Seven social fundraising stories for the holidays

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It's an understatement to say that the end of the year is a busy time for the charitable sector. Many charities and nonprofits can anticipate raising a third of their annual overall online donations in December alone. It shouldn't surprise you to hear that the last two days of the year are when most organizations also experience the heaviest volume of online giving.

In the crowded crush of direct mail, television appeals, print campaigns and email blasts, it's not always easy for a digital campaign to stand out. Some organizations have stepped up to the challenge and are reaching out to online communities. Be inspired by these seven stories of holiday fundraising on web and social channels!

#1: The incredible (ongoing) generosity of Reddit

The Reddit online community is well-known for its frequent acts of collective kindness. That generosity trickles down to a spirit of giving within its individual forums.

Last year, members of the r/Atheism discussion forum decided to "put our morals where our mouths are" and raised a significant $50,000 for Doctors Without Borders online. This year's repeat performance has greatly surpassed expectations, already reaching over $193,000 in online donations.

The campaign reflects the global membership of the group, with donation links for members from Canada, the UK and France. In the spirit of "solidarity and friendly competition", r/Atheism's actions have inspired fellow forums r/Christianity and r/Islam to create their own holiday giving appeals.

Doctors Without Borders responded to this unique third-party fundraiser with warm encouragement, writing: "Thank you, Reddit, for extending your community to include the people we serve."

#2: A holiday kit with something for everyone

As part of their annual holiday campaign, clean drinking water organization Charity: Water launched an online gift guide tailored to match giving opportunities to donor interests.

Five Ways To Give Clean Water This Holiday Season is a microsite allowing visitors to choose how they want to become involved with Charity: Water. Supporters can donate directly, attend an event in person, buy related holiday gifts, join a social media campaign or create a personalized holiday fundraising page on the web.

Where most holiday gift guides have a static collection of options for making a donation or purchase, Charity: Water empowers supporters to "choose their own adventure". Many nonprofits have built online toolkits to encourage fans and followers to be active on behalf of a good cause throughout the year. Creating a special collection of options for the holidays is a natural extension of that trend.

#3: The Internet will never stop loving cats!

A rare example of a fundraising ask that has truly gone viral, the Milwaukee Animal Rescue Center's capital campaign is a surprising holiday hit. The shelter is home to Daniel, a ginger cat with a special trait...twenty-six toes...two extra on each paw!

When MARC discovered their rent would be doubled on January 1st, the shelter decided to find new space, putting out a priority call for donations before the end of the year. The fundraising ask was $26 — one dollar for each one of Daniel's unique toes. Considering the social shareability of a story featuring a special cat, a looming deadline, and the holiday season, could it be that Daniel's tale is a perfect storm for fundraising? It seems like Daniel was destined to become a media superstar. He and the shelter have been featured in popular blogs, the national news, and were recently interviewed via Skype.

With a staggered target of raising $120,000 by the end of December, Milwaukee Animal Rescue Center is now less than $9,000 away from their Stage Two fundraising goal. That's a total that so far includes nearly 2,000 individual gifts of $26!

#4: Virtual stockings, real world impact

Stocking stuffing is a Christmas tradition, but it doesn't have to happen over the fireplace...and in Australia, a fireplace wouldn't be any use in December!

At the Kids' Christmas Stocking website, Vision Australia is asking supporters to become virtual elves by fundraising online for children with vision impairment. "Official Elves" create personal pages and are encouraged to reach out to friends and family to fill their candy cane fundraising trackers.

Each elf has a colourful stocking which can be filled with virtual gifts at several different donation levels. Gifts, comments and notes from donors collect in each fundraiser's digital stocking. Donors and "elves" also have the option to send each other customized e-cards for the holidays.

Vision Australia hopes to raise $20,000 for programs helping children to live with blindness or low vision.

#5: Download the world's first crowdsourced charity single

It started with a single tweet from Irish cancer survivor @BrendaDrumm on November 19: "Wouldn't it be great to have a Twitter Xmas Single?"

By the end of the month, 140 musicians and singers had gathered together to record "Winter Song" – the world's first crowdsourced performance of a charity single. "Winter Song" was originally written by indie-pop favourites Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson, but all proceeds from the iTunes download of this new version will benefit the Neonatal Special Care Unit in Dublin's National Maternity Hospital.

If the single tops the UK charts by December 25, it will earn a second honour : Achieving the famous Christmas Number One status! You can watch the progress of "Winter Song" throughout December by reading the Twitter Xmas Single blog, or by following the hashtags: #twitterxmassingle & #Xmasno1.

#6: About.Me makes it About.St.Judes

In a classic "For every X we will Y up to Z" sponsor match campaign with a twist, AOL will donating $1 for every person who logs into their account and updates their background image to promote St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis.

The "Up to Z" in this case is $10,000 dollars. Corporate campaigns similar to this one this year have included MSN's April promotion asking visitors to set their browser homepage to to donate a breakfast to Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada.

Where the appeal goes above and beyond is in the call-to-action to ask participants to also promote online donation for St. Jude's to friends, family and social networks. "With one click, contribute your page to the effort. Add a link to help fundraise."

#7: Personalize your giving with the Gift-O-Matic

Mercy Corps has some suggestions for those folks on your holiday list who are difficult to shop for at the holidays. The Mercy Corps Gift-o-Matic is a Facebook application designed to match friends or family members with a virtual present in the Mercy Corps catalogue of forty alternative gifts.

Facebook users choose from a list of possible answers to the following statements: "I am looking for a gift for ____ who is passionate about ____".

For instance: "I am looking for a gift for my mom who is passionate about education."

Various options in different donation levels and categories are suggested from the holiday catalogue. The Gift-o-Matic might suggest anything from yaks to vaccinations to school supplies!

Not a Facebook fan? Not to worry, the Gift-o-Matic also lives online at the Mercy Corps Gifts That Save Lives website.

It's never too early to plan next year's online fundraising campaigns. Have these examples inspired you for 2012? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter!

Claire Kerr is the director of digital philanthropy at Artez Interactive. A nonprofit veteran, Claire has worked for charitable organizations in the economic development, education, and fundraising sectors. Connect with her on Twitter or on LinkedIn, or in person over a double-double at Tim Hortons.

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