Cathy Hay is a costume artist and business owner who never does things by halves. Instead of raising $5000 to go to Haiti, she conspired with partner Demi and her blog followers to raise $10k for them both to go, plus $4000 for their travel expenses from England. By the time they returned home, the combined total was at just over $17,000. Cathy and Demi both feel that going to Haiti has given their lives deeper meaning, and they look forward to returning soon.

Meet Cathy Hay

Where are you from?

Nottingham, UK

What made you want to go to Haiti?

When I saw the Hope to Haiti video on a Supernatural community, I thought “This is so awesome, but *I* can’t do it.”

Then I read thirty or so comments below it. Every single one said, “This is so awesome, but *I* can’t do it.”
Over and over – “obviously *I* can’t do this…”; “clearly *I* can’t do it…”

A little voice in my head asked me to be different – to stand up and *make* a difference. That takes courage, and I congratulate every single person reading this who’s chosen to step up and have a go. We’re different, and we’re making a difference, whether or not we make it to $5000. A pat on the back, everyone!

What are you hoping to take away from this experience?

An expanded sense of possibility:

  • To discover what I am capable of. To become a better, more effective person.
  • To discover the immense power of teamwork, both at the fundraising and the building stages.
  • To connect with another culture and discover our shared humanity. To be moved to tears.

How did you approach the task of raising $5,000 in donations?

As a small business owner, I know that the hardest part is to get people’s attention. I came up with a project that was huge and crazy, something that would make people sit up and take notice. Knowing that most of my friends and contacts are seamstresses and historical costume geeks like me, I picked the most ridiculously ambitious historical costume I could find, and pledged to recreate it in return for donations. Donors will be able to watch it come together on a private blog over the next year.

I broke it down into bite-sized chunks. If we raise $500 total, I said, I’ll make the first item of underwear. $1000, I’ll make a petticoat. $2000, a corset. Luckily, Edwardian women wore a lot of layers of underwear, and this made it easy to get the donations going, because the interim goals were small and achievable. Furthermore, they had a funny mental picture to work with, since I promised to wear whatever we end up making (and no more) to a huge costume maker’s ball in 2012 – even if I have to go barefoot, in my corset and petticoats!

What are a few of your best fundraising tips?

Give your potential donors – and yourself – an ulterior motive. Notice how little I talked about Haiti above? There are lots and lots of good causes asking for people’s money, every day. We’re so inundated with the world’s enormous needs, we start to tune them out. Give them another reason to give money, something that will affect them, or something they’ll personally get out of it. Give them a reason to give that’s not just altruistic, but that will be like pure crack – for them – whether that’s an amazing costume or a really delicious-looking cupcake!

This doesn’t mean that they forget the altruistic motive, or that Haiti isn’t important, but Haiti instead becomes the final reason that tips them over into giving. “I really want to watch you make that dress/I really want a cupcake… and hey, it’s for a good cause, so I can’t NOT give!”

This also helps *you* stay motivated too. When Haiti seems kind of surreal, far away and unachievable, that dress gets to me. The picture is on my desk, in my face. I’ve GOT to make that dress. Bribe yourself and your donors like you’d persuade a child. “If you stay quiet, you’ll get some candy” works a lot better than “If you stay quiet, Mommy will stay sane!” Even though Mommy staying sane is a lot more important, the candy works to get you there.

Make people compete. There are two ways you can use this:

  • If you’re just starting out on your fundraising journey, threaten to do something weird – like shaving your head – and ask people to donate in favour of shaving your head, or against it. The people who want to see you do it will compete with the people who don’t want you to do it, and each will keep donating in order to ensure that they win.
  • If you’re already on your way to $5000, and you’re finding yourself stalled part way there, consider putting a leaderboard together to thank your donors. Have you noticed how the Crowdrise leaderboard works? We all really, really want to be up there on page 1. It’s like the leaderboard on a videogame. They’ll see their name on your donor leaderboard and want to do better. Include a column that gives the number of donations made. Some people have donated to my fund as many as six times so that they can see their name creep up the ranks!

Give them stages to “complete.” This is also game theory – everyone wants to “complete” all the levels of the game. They worked through all the underwear levels, and now my donors are helping to “complete” the dress. Link each $500 or $1000 to a tangible goal of some sort.

Give them things to “save up” for.If donors give a total of $100 to my fund, their name will be sewn into the dress. I’ve got a lot of people giving a little at a time to “save up” that $100 so that they get the “prize”. I’ve also got similar goals at $15, $500 and $1000, so that each can save up for the goal s/he thinks is achievable.

Visual cues. People like to SEE how they’re doing. We’re all familiar with fundraising “thermometers” – a picture that lets you see the total growing. I used a simple list of the goals for the different pieces of underwear, shading each line of text in red as the total grew, and I used a picture of the dress, uncovering one little section for every $15 raised. In fact, I’m still fundraising to help my partner Demi get to $5000; we’ve uncovered a picture of the back of the dress completely, and the front now looks like this:

Mental pictures work too – since the beginning of our campaign, I’ve not been telling people generally about “going to Haiti”, which is hard to picture if you haven’t been there, but about getting us “on that plane to Haiti”. People can immediately picture us in the seats, on the plane. They can see those seats waiting for us, and they can see that their donations get our butts in those seats. I can repeat the phrase about “getting on that plane” over and over, and it really seems to connect with people. Ditto the mental picture of me in my petticoats at the ball – people can picture it, and that makes it real!

Finally, don’t underestimate the power of a short video (it works for Misha and Random Acts, doesn’t it!) – keep it as immediate and interesting as you can. Here’s mine:

Make people feel like they’re part of your team. Some people will seem hostile, and it can seem abrupt just to ask them for money. Try another approach – ask them for fundraising ideas. Tell them what you’re trying to do, and ask them how they think you could convince *other* people to give money. Get them interested in the project, get them rooting for you, get them to ask *their* friends, and make them feel like they’re part of your team. Once you’ve got them “on side”, *then* ask them for money – if they haven’t already offered!

When people have donated, make sure you make them feel like part of the team too. WE have raised $5000, not *I* have raised $5000. “Thank you so much, WE’re doing so well.” We, we, we. You and your donors are a team. Make them feel like they’re part of something special.

Get the media involved. You may think it’s a long shot, but think about it – your local newspaper is screaming out for interesting stories to print each day or week. They need a constant supply, and they would love to hear from you. You may not get donations from it directly, but it helps the project feel bigger, and you can wave it in the faces of people you’re trying to get help from, to help show that you’re legitimate and serious. Here are two newspaper stories about us:

Steal my ideas. Feel free to plunder my blog for any other ideas you can find:
Here’s the original appeal, from the day I started fundraising:

Can you offer any words of encouragement to those still working towards their fundraising goal?

Sometimes it feels as though you’re trying to extract something from people that they’re unwilling to give. You are not. On Sunday, a young mother told us that she regrets not being able to help the world and do things like going to Haiti because of her responsibility to her young children. My partner Demi [who’s raising some of her total by baking cupcakes] pointed to the cupcake she’d just bought and reminded her that she HAD just made a difference, right here, right now!

Her face lit up. “Oh, yeah! I did, didn’t I!”

You are not just raising money for *you* to do something cool in the world. You are a leader who’s opening a door for the group of people around you, giving each of *them* the means to change the world, each in their own small way. Together, as a result, we’re building something amazing. You are awesome.

Remember: it’s just a matter ot time – just raise a little more each day. Keep going.