional wisdom around delaying until November/December.

We were also advised that it’s considerably harder to raise money in the US in a presidential election year, as many people direct their donation budget to candidates for office. While it’s not possible to skip fundraising every fourth year, it’s worth having a look around you and try and avoid overlapping with any shorter predictable major political events.

On the other hand, if your donors come from a group that has a significant source of money at a certain time of the year (eg, they work for an industry that pays bonuses at the end of the year), that is a good time to aim for!

How much?

This is where your needs meet your donors’ ability to give. For needs, you should prepare a budget. The details of budgeting are out of scope for this series, but remember: don’t be original! You can look up the budgets of similarly sized organisations in their sponsorship prospectuses, their tax filings (eg, the US 990 tax filing for charitable organisations), and many business and non-profit resource websites. For the Ada Initiative staff salaries were the major expense, as is usual for service organisations. As a very loose guide for small service businesses that are paying staff, your total expenses often come out around twice your staff’s salaries. However for volunteer organisations, or organisations that are going to make extensive grants or do development, salaries will be a much smaller part of your budget and other expenses will loom larger.

To estimate your donors’ ability to give, it’s time to start asking people for money. Specifically, you need to figure out who is very likely to donate, and begin asking them to pledge to donating once your campaign kicks off. The pledge total will comprise a reasonable fraction of your donation total, somewhere between 10 and 25%. Once you have your pledges in, multiply the total by four. Is that enough to do what you need? No? Then you’re at serious risk of not reaching your goal, and you need to either bring your goal down, or figure out who else to ask for pledges.

Building a prospect list and asking for pledges is covered in my next article!

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Your first fundraiser: how long for, when, and how much? by Mary Gardiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Your first fundraiser: don’t be original!

In 2011, I co-founded the Ada Initiative, a charitable organisation promoting and supporting women in open technology and culture. Between 2011 and 2014, we ran five fundraising drives, four successfully. This article is part of a series sharing what I learned in the hope that new women in technology groups and other activist groups can skip to advanced level fundraising much sooner and spend the least time and the most joy on fundraising that they possibly can.

Learn from others

I’m an ex-postgraduate student and I know that hackers and academics are accustomed to not feeling that we’re working hard enough, or even behaving ethically, unless we either do something entirely novel, or at least learn everything from first principles. In business and fundraising, that’s not true. Save your originality for your projects and your approach to your mission.

Instead of trying to do original, innovative fundraising, look for best practices and copy them. Search for successful fundraisers and don’t be afraid to mimic their timeline, reward structure, and total goals closely. Eg, if you are launching a feminist hackerspace, you could look at what Double Union and Seattle Attic did for fundraising goals, rewards, and stretch goals, and learn from them in designing your own campaign. If you’re raising money through sponsorship, get hold of other sponsorship prospectuses and learn how they’re formatted, what their usual contents are, and what level of sponsorship is required for each sponsorship benefit.

And of course, also ask the founders/fundraisers of organisations similar to yours which bits of their fundraiser didn’t work for them.

Beyond that, there’s professional advice. At the Ada Initiative, our fundraising strategy was informed by working with four experienced fundraisers with different styles and insights; one for each of the four successful drives, in fact. If your goal is to raise enough money to pay staff (or your fundraising needs are otherwise $50k+), I strongly recommend you engage a fundraising consultant. Here’s some things to look for:

  • investment/alignment with your mission; perhaps not a close enough match to be an advisor or a board member, but the prospective consultant should be pleased with your mission and your major programs and interested in learning more about them
  • alignment with your core fundraising ethics (eg, at the Ada Initiative we didn’t work with consultants who bought or sold donor contact databases)
  • experience with online campaigns, eg, writing or editing blog posts, social media experience, experience with Kickstarter/Indiegogo/etc
  • experience with donors similar to yours (at the Ada Initiative we worked mostly with consultants who had experience raising money from tech workers)

Some of the things you could discuss with a fundraising consultant:

  • basic best practices they advise everyone on (eg, time of year to raise funds, weekdays to make major announcements on, the kind of thing I’m going through in this series)
  • doing donor outreach before doing any fundraising, such as phone calls to former/likely donors checking in on how they feel about the organisation (donors may feel more comfortable being critical of the organisation to a consultant than they would be to a founder, and the consultant will be able to hear the criticism non-defensively too)
  • doing, or subcontracting, or instructing your staff on, the detail work of the fundraising, such as writing copy, staffing social media, recruiting matching donors
  • choice of platform, eg, which crowdfunding site to use, which payment processor to use, which CRM to use, donation page UX (although these are rarer skillsets than fundraising best practices)

Organisations similar to yours are the best source of recommendations for fundraising consultants. It’s also something a good board may have advice on.

A good board are themselves invaluable. At different times we got key advice from both board members who were fundraising experts and board members who had run other kinds of businesses. Seek out board members, committee members, or informal advisors who have successfully raised money in any form in the past. They may not have much time to volunteer to help you with the nuts and bolts, but should be open to a few hour-long advice giving and war story exchanging conversations before and during your campaign.

Many brilliant and hard-working people have run fundraisers before you, and fundraising norms are generally well-established. Look for what works, and use it to get your organisation off to the best possible start.

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Your first fundraiser: don’t be original! by Mary Gardiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Sunday 15 January 2017

There comes a time in any life partnership where you learnt to recognise the tone behind “Mary, come here?” which means “you need to come urgently, but not in a way that displays visible alarm or it will make the whole situation worse.”

Such it was when Andrew saw what he thought was a cat in our living room, turned on a light, and instead discovered a possum.`Not that a cat would be all that much different in terms of what comes next, it’s just harder to picture a big dark eyed brush tail possum being what gazes back at you. Luckily it was a Sydney possum, so fairly tame, not a rural scared possum or their aggressive introduced cousins in New Zealand. Sydney possums are selective in their aggression; they save it for each other when two or more have got into the same rubbish bin. It wasn’t tame enough to be handled and even if it had been I’d have been uneasy with that, but after a few failed attempts to herd it out the back door it shot upstairs, out our balcony door and into the frangipani. Sydney: native animals and introduced trees.

Otherwise, it’s hot and humid. The sort of hot and humid where the big story about the weather is “we normally have [negligible] days over 35° in Sydney each year and this year we’ve had [really quite a lot]!” This year is the first in many that I haven’t been working from home in an unairconditioned home office so it’s a lot easier to let the days glide on past from my gilded cage. It’s harder to sleep even with airconditioning — Friday night was the hottest January night on record — because of the heat that leeches out of the bed over the course of the night, but of course unairconditioned past Mary is unimpressed with my complaints. So far there’s been precious few Sydney storms to break the tedium.

This is usually the season of ceaseless weekends, and this weekend Andrew and V went to the cricket, and today we went to Greenwich Baths with J, S, and L. But it seems like after our holiday next week we’ll be having a quiet summer. Quiet, and maybe at times a bit cooler, but I rather doubt it.

Your first fundraiser: why fundraise?

In 2011, I co-founded the Ada Initiative, a charitable organisation promoting and supporting women in open technology and culture. Between 2011 and 2014, we ran five fundraising drives, four successfully. This article is part of a series sharing what I learned in the hope that new women in technology groups and other activist groups can skip to advanced level fundraising much sooner and spend the least time and the most joy on fundraising that they possibly can.

Why you should have a fundraising drive

In 2014, in the Ada Initiative’s article on choosing a funding model we wrote:

Often activists will reach for every funding opportunity they can: individual fundraising campaign, yes! Government grants, yes! Selling stickers, yes! Sucking up to wealthy potential donors at lavish one-on-one dinners, absolutely! But it is crucial to pick just two or three funding sources and concentrate on them.

Raising money in any form takes time, practice, dedication, and skill. Pursuing too many forms of funding will just mean that you’re bad at all of them. Some diversification of funding sources is often recommended, but the base requirement is a reliable funding source[…]

Since mid-2011, the bedrock of the Ada Initiative’s funding has come from a few hundred individuals within the technology community. Being accountable to donors who are primarily interested in culture change even when it has no direct benefit to themselves allows us to take on more radical programs. This includes work that is not directly connected with hiring or careers, or that is connected with gift and alternative economies like media fandom with little direct connection to corporate profits.

Perhaps the most compelling reason to adopt an individual donor funding model is that donors often become advocates for diversity in tech themselves…

These are great arguments for individual fundraising. Another one is that individual donors are often the most willing to take a risk on a new, untested, project; corporate donors/sponsors are more conservative and often want to see at least an informal track record to figure out what they’re associating their brand with.

If you’ve chosen individual fundraising for these or other reasons, the next question is: why do a drive as opposed to popping a donation form or Paypal donate button on your website and waiting for donations?

The first reason is simple: a drive will earn a lot more money. The Ada Initiative was a reasonably well known organisation with a reasonable amount of web traffic, but spontaneous donations outside a drive were at the rate of one or two donations a month. Our last few fundraising drives on the other hand earned hundreds of thousands of dollars and attracted as many donors in a day as we would get in the entire rest of the year. Our experience was that fundraising revenue exceeded spontaneous donation revenue by a hundred times.

There’s a tempting line of thinking around passive fundraising — I’m prone to it — which is that if your mission was truly great and your approach to it truly excellent, then the world would discover it spontaneously. Asking for money would then prove the inferiority of your mission or your organisation. Here’s a counter-argument: in order to be successful, you need to be the most invested person. If you aren’t committed to your mission, your donors won’t trust you to fufil it. Taking a risk by openly asking for money, explaining why you need it and what you’ll do with it, is one of the best ways to convince your potential donors that you have a chance at doing what needs to be done.

As we wrote in 2014, a good fundraising drive has a complementary goal: raising awareness of your organisation, and getting people involved. There’s at least two possibilities here. If you’re raising funds from the same community you’re going to benefit, your launch donors are likely to be among your key volunteers or members shortly thereafter. If you’re raising money from a different community from the one you’re going to benefit, your launch donors will be key in reaching other donors, and developing your fundraising strategy in future.

In designing your fundraising campaign, you will raise the money you need, and building a community of members and volunteers, or ongoing donors, at the same time. Good fundraising is hard work, but it isn’t a tiresome distraction from your mission. It’s how you will build the community you need to fulfil your mission.

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Your first fundraiser: why fundraise? by Mary Gardiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at

Flickr features I’ve known and loved

As the planning for the sale of Yahoo!/Altaba to Verizon continues, I’m not the only person worried about the fate of Flickr, which has been owned by Yahoo since 2005:

I’ve got a tediously backed-up local copy of my photos and won’t have to kiss them goodbye, but as a happy Pro user of Flickr I’m really worried about its future and beginning an active search for replacements. I’m going to start evaluating possible replacements on the basis of these specific features, roughly in order of importance:

My favourite Flickr features

Embedding my foremost use of Flickr is as a photo host for my parenting blog and, increasingly, to show off my best photos. The ability to embed photographs in third-party websites is essential to me.

Locking at the photo level and guest access. It’s not easy to find non-recent photographs of my children on my Flickr account. That’s because I have a script that marks photos as private once they’re a certain age. Some other types of photos (for example, photos of other children) I often mark as private immediately.

Much of my web life runs this way: just because you can find my recent stuff doesn’t mean you get to casually browse everything I’ve done on the Internet since the beginning of time (circa 1999). I’ve taken full advantage of websites with individual locking every time I’ve used one, including WordPress sites, LiveJournal&Dreamwidth, Pinboard, and, yes, Flickr, and strongly prefer it.

At the same time, the chance of people who care about me obtaining a login to Flickr, or to social-photos-site-of-the-month in order to view pictures of a party we were at is basically nil, so the ability to share links to photos via Flickr’s guest pass system has made it useful to me for semi-private events and photos.

API access. I’m not locking all this stuff on all these sites down by hand! It’s all scripted and done via APIs.

Multiple albums for a single photo I look at my photos through several different types of, uh, “lenses”. There’s events, there’s individuals in the photos (mostly my children), and there’s my show-off albums for my favourite photos or ones most I’m likely to want to share with other people if only they’d ask to see more of my photos. I use albums for all three ways of looking at photos, and thus many of my photos are in both a “my kid at age 3” album and a “visit to the beach in November” album.

I also use tags and I might be able to modify my workflow to use tags to replace some of these features, although the result of a tag search would need to be viewable as a first class album, rarely true in my experience so far.

Creative Commons licencing. I like easily dropping my photos into a big pool of photos that might someday find good uses elsewhere and licence a lot of my non-portraits CC BY for (nearly) maximum re-usability. I fear that even sites that support CC licencing won’t end up being searched by anyone in practice, and if I note a CC licence myself in the description, it’s never going to happen.

Features I’d reluctantly sacrifice

Chromecast support. It’s been really enchanting having our TVs display great photos of our kids throughout their lives, travel we’ve done, and a lot of clouds, all via Chromecast’s support for using Flickr photos for background images, but I’m willing to give it up for my core set of features.

An app. Don’t get me wrong, I do like being able to peruse my photos on my phone, but I’d give it up if I had to. Because I do about half my photography with a DSLR, and edit essentially all my photographs, I don’t upload photos via apps in any case.

Less important

The social ecosystem. I started using Flickr regularly after a lot of people stopped, and I’m indifferent to the social features, eg favourites, comments, following other folks, putting my photos in group albums. I do use some of these, but I won’t be looking for them in a replacement.

Locking to different sets of people. I do use Flickr’s “friends” and “family” distinction a little, but in giving up social, I’m also happy to give up locking other than “locked” and “not locked”.

And now, I’m afraid, it’s well and truly time to go shopping for a new photo host. My favourite. Only not.

Your first fundraiser: what the Ada Initiative learned the hard way

In 2011, I co-founded the Ada Initiative, a charitable organisation promoting and supporting women in open technology and culture. Between 2011 and 2014, we ran five fundraising drives, four successfully.

We made a bunch of bad decisions along the way. For example, after our first drive in 2011, we stopped accepting donations, and moreover assumed that folks who had been denied the opportunity to donate in mid-2011 would still be there and keen in early 2012 (spoiler: no they weren’t). We offered t-shirts as a donor thank you gift. Worse: we offered t-shirts twice.

We also got a lot of excellent advice from fundraising experts and from our fabulous boards of directors, and through a combination of hard work (both ourselves and our volunteers!), good ideas, and good luck, had a lot of success. For several years I’ve been informally advising other women in technology groups on fundraising for the first time ever,

Over the next several weeks, I’m publishing a series of articles with my fundraising wisdom, with the hope that new women in technology groups and other activist groups can skip to advanced level fundraising much sooner. May you spend the least time and the most joy on fundraising that you possibly can!

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Your first fundraiser: what the Ada Initiative learned the hard way by Mary Gardiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Friday 6 January 2017

Between my weak right shoulder, my total dependence on thyroid replacement hormone and my extreme sentimentality surrounding changing anything at all for my children, I’m something of a soft target for anyone bent on my destruction.

In early 2014 I dutifully trotted teeny floppy little baby A, aged 11 weeks, to her new daycare, and yesterday she ended her time there with last snuggles with the carers who looked after her as a baby, and I think I felt exactly the same both times. It feels like less of a “my baby, her first/last day of daycare/school!” cliché when you’re in it, and I haven’t always been this change-averse. It’s new as of about a year ago when even adventurous V was not happy to be starting a new school.

People tell me kids cope just fine, but I was in my fifth school by my ninth birthday and I think it’s not a coincidence that I feel like this about jerking my kids around between institutions and Andrew, who changed school only once other than the primary to high school change, doesn’t. V has recently become very curious about the whole idea of moving, and asked about all the houses I’ve lived in. So I tallied up all of them for him, and the grand total is twenty, ten of them in adulthood in Sydney.

It’s the season for looking back again. Sure, yes, New Years. But I compounded that for myself by having children in January. Since the children are very nearly exactly four years apart in age, I’m doomed to spend my entire parenting journey reliving the events of four years ago but in January it’s extra acute as both of their birthdays approach. Seven years (two moves) ago, it was a hot hot hot summer and I hadn’t received the memo about taking it easy in late pregnancy, even though I was also having regular monitoring for V’s health. Four years (one move) ago, we were free of nappies for a brief window and commencing our second lonely year in that suburb. (For all that I intensely miss it now, it really did take about two and a half years to feel at home there. Don’t move, kids.) Three years (also one move) ago, I was having very stressful late late late late pregnancy monitoring with A; is it that you need a coffee, or your baby needs to be surgically removed? So hard to tell.

I’m not looking forward very far at the moment, but Monday is A’s birthday, and her last day at another daycare I’m far less sentimental about, and then Tuesday is her first day at a daycare across the road from V’s school, where he’s finally been for just as long as his first school, and I’ve almost finished converting my former home office into a TV room for me and Andrew, and I’ve cleared out a bunch of giveaways from the attic, and our baby things will soon be trucked over to a pregnant relative, and maybe, just maybe, the house move we made in May 2015 is finally finally done.