Why and How You Should Run a Birthday Fundraiser

Birthday balloons and objects. Photo by Mythja on Canva.

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Running a fundraiser for your birthday can have a big impact by mobilising your friends and family to donate to charities. It might even encourage them to continue donating effectively in the future. With just a few hours of effort, you can raise thousands for effective charities.

Here, we cover the basic "whys" and "hows" of running a birthday fundraiser. We also provide some insider tips for getting the word out, personalising your call to action, and having fun along the way.

Why You Should Run a Birthday Fundraiser

Perhaps you are on the global rich list, and so are the people around you. Yet most of your friends don't give much money to charities. Maybe they have been blunted by the countless moral appeals by TV ads or pushy charity salespeople. So, what if you could offer your friends a quick and easy way to do good?

Running a birthday fundraiser will help you live up to your values by mobilising money towards causes you care about, and getting your friends involved too. With only a few hours of effort, GWWC members have raised hundreds — even thousands — of dollars at a time using birthday fundraisers.

Creating a birthday fundraiser doesn't mean that you can't receive any other gifts or should forego the traditional birthday party. You can (and should) throw a party if you like. By including a fundraiser, you will make your celebration all the more meaningful.

How to Run a Birthday Fundraiser

Planning timeline

We suggest that you begin planning your fundraiser about two weeks ahead of your birthday. The first step is to choose an effective charity or fund to support. We do recommend you choose just one to ensure that you're sending a strong, clear message about what you support.

After selecting a charity, you can prepare a message that you will send to your friends and family. You should also select a platform for collecting donations — more on that later.

About four or five days before your birthday, we recommend beginning your fundraiser and spreading the word. Birthday fundraisers usually run for about ten days, with your actual birthday falling roughly in the middle. This way, you can celebrate your birthday with a large portion of the funds raised, and still have a few days left to remind your friends and family afterward.

How to set up a fundraiser

You'll want to make it as easy as possible for your friends and family to donate to your selected charity or fund. Here are three options for setting up your fundraiser. Depending on your circumstances, there may be other options available too.

  1. Raise money via a Facebook fundraiser. Facebook allows you to create fundraisers for many effective charities. As a social media site, Facebook also makes it easy to get the word out. You can post the fundraiser on your timeline, share it with friends, and even encourage them to share it with one easy click.
  2. Raise money for the charity directly. You can send people directly to a charity's website and ask them to make donations there. Some charities (e.g., AMF) even allow you to set up a fundraising page on their website. This page will track what you've raised. If you've selected a charity without the fundraiser feature, you might want to ask your friends to report their donations to you, so that you can keep track.
  3. Receive donations to your account and donate to the charity in one go. You can ask friends and family to send their donations directly to you, either in cash or using an app like Venmo or Paypal. With these apps, friends can send you their donation without the extra step of visiting the charity's website and entering their payment information. Depending on your home country, you may be eligible for tax benefits on the total amount you collect and donate. However, asking your friends to send you money directly does require a high degree of trust.

Contacting friends and family

Asking your friends and family for donations can be overwhelming. Some may not be open to donating or are not in a position to do so. In your messaging, always make clear that a donation is voluntary.

If you persist through the initial barrier of doubt, you will likely find that most people are more than happy to chip in. Seen from their perspective, you have vetted a charity and provided them with a quick opportunity to do good.

One good way to inform friends of your fundraiser is to send personal messages to each friend. You could also send one group message to all of your friends at once.  A group message can more efficiently reach people, while the response rate to personal messages is often much higher. You may choose to do both; you can send a group message to a large group of friends as well as personalised messages to a smaller group of friends. Finally, consider recording and distributing a short video message with a link to your donation page. These can be even more personal and mobilising, though they may take more time.

We recommend contacting a large pool of potential donors — perhaps more than initially come to mind. Donations can sometimes come from unexpected places, and people in your extended network might be very supportive.

If you want to have a rule of thumb about who to contact, ask yourself the following two questions: (1) Would I genuinely be interested in hearing about what this person is up to? (2) Do I expect them to care about a life update from me? There is no "right" or "wrong" number of people to contact; do what you are most comfortable with. In the past, GWWC members have contacted anywhere from a handful of close friends to hundreds of people in their networks.

Crafting a strong message

A message with a personal touch can be very successful in soliciting donations. A personalised message will usually begin with a short note customised to each friend. The text about your charity should be written from your perspective, rather than, say, copied from the charity's website.

For instance, if you have kids, you might mention that parental love is part of your motivation for donating bed nets to protect children from malaria. If education has significantly improved your life, you might mention that the deworming charity you've selected allows children to be healthier and enjoy more time in school.

There are other aspects to crafting a compelling message. One is to provide a concrete example or story about something your selected charity has accomplished. Another is to reassure someone of the effectiveness of your charity, perhaps noting if it's been vetted or featured as a recommended charity by a credible organisation.

No matter the exact contents of your message, what is most powerful is that you reached out and offered your friends an opportunity to do good.

One example of a great message

Hi {Name},

I hope all is well in {location}. I've heard great things about the city. How have you been?

This week, I'm turning {age} and to mark that date I'm hoping to raise some money for a great cause.

I'm a member of an organisation called Giving What We Can (GWWC). It's a community of people who are dedicated to using evidence and reason to do as much good as possible. GWWC points out that some charities are hundreds — or even thousands — of times more effective than others. They recommend a number of highly effective charities, and this year I've decided to raise funds for {Charity Name}.

{Include a brief description of the charity.}

If you want to donate, you can do this via {link to your fundraising page or charity website}.

I completely understand, of course, if you're not able to donate at this time. I just wanted to check in with you and would love to know how you're doing.

Love,
{Name}

P.S. Three days after my birthday, on {Date}, the fundraiser will conclude and I will let you know how much money we've raised.

We recommend sending this message however you normally interact with your friends, be it email, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, or any other avenue.

More message examples

We've decided to crowdsource examples of messages that our members have used! If you have held a birthday fundraiser or similar event and are willing to share the message you used with others in the community, please fill out this form.

As we receive them, form responses will be available in this spreadsheet.

Set Up a Reminder

Remembering to prepare and run your fundraiser is something we don't want to leave to chance.

You can sign up here to receive an automated reminder two weeks before your birthday.

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Alternatively, you could use a service like followupthen, followup.cc, or create a reminder event in your calendar.

Additional Tips for Running a Successful Fundraiser

Remind your friends about your fundraiser. Maybe they missed your first message or were just too busy to respond immediately. We recommend sending a reminder two or three days before the fundraiser closes.

Publish your fundraiser on social media. By using social media, you can reach even more friends who might contribute to your fundraiser. And if you post there a day before you start messaging friends, you may already have a confidence-boosting donation in the bag.

Celebrate your success. Be proud of the money that you've raised. Talk about it on your birthday. And message everyone again when the fundraiser has ended with the final tally. If possible, be concrete and say how many bed nets you have provided or how many families you have protected together.

Match donations if possible. Offering to match your friends' donations is an evidence-based way to encourage more and higher donations. Feel free to set a limit to your matching offer; for instance, you could offer to match all donations up to $1,000. If you've made a giving pledge, you could count your matching campaign as part of your pledge.

Mix up your fundraiser every year. If you're running a second fundraiser, why not make it a bit more interesting by adding a challenge? For instance, you can do a push-up for every $2 raised, run a mile for every $20, or record yourself singing a song for every $200.

This page was written by Floris Wolswijk and edited by Toni Adleberg and Luke Freeman.

Birthday Fundraiser Checklist