What I Thought I Knew About Fundraising

Our Senior Account Executive was our ambassador at this year's I Wish I Thought of That - what made the biggest impression?

By Karen Cullen - Mar 25 2019

SOFII’s annual ‘I Wish I’d Thought of That’ conference took place last month in London, and as expected, I left brimming with creative new ideas, full of inspiration but also, questioning everything I thought I knew about fundraising.

There were so many takeaways from the conference that I would need a lot more than one blog post to write about it all, but I’ve picked one of the highlights from the day that I wanted to share with you. And by highlights, I mean one of the incredible campaigns that left me wishing I had been a part of it, with its unconventional, creative ideas that we could all learn a thing or two from.

One of the most surprising things for me overall was how all of these brilliant ideas, that ran hugely successful campaigns, broke nearly every rule I thought I knew about fundraising. Being a relatively new fundraiser, and finally feeling as though I have some sort of a grip on what the rules say will and won’t work, you can imagine the alarm bells going off in my head once the rule book had been completely thrown out the window.


Cards Against Humanity Saves America

This was most true when listening to Sarah Crowhurst from Open present the ‘Cards Against Humanity Saves America’ campaign, which was groundbreaking on so many levels.

If you’ve never played, Cards Against Humanity is known as the ‘party game for horrible people’, and the premise of the game is to come up with the most outrageous statement possible by combining two separate cards. The person who uses the cards to come up with the funniest statement wins!

So where does fundraising come in to this? Well, in 2017 Cards Against Humanity launched their ‘Save America’ campaign. The main purpose was to hinder Donald Trump in his quest to build a wall to separate North and South America, protest what he stands for, and to raise money for good causes.


They asked people to donate $15 to support them in their mission to ‘Save America’. In return for this $15 the donor would receive six ‘surprises’ in the post. The platform they chose to launch this campaign on was none other than Trump’s favourite place to troll people and where he’s trolled in return – Twitter! With little prior marketing  for their latest brash project, and one simple email (subject line? Lord help us, we're back on our bullshit), the campaign was launched:

'After accidentally seeing CNN on a TV at the airport, we realized our country needed us. It's time to suit up for one last mission. Cards Against Humanity is going to save America'.



So let’s think about this for a minute. Proposition; vague. The relevance of the donor; questionable. Call to action; missing. What will the donor’s money go towards? Saving America..? Okay, so we can agree, this feels alarmingly not like anything we would ever recommend doing. However, people responded. 150,000 people, to be exact.


So how much did it raise? 

To break even more rules of what I thought I knew about fundraising, this campaign decided to add a sense of exclusivity to it and put a limit on how many people they would allow to donate, opening up only 150,000 slots. While it’s not the first time something like this has been done, it’s certainly not something most of us fundraisers would decide to do lightly. But within just nine hours, all slots had been filled, 150,000 donors recruited, and Cards Against Humanity came bursting into the forefront of all social media platforms, all top news broadcasting networks like CNN and The Washington Post, and were even gaining traction from celebrities like Michelle Obama.

Now what I can’t help but think about is the expression on the faces of the Ask Direct creative team if I were ever to approach them with a campaign proposition as vague as ‘Save America’. And if I were then to tell them that I planned on launching the campaign with a single email and expected to recruit donors solely through email and Twitter.

It sounds crazy, right?

Well, as this campaign has shown, sometimes breaking the rules so extravagantly and being willing to be bold and take risks, pays off. And I mean literally, it really pays off. In the instance of this campaign, it can even raise over $2 million in just nine hours. Yes, you heard me correctly. $2.25 million, in just nine hours. Incredible!


My number one takeaway

Most know that Cards Against Humanity are known for their irreverent and outrageous branding and marketing stunts, but this campaign in particular is one we, as fundraisers, can all learn from. When we can, we need to be bold enough to risk breaking the rules when the causes we believe in are at stake.  We need to challenge ourselves and our donors to be loud and audacious. We need to often remind ourselves that as fundraisers we have the platform, as rebels with a cause, to take the spotlight and use it to shine a light on whatever change is needed in the world and to give a voice to those stories that need to be told. Cards Against Humanity have done this so successfully with this campaign, and the phrase that keeps coming to mind to summarise all of this is, in the words of Pablo Picasso, to ‘learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist.’


You can read more about this campaign on SOFII, and another campaign that shows us the rules are more like guidelines here


Tagged with: Cards Against HumanityDigitalIWITOTpolitics

Karen Cullen


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