Delete your free Slack backlogs!

Why delete Slack backlogs?

Slack and other chat software tend to retain conversation history so that you can see and search what was said in the past. This can be very helpful for historical context and avoiding repeat conversations, but there’s all kinds of reasons why you don’t want to retain backlogs indefinitely:

  • people who join some time after the Slack is formed may find themselves being discussed in backlogs in terms that are uncomfortable now they can see it
  • the relationships of people in the Slack may change over time and previously friendly conversations may be weaponised by members
  • any malicious person who gains access to your Slack (whether by hacking or by being invited) gets the entire history of everything said there to bully or blackmail people with
  • the contents of the Slack might be subject to legal discovery at some point in the future and be used to win a lawsuit against members or owners of the Slack, or else simply dumped into the public record

Learn more in the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Slack privacy campaign: What if All Your Slack Chats Were Leaked?, Slack should give free accounts control over retention.

How to delete Slack backlogs.

If you pay for Slack, you should use their message and file retention feature.

If you have a free Slack, you can do it yourself. If you are using the free plan, you can delete messages through the API. Here’s a really simple sample Python script any admin of your Slack can use, which will delete most messages posted more than 6 weeks ago. (Instructions.)

Alternatively, slack_cleaner2 is nicely flexible if you want to develop your own script. Or members could delete at least their own messages with eg the Message deleter for Slack 2.0 Chrome extension.

Script caveats

You will need owner or administrator access to your Slack instance (or else you cannot delete messages other users wrote).

The script operates with the credentials of the admin who runs it, and will not be able to delete other people’s messages in 1:1 DMs, or any messages in any private channel that admin is not in.

The script will not delete messages older than the 10,000 recent messages that free Slacks have access to (even deleting the newer messages doesn’t restore access to these). Yet these older messages are retained by the company and could be accessed if, eg, someone pays for the Slack in future or if a discovery motion is granted. Unfortunately, you will need to pay for Slack, at least briefly, to access these older messages for deletion.

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Delete your free Slack backlogs! by Mary Gardiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Questions to ask of employers transitioning to supporting permanent telecommuting

Some employers are beginning to announce transitions to remote-friendly or all-remote workforces even after office work is judged safe again. This has a lot of potential upsides in reducing commutes, in increasing job opportunities outside of established tech centres, in giving people access to their preferred working styles.

But there’s also a lot of potential downsides where employees personally pay to recreate the parts of the office experience they need and nevertheless find that their career tops out early or that they’re summoned or semi-summoned back to a tech centre just as they’ve started to realise the benefits of remote work.

Thus, just as I’ve written before about questions you should ask when hired into an existing remote position, you should ask a similar set for a company or position transitioning to remote work, to make sure that it is invested for the long term and is clear about any career or financial sacrifices you will be required to make to be remote.

Are there limits on where employees can be located? It’s quite common for remote employees to be required to be based in certain timezones, countries, or states/provinces where the employer already has some kind of established presence.

Is this transition in fact permanent, or is there a review date? Moving away from a city is a very large investment, often in direct costs but definitely in opportunity costs. Best to make such a decision on a strong commitment from an employer to a long time frame.

Will compensation be adjusted downwards for employers who relocate to an area with lower cost of living (or lower market salaries)? There are some remote-first or remote-friendly employers who pay the same salary no matter where employees are located, but also many which pay against local cost of living or local market conditions.

Will all remote compensation be adjusted downwards on the assumption that everyone will leave high cost of living areas? Hopefully not! Because some people have substantial investments in their current area of residence, eg commitments to their partner’s career or to their local family or friends, or to the cultural scene or their hobbies, or to retaining the option to leave their current employer for another that will require them to be office-based.

Will employees who move to an area with less generous minimum benefits have their benefits cut? Eg, will they lose days of vacation or carer’s leave? Will their insurance be revised in line with their new residence’s minumums?

Will there be formal limits on which positions are available remotely?

Even in the software, creative, and research positions that can be done remotely, it’s common for companies to not allow all positions to be remote. Here’s some possibilities for what this might look like:

  • you can’t become an executive if you’re remote
  • you can’t become a people manager at all if you’re remote
  • you can’t do security-sensitive or personnel-sensitive work if you’re remote
  • you can’t achieve a certain job level if you’re remote

Best to know!

If the company is indeed open to all positions being remote, how are they going to ensure equality of opportunity?

If there are going to still be offices, it may in theory be possible to become an executive or a high level staff member while remote… but it eventually emerges that no one is actually doing those jobs remotely, that those folks are all office-based.

What does the employers plan for developing remote staff careers look like and how will they audit its success?

Will there be training and resources for workers transitioning to remote, for managers who are remote or managing remote workers, etc?

There are specific skills required to manage and be part of both all-remote teams and mixed-remote-office teams. Will these be taught to employees? Will there be trained support for specific situations that may arise (eg, it may be more difficult to reach remote employees in a suspected emergency)?

Will there be financial support for the costs of remote working?

Remote working passes the office maintenance costs onto employees, eg substantial extra energy costs (particularly in areas with very cold winters or very hot summers), additional space, need for office furnishings, higher Internet bills and larger mobile plans, IT equipment, etc. Will the employer reimburse these costs and to what extent?

Ideally this support isn’t too specific. Eg, “we’ll pay for a co-working space”: co-working spaces usually have open office plans and quite a few involve hotdesking (especially if you’re part-time). They’re thus generally not suitable for people who have a lot of sensitive meetings (ie most managers or HR staff), some people who need physical accommodations, or people who are unable to work well in open plan offices.

Conversely, “we’ll pay to fit out your home office”: establishing a home office requires that people have or can afford to move to a place with an extra room, and usually that there are only one or at most two people in the home who need a home office.

Flexibility is better.

Will business travel be mandatory or strongly encouraged?

Quite a lot of remote teams rely on an mandatory or near-mandatory all-hands in-person get together once or twice a year for team building purposes. This may be an easy trade for some to get the benefits of remote work, but it may not be for others, especially for primary carers.

This question may be especially relevant for people who are going to be one of the few remotes on their team and may be expected to travel to the office regularly; and also for managers, who are occasionally expected to travel out to each of their remote reports periodically.

Will there be allowed to be children/dependants in the house during working hours and are there restrictions on their care arrangements? At least when schools and daycares are open, it’s common for employers to insist that if there are children/dependants living with a remote worker, they must have a carer who isn’t the worker. It’s possible (jurisdiction dependent) for them to insist that the house must not have dependants present in work hours at all.

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Questions to ask of employers transitioning to supporting permanent telecommuting by Mary Gardiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Employees needing the most support during an abrupt telecommuting transition

With many employers suddenly transitioning their staff to work from home during the COVID-19 outbreaks, a lot of people are hoping that at least we might get a major transition to permanent support of telecommuting out of the whole thing, by demonstrating a large increase in productivity that it’s assumed follows from working from home.

But working from home is a major infrastructure problem at both a household and a societal level and this will turn out to be a pipe dream if we rely on employees to absorb the cost of long term work from home transitions.

Focusing on the household level, here’s the employee who is best suited to a short-notice work from home: they live in a quiet clean home, with a furnished private office. When they close the door, it stays closed. If they live with children, those children are cared for by another adult, who handles small and medium stresses by themselves. Their pets are quiet or cared for by someone else or both. They have access to a best-in-class business-grade broadband Internet connection. They can do their work with fairly standard office and computer equipment. If they have a disability, their home is already set up to accommodate it well. They enjoy their work well enough and are motivated by the work itself rather than by social connections with their colleagues or by close management. They have an established and sufficient set of social relationships outside the workplace.

And all this is on top of having a transportable profession such as software development, writing, some types of academic research, and some office support jobs.

That’s a lot of ducks to have lined up. Even leaving aside transportable professions, here’s some examples of employees who may be more at risk from work from home, especially from sudden transitions to it:

They share a home with someone who is abusing them, especially if that person is present in work hours. Abuse might include more violence or cruelty following from blaming the victim for stresses on the household, or simply from more access to them. It might also be financial abuse, such as interfering with the victim’s work in order to try and get them fired or get them to quit.

They can’t set up office-like conditions in their home because their home is too small, or they’re a tenant, or they don’t have enough rooms for an office, or they don’t have a private room at all, or they don’t have broadband cabling or their Internet service quality is variable or poor, or they don’t have the money for the required furnishings. Or they have all that but they live with someone who already works from home and claimed the available office space first.

Their home is physically unpleasant due to uncleanliness or bad maintenance (possibly in their control, but might be due to housemates, children, their landlord’s poor maintenance, etc), or nearby construction or traffic noise.

They have a lot of competing priorities at home that draw their attention: other adults are in the house during work hours and are bored or lonely, there’s errands to run, there’s a dog to walk, they get a lot of doorknocking, their family and friends are under the (common) impression that someone who works at home isn’t “really” working and is available for long lunches or drop by chats or can watch other people’s children all day on short notice, etc.

They require workplace accommodations that are difficult to access in their own home, eg an aide, or specialised equipment that needs professional installation, or they’ve been relying on the office for some accommodations such as hard to get foods or a fully accessible shower.

They have an office, but when they close the door, everyone else in the house knocks on it incessantly or issues ear-splitting screams or barks from the other side for hours.

They live with children and those children’s school or daycare is closed, and there’s no other adult in the house or that adult also has a job, so they have to full-time parent/homeschool them on top of having a job.

They live with children and there’s notionally another adult to care for them but that adult hands over everything except perfect behaviour and conditions to them. “The children don’t like the lunch I made! Can you make them one?” “The child has bruised their knee, they need your hugs!” “I don’t understand nappies!” “My video gaming commitments / meditation practice will consume the next three hours, can you watch the children?” (This is a highly gendered co-parenting pattern, your women employees co-parenting with men are more at risk.)

They don’t like their work and they struggle to do it without regular attention from managers or colleagues.

They do like their work OK, but they still rely on regular in-person human interaction, including in ways they may not realise themselves, in order to maintain a regular work cadence or prioritise their work or feel good about their work.

They don’t have sufficient adult social contact without a workplace because they have high social needs, or are a single parent, or live alone unwillingly, or are newly single, or recently relocated.

They’re conflict avoidant and they sometimes deal with conflict by deferring contact with the other person in the conflict. Work from home enables them to ignore chats, decline video meetings, etc in a way that would not be possible in an office. Small interpersonal problems become big ones quickly. (Spoiler: nearly everyone is sometimes conflict avoidant, and nearly everyone sometimes uses electronic communication to defer conflict.)

How do you adapt to these? Not easily, which is why a sudden and forced transition to work from home is in my opinion unlikely to lead to an emphatic demonstration of telecommuting’s superiority, but some provisions include:

  • acknowledge at least some of these concerns, and set aside some budget and manager discretion to expense better internet connections, office equipment furnishings, emergency childcare, ability to rent a small amount of personal private office space
  • initiate or strengthen your support around both mental health and around domestic violence situations and be sure they don’t need access to the office
  • seek advice on whether small gatherings of employees are safe (in the COVID-19 context) and if so, encourage optional cafe meetups and similar
  • actively review with employees who have workplace accommodations whether and how you can provide these in their homes
  • create additional leave plans (paid if possible) for people whose childcare and dependent care plans have fallen apart and cannot be reconstructed
  • consider how you will manage performance reviews and career planning for people who took a productivity hit

Thanks @hashoctothorpe and @leeflower for discussions leading up to this post and identifying some of the patterns listed here.

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Employees needing the most support during an abrupt telecommuting transition by Mary Gardiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Don’t trust Livejournal? Delete your account.

In December 2016, LiveJournal moved their servers to Russia and in April 2017 they updated their terms of use in a way many users find unacceptable.

In January 2017, as people considered the implications of the server move to Russia, I saw a number of people hesitant to delete their accounts as they were hoping to overwrite their data on Livejournal before deleting, by, eg, replacing their entries with Shakespeare’s plays, or with random nonsense, so that Livejournal didn’t have the entry any more. This won’t work and you might as well just delete your Livejournal account.

Here’s a loose analogy for the way that data on a site like Livejournal may be stored:

There’s a journalling website. It stores its entries on vast reams of paper in a giant library and new entries are scribed onto paper and filed.

The “overwrite with nonsense” strategy assumes that any journal entry you make is at a fixed location on a fixed bit of paper for all time. When you update the entry, the scribe goes to the existing bits of paper and writes on top of them. While this is technically possible with hard drives and similar, in a way that it isn’t with literal paper, here’s what more likely actually happens:

You update the entry, replacing it a Shakespearean play. The new version is written on entirely random empty paper (maybe blank, maybe where someone else’s deleted entry once was), and an index in a different part of the library is also updated. It used to say that your entry of January 7 was on floor 6, shelf 216, and now it says that your entry of January 7 was on floor 12, shelf 16.

But the contents of floor 6, shelf 216 are likely not overwritten for some time. Perhaps they’re marked as available to be overwritten, to be reused whenever it seems sensible, but you won’t know when that is. On the other hand, perhaps they are deliberately marked in the index as “an old version of the January 7 entry” for the sake of users having an edit history, or to have an audit trail, or because a lawsuit demands it, or because a government demands it. This may or may not be visible to you.

Even if floor 6, shelf 216 is marked available to be overwritten, it may not be actively erased, and if it isn’t actively erased, it’s available to be searched by a sufficiently determined or empowered person. (And searching unindexed digital storage is a lot faster and cheaper than searching paper, so not one thousandth as determined or empowered as you need to be to search a library full of unindexed paper.)

And even if floor 6, shelf 216 is no longer marked as “an old version of the entry of January 7”, on any moderately well-run website, floor 6, shelf 216 was never the only copy of your entry anyway. What if there was an accident with fire or water or whiteout? There are backups of your entry, probably at least two in the same library and at least one in a different library. These backups are usually moments in time, ie, the state of the entire journalling website as of New Years. The state of the entire journalling website as of New Years the previous year.

These backups are almost certainly never wiped of entries that are simply edited, and without adding a system that searches back through backups and selectively deletes backups of deleted accounts, they most likely contain the complete contents of deleted accounts as well.

So what you’ve ended up with is a situation where floor 12, shelf 16 contains a Shakespearean play, floor 6, shelf 216 likely contains your original entry, and there are several backups around that almost certainly contain your original entry and are designed in such a way as to be found and restored relatively quickly. This is not a much more secure situation than before you replaced the entry with a Shakespearean play; probably not worth the work you did.

All that said, it’s important to know that there are trade-offs in adding secure, permanent deletion. People quite often edit or delete their data accidentally, or temporarily — for example it is quite common to disable social media accounts temporarily to enforce a social media break — and it’s also common to be hacked and have your data deleted by the hacker. Enthusiastic data scubbing will actively harm you in all these cases. On top of that, storage systems fail (in my analogy, the library burns down, except hard drives fail more often than paper does), and backups are especially important then. And any system that goes back in time and edit backups has risks; what if it has a bug (all software has bugs) and deletes things it shouldn’t? System design to balance securely deleting data that users want to permanently delete with rarely or never deleting data they expect to keep is not easy.

So Livejournal or another site has your personal data, what should you do? I suggest that when you no longer use an online service, or you no longer trust in its management, that you take a personal backup of the data if possible and if you want it, and then delete your account.

You cannot usefully take any additional steps like overwriting your account with nonsense to ensure that actual data scrubbing took place and you should assume that it wasn’t scrubbed unless you can find some written guarantee otherwise. However, over time, backups will get selectively pruned, outages will happen, the business may eventually fail and your data will most likely become slowly less available and complete. That’s the best you can do.

For online services you actively use and where you do trust the management enough to keep your account, ask for written descriptions of their data scrubbing practices to be developed for deleted data and deleted accounts, including deletion from backups and handling of disused hard drives.


Tim Chevalier, PSA: Switching to Dreamwidth? (January 2017).

Disclosure: I am an employee of Google. This post does not describe Google’s data deletion practices, in which I’m not an expert in any case; it’s a general description of easy, sometimes harmful, defaults that systems designers could fall into. For Google-specific information, you can view and Google Infrastructure Security Design Overview.

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Don’t trust Livejournal? Delete your account. by Mary Gardiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Your first fundraiser: a timeline

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 the conclusion 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.


Below is a possible timeline for a fundraising drive, emphasising quick launch rather than the kind of preparation you will need to do as your organisation grows. Many large organisations will have longer timelines and probably have dedicated staff planning the next fundraiser as the previous one winds up, but this timeline is designed to be do-able for an organisation aiming for their first fundraiser, which won’t have the ability to go for many months without funds while putting together the perfect fundraiser.

Two to three months before launch: form your core fundraising team or committee and begin meeting at least weekly. Make a budget for your funding needs if you haven’t already. Choose your organisation’s name and get your website and social media set up. Decide to pursue individual fundraising, Search for and engage a fundraising consultant, accountant, or lawyer, if needed. Establish bookkeeping if you haven’t already.

Begin researching and testing fundraising platforms and, if they require applications to use their platform as some crowdfunding sites do, prepare and submit them. Start planning thank you gifts.

One month before launch: decide on your fundraising platform. If you have existing donors or major supporters, have a consultant or other outsider conduct a few exploratory interviews with them. Are they happy with you? If you have existing work or projects, find any that have outcomes or major milestones that can be released during the drive. Develop a timeline for releasing them and tying them into your drive. Order thank you gifts.

Two weeks before launch: contact potential major donors and ask them to pledge a specific sum of money, or to act as a matching donor. Track the pledges that they commit to, and review your fundraising goal in light of the pledges. Test your fundraising platform beginning to end with real payment methods. Based on your pledge results and your ability to take donations, have an explicit “abort/delay campaign?” discussion with your decisionmakers.

One week before launch: soft launch your donation page if possible (crowdfunding software may not allow it). Ask key volunteers or staff to test donations for you with, eg, international credit cards and similar. (Important: do refund their test donations!) Do a test package and shipment of thank you gifts. Continue reviewing whether you should abort or delay.

Hours before launch: soft launch your banner, counter, and any explicit “we’re having a fundraising drive!” text you’re placing on your website. Make any donations you have direct control over (eg, you or your board are making them!). Email your pledged donors and let them know the campaign has kicked off with “help us off to a great start!” information.

Launch: announce your fundraising campaign in blog posts, tweets, to your email lists.

Throughout the campaign: As each donation comes in, send a brief thank you email, which will normally be a form letter although for donations from your personal friends or the very largest donations you will want to write something personal. Ask each donor why they donated and track their answers. Reshare people’s endorsements and calls to donate selectively, and like/favourite the remainder.

Ship thank you gifts at least weekly, if possible, so that early donors can share them while the drive is still running.

Every Tuesday during the drive: (and more often if you can) release some news or updates (“we signed a lease on a community space!”), an interview with a donor, a limited time thank you gift, or a matching campaign. Explicitly call for donations in any news items.

Every Tuesday and Wednesday during the drive: (and more often if you can) update your social media with information about how you’re doing, where to donate, and how to share information.

Three days before close (Monday): launch your largest matching campaign if any.

Last three days of campaign: Promote your matching campaign, and stay in touch with the matching donor. Assign fundraising team members to be paying attention to the fundraiser all day, if possible, and updating social media three times a day during your major donation periods.

Close: send out “we did it!” blog posts, emails and tweets and then stop your publicity promptly. Send thank you cards and emails to the largest donors and everyone who volunteered for the drive. Ship your last thank you gift batch. While you’re no longer actively soliciting donations, do not turn off the ability to accept donations and keep an eye on social media for people wondering if they can still donate; be sure to tell them “yes”.

Since you’re small, you almost certainly are seriously risking burnout and need a break now. Take it, but remember to check in with your donors after no more than 2 months and ideally sooner with your first news about what you’ve done with their donations.

Next time: once you’ve had your needed break, review what worked and didn’t work about your fundraising drive. If you’re going to rely on donations long-term, figure out when your next drive will be, at least approximately, and begin planning for it now.


Thanks to Lana Baldwin, Selena Deckelmann, Kellie Brownell, and Katina Bishop for their valuble advice to the Ada Initiative between 2011 and 2015. Thanks to the Ada Initiative’s board of directors, advisory board, matching donors, and other volunteer fundraisers during this time, as well as our 1400+ individual donors.

Finally, thanks to my co-founder and the Ada Initiative’s Executive Director, Valerie Aurora, who did the lion’s share of the work and worry on each fundraising drive we did.

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

Your first fundraiser: getting the word out

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.

Publicity planning

Once again: don’t be original. The publicity other fundraising drives have done is by definition public, so you can study it and use it for your planning.

It’s also not the time to be coy. People will not give you money if you aren’t invested enough in your mission to straightforwardly and clearly ask for money to work on it. Write scripts for yourself in which you ask for money directly, clearly, and non-defensively. Edit them down into “elevator pitch” or tweetable lengths. Some good phrases are “support us” and “help us”. Look for other short verbs that speak to your particular mission: “teach”, “defend”, “grow”, “build”, “reach”, “begin”, “lead”, “support”, “save”.

Don’t forget about your other audiences aside from potential donors! Earlier in this series, I wrote:

[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.

Make sure that it’s really clear where people can sign up for news and memberships etc, even if they aren’t donating. Otherwise you lose the recruiting part of the drive. As the drive goes on, remember also that you’re speaking to an increasing number of people who’ve already donated; they will also need suggestions on how to support you that aren’t giving money. For both people who can’t donate and people who already have, calls to action are key. Encouraging others to donate is one possible call to action, but you should help them incorporate your mission into their daily lives by encouraging them to join your organisation, advocate for your target community, take classes, contact political representatives, go to meetups or protests, or change their consumption habits among many other actions.

Your website

I’ve written about the basics you should have on your website before your fundraising drive, including answers to the questions “Who we are”, “What we do”, and “How you can help”.

During your drive, you also want to have every page of your website linking extremely prominently to your fundraising drive. Prominent promotion is a page-wide coloured banner at the top of each page of your site. Anything less (eg placing info in your sidebar) will fall prey to people’s ad-filtering neurons. The banner should have an extremely short (25 words or less) call to donate, along the lines of “Donate today to support [our target community]!”, linking to your donation page. If you have a donation amount counter, include it in the banner.

If your organisation already has projects underway, your fundraiser is a great time to release milestones, reports, calls to action, and so on on your website or blog. When you release them, add a call to donate to the end of the page discussing them.

If you want additional website content, interviews with supporters and people in your community are useful during fundraising, because you’re looking for social proof to potential donors that other people already trust and support you. You can also prepare this kind of content in advance of your fundraising drive rather than doing it as needed as you will need to do for social media.

All that said, the conversion rate from “person who landed on your website looking for information about Ada Lovelace” to “person donating” is unsurprisingly pretty low. The reason your website should point to your fundraiser is not to convert casual visitors into donors, it’s to help people who were searching for your fundraiser to find it, to help people who were researching you before donating find their way back to it, and to make sure your regular visitors know about it.


People want to support something that is already successful. The key to your launch day is to get a number of donations very early, to lift your total raised well up off zero. This means having your most committed donors agree to give on the first day: reach out to your pledged donors at launch time and explain that an early donation will encourage others to donate, particularly if they’re willing to share with their communities. If possible, do this during a short “soft launch” phase, prior to ramping up your drive.

While you’ll be focussing matching campaigns on the second half of the drive, it can be good to have some very limited edition thank you gifts at this point too, to reward your committed donors for supporting you early.

Once you go live, own it! Share your fundraising goal publicly in your blog/website, to your email list, and to your social media. You’ve done individual asks by this point, make your first broadcast asks to the world.

Social media

Plan to make social media central to your fundraising drive. The Ada Initiative found that Twitter and to a lesser extent Facebook sharing drove most of our general public donations and Zeynep Tufekci recently ran a Twitter-only campaign for Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders that raised $230,000. Social media could easily drive 75% or more of your total funding.

Get your social media set up and active in advance of your fundraising drive. Make it easy for multiple fundraising staff or volunteers to post to your social media; the Ada Initiative used Hootsuite but we didn’t do a lot of comparison shopping of social media tools.

Aim for a sustainable social media style; you’ll probably post a lot more during fundraising, but it should be in a recognisable voice. If you’re not doing hashtags or emoji or memes the rest of the time, fundraising isn’t a great time to start. On the other hand, it also isn’t a time to stop if that’s been your style so far. Aside from the pretty high risk that you’ll sound stilted in any new social media genre, you’re also hoping to gain followers to stick with you for the long term; this won’t happen if your social media style is totally different when fundraising.

Messages along the lines of “[Organisation] is raising funds to [accomplish mission]. Support us today! [donation url]” are a good default. The Ada Initiative surprised ourselves in having much better re-share results with straightforward progress reports on our drive than inspirational quotes: our followers responded well to “we’re ⅔ of the way there!” and “our donation total is currently prime!” (yes, really, but tech workers were our target audience) and less well to “I loved AdaCamp!” or “As Grace Hopper once said…”

Unlike project releases and interviews with donors or supporters and some other long form content, it’s difficult to draft your social media in advance. Social media moves fast and you’ll want to have your posts move with it. Your fundraising drive can also go any number of ways, and drafting a lot of contingency social media is plain impossible: “it’s week 3 and we now have the largest capitalisation in the world/have reached our total early/are relying on your help to make it this week!” But at the very least, there needs to be a timetable of communications and a person or people who understand that they are going to be writing the week 3 announcement and in charge of scheduling 4 tweets about it. As with announcements, focus on weekdays, especially Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday and especially mornings through to early afternoon in your donors’ timezones.

Ada Initiative donors were very attentive to our graphic counters showing our total raised and the amount still needed. Quite a few used it as part of their calls to donate. I tended to over-engineer our counters, so that they had these features:

  • they could be embedded in other websites
  • they updated in close to real time
  • new signups for recurring donations showed up as a year’s worth of their donations

That was fun, but while you can certainly include graphic counter functionality as something you evaluate when choosing a donation platform, Zeynep Tufecki’s experience suggests that simply regularly stating the figures will get you most of the way there.

Other than counters, the Ada Initiative, always a thoroughly textual organisation, only ventured into visuals a few times. Our biggest successes were related to our pretty thank you gifts and their packaging.

Aside from your own social media, you need to encourage your supporters to publicly share their support. In my article in how long your fundraiser should be, I wrote:

The Ada Initiative donors told us that they often donated after seeing around three calls to donate from different sources

Social media is where they were seeing those three calls to donate. There are several things to try:

  1. If your donation software supports it, suggest a tweet or post to your donors once they’ve donated. Again, something straightforward along the lines of “I donated to [organisation] to support [mission]. Join me! [donation url]” is great.
  2. Ask your volunteers and enthusiastic supporters to re-share your social media posts.
  3. Make your social media interesting enough that people reshare without being asked.

Maintaining contact

The Ada Initiative, after our first drive, assumed that our generous donors would follow our activities on our blog or social media if they wanted to. A year later we heard from our fundraising consultant that many of them wondered where the hell we’d been!

Plan to stay in contact with your donors; they deserve it. Offer them all the ability to opt-in to your email newsletter, and keep your largest and most enthusiastic donors up to date with the occasional one to one email, phone call, or meeting.

Always remember the key principle of fundraising when doing publicity: no one will commit if you won’t. Your confidence in deciding that you need money and asking for it is a major proof your donors need that you will use their money well.

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Your first fundraiser: getting the word out by Mary Gardiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Your first fundraiser: stickers beat t-shirts

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.

Thank you gifts: ideally beautiful, always time-consuming

Thank you gifts, rewards, and similar are a standard part of crowdfunding campaigns, and useful in other fundraising campaigns. Good thank you gifts:

  • let people feel and show their alignment with your organisation and its mission
  • help newcomers learn about your organisation and its mission
  • (if you’re producing something) let people experience the work they helped you create

Displaying the rewards is a key part of showing alignment with you, which usually leads you to things that can be worn or can be used as decorations. This will also help your donor teach their friends about your organisation and its mission. So thank you gifts, like fundraising drives themselves, can help achieve your mission.

On the other hand, thank you gifts cost a lot. They literally cost a lot in design, manufacture, and shipping, and they take a lot of time. It can be tempting to write labour costs down to zero if it’s going to be volunteer labour, but remember opportunity cost: the time, energy, and goodwill you spend on an all-weekend T-shirt mailathon is not getting spent on other things.

Like fundraising overall, the best way to cut down the opportunity cost is to line your rewards up with your mission, and, where possible, have less time-consuming rewards.

If possible, pay for design and artistic expertise when designing your rewards, both for ethical reasons and because it’s more effective. Consider how to stand out from other laptop stickers and hats and decals and pens and so on. The Ada Initiative had great luck with rewards that were pretty and striking. Consider the portrait of Ada Lovelace or the Not Afraid to Say the F-Word sticker: both were designed by artists, both in a visual style not easily found on your laptop or t-shirts already.

At the Ada Initiative, we often gave rewards at 10× or more the cost price of the rewards. Eg, our sticker rewards were for a donation of around $100 and t-shirts for $200.

Which brings me to: don’t do t-shirts. Why? There’s a very limited number of suppliers who will do enough sizes for you, especially in curvier (“women’s”) styles. Once you’ve found the supplier, you have to distribute a size chart, correspond with donors about their size, and find a printer who will work with, say 10 sizes each with 5 shirts. Once printed they’re just bulky enough that shipping is pricey. It’s a big big pain. (Yes, we did do t-shirts. Twice. We’re experts on how much doing t-shirts is a bad idea. I don’t think you should.)

Stickers proved to be a great reward for the Ada Initiative: they’re cheap to produce, they have few design constraints (if it’s 2D, you can get someone to print it as a sticker), it’s easy to do them in high quality, they’re one-size-fits-all and can be shared with friends, and they can be paired with your donor’s identity easily (we had people use them on laptops, motorcycles, and, as a joke, fedoras). We also, in our final campaign, paid attention to our shipping design, making sure the experience of receiving and opening the envelope was itself fun, and including encouragement to share photos of the stickers on social media. Donors also liked scarves and pendants, which are one-size, and which are not as commonly given as rewards as t-shirts are.

Stretch goals

If you hit your fundraising goals, you might choose to set “stretch goals”. These aren’t usually thank you gifts to donors, but rather additional things your organisation will do if you reach the new, higher, funding goal. But they share the problems of thank you gifts: it’s very tempting to pledge things that will cost more than the stretch will earn. Don’t get stuck promising to send a woman to the moon for another $5000 raised.

Planning reasonable stretch goals before your drive is thus important; they’re often things that are on your roadmap anyway, or adjustments to things on your roadmap. Once again, don’t be original: study other organisations’s stretch goals.


For more on crowdfunding rewards, particularly for raising funds for creative projects where delivery of the project is a key reward, see Marian Call’s Kickstarter Math is Weird.

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Your first fundraiser: stickers beat t-shirts by Mary Gardiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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.

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.