I’ve done a good share of fundraising in my life, beginning with a few hundred dollars at a time for team mission trips in High School. During college I raised over $18,000 of support for the year that I worked with Wycliffe Bible Translators in Asia. In 10 years of church ministry we’ve done countless fundraisers for mission trips and youth conferences. In many ways, adoption is like a “mission trip”, except that rather than going to Mexico to build a house, villages to survey linguistic data, or an orphanage to serve for two weeks, we were taking a child out of an orphanage to be our son for a lifetime. So, when I realized that we would need God to miraculously provide about $35,000 for adoption it wasn’t as big of a leap of faith for me as it may be for most people. People like my husband. He needed to know right from the start, before we committed, that we could do this financially (right, ladies?!). The truth is, we both knew we couldn’t, but we believed God would.
The things that worked for us might not be the same that work for other families but I want to share with you how we raised $30,000 to bring our son home, in the order of the greatest impact.
First and foremost, you have to know your story. Of all the things I’ve learned through my experiences in fundraising, the most important is always the story. Everyone is brought to adoption through different roads and for different reasons. Sometimes the answer is very personal. Own it. I find people’s hearts open in response to our vulnerability. The more of your story you are willing to share, the more compelling it is for people to donate to your adoption fund.
People want to know three things when they’re considering giving to you:
- The need is real
- Your solution is right
- Their funds won’t be misused.
Practice writing and telling your story considering these three things. If you don’t consider yourself to be good with words, have a friend help you craft your story presentation. Your adoption story is your greatest tool. By taking time to perfect your story you’re ready to appeal through your blog or other social media, share with random strangers at the grocery store and maybe even get a head start on some grant application essays. Sometimes you know a little bit about your child but it is important to know out of respect for the child how much of their story you should share. Since most of our son’s needs were apparent by looking at a photo, we did not shy away from sharing that this was considered a “special needs” adoption. If you are not yet matched with a child, you can share about the general conditions and challenges that all orphans face in the country from which you are adopting.
Fundraising is not just a task, it is a mindset, or rather a lifestyle we live while bringing our children home.
Our most successful fundraiser was one I found early in our process by googling “adoption fundraising ideas.” When I came across the Both Hands foundation and watched their introductory video, I was sold. In essence, the adopting family puts together a team of friends who spend a day working on a widow’s home. The team sends letters asking for sponsorship for their day of service, much like a benefit golf tournament or a 5K race. Both Hands has the process outlined well and provides excellent support and mentoring during the process. This fundraiser not only shares our family’s story, but also the story of a widow who we were privileged to serve, and the stories of our friends who were willing to leverage their contacts on our behalf. As I said above, I believe the greatest factor in funding is a personal story. This project gives triple the story power! I’ve shared more about the Both Hands foundation and how our family raised over $20,000 with our Both Hands project HERE.
Another thing that Both Hands offers, besides a life changing project, is credibility. One of the important factors for donors is that they want to know their funds will not be misused. There are several nonprofit organizations that allow families to set up a fundraising account and receive tax-deductible donations. We wanted everyone to receive 100% of the impact of the gifts, both our donors in receiving a tax deduction and our son by not having excessive fees with each transaction. The only transaction fees involved in our Both Hands/Lifesong account were if the donors used Paypal to send the funds. If donors sent checks, 100% went into our adoption fund. Also, they were assured that 100% of the funds were being used for adoption. I know some people use crowdfunding sites successfully but personally we felt it was important to have the backing of a reputable foundation. Regardless of whether you chose to set up a crowdfunding site or go through a foundation I do highly recommend providing a tax-deductible method for donors to support your adoption.
Along those lines, I also recommend taking advantage of year-end giving if it is possible with the timeline of your adoption. We were not able to have our Both Hands/Lifesong account set up in time for year-end giving in 2014 because we were still completing our home study. However, we discussed with our church whether we could encourage people to make a tax deductible donation to the church that would then be used to support our adoption. This year-end giving fundraiser provided about $5,000 for our church to donate to our adoption.
Our family also had success with a yard sale, raising $3,000 in perfect timing for an agency fee that was due. (You’ll find God often works in mysterious ways like that!) A yard sale is an excellent way to start your fundraising, as you can do it at any time and do not have to have a completed home study like many grants and fundraisers require. The proceeds can also go toward expenses that are not considered official adoption expenses and are not eligible to be paid by grants and some fundraising accounts. I suggest enlisting several friends to help spread the word and collect donated items. This is also a great way for friends who may be financially tight to donate by clearing out their closets. If you’re planning a yard sale there are many resources that provide ideas on how to make it run smoothly, and other adoptive families on social media readily share tips to maximize the fundraising potential.
Finally, the last major piece in our funding was through an Etsy shop where I sold custom paintings of thumbprint trees for weddings, reunions, graduations, showers, and gifts. It started out as a gift I made for a friend. She suggested I sell them for fundraising. Two craft shows and 50+ orders later I had made more than $1,000 toward our adoption expenses. I am pleased with what I was able to make through the Etsy shop, but in truth I had not priced my paintings well in correlation to my time spent. However, it was wonderful to have a means to personally earn additional funds for our son’s adoption.
Our fundraising was so successful that we felt God leading us to add a second child to our adoption, a daughter who was close to our son in his orphanage. The timing didn’t allow us to bring them home together, but with our adoption fully funded and our fundraising having reimbursed some of our out of pocket expenses, we were able to begin pursuing our daughter soon after returning home with our son. Now that we’re raising funds for our second adoption, I’ve changed our Etsy shop quite a bit. I’ve launched new items, which also started in much the same way the trees did-- as a gift. I made a sensory bin for my nieces as a Christmas gift and had enough supplies left over to make a few more. I decided to sell them and see if there was any interest. Before I knew it I had my Etsy shop back in business and made about $400 profit in the two weeks before Christmas. The bin even caught the attention of several occupational therapists who asked if I had any additional themed bins to offer. I’ve taken up their suggestions and invested funds to create three different bins based on my own kids’ sensory, speech, and fine motor skills needs. I have two children in occupational therapy, so I know what kinds of activities are both fun and beneficial for them. Our shop will now focus on a variety of sensory bins, weighted blankets, and other specialized therapy tools that my husband and I are creating out of need for our own children. I’m setting my goal at earning $3000 through our Etsy shop for this adoption. One thing I’ll say to those considering an Etsy shop or other means of making and selling items, or even those holding auctions – invest in a postal scale. You can save on your postage by printing your paid labels yourself online, and you save a ton of time waiting in line at the post office, which is not my idea of fun with four small children!
And one final encouragement – that story we talked about, share it everywhere! While my kids and I were in line at the post office the week before Christmas, a woman in front of me was curious about the 20 some identical packages I had in my wagon. I shared our story and how the bins were helping to fund our second adoption. The next week I saw her $500 deposit in our fundraising account! In another incident, a woman in my town posted a new coach purse on a facebook site for sale. I contacted her and shared our story, asking if she might consider donating the purse if it doesn’t sell so that I could use it for an auction or giveaway to promote donations. I couldn’t have possibly expected her response – that she herself is a birth mother who chose adoption. She happily donated the $300 purse for our fundraising efforts, and a new friendship is forged. These are just a few examples of the generosity we’ve received from sharing our story. I don’t have time to tell you about the benefit concert we spoke at, the friends who held Jamberry or other fundraisers on our behalf, or the number of times our friends, family, or acquaintances joyfully gave or anonymously planted wads of cash in my purse.
It can be all-consuming and sometimes feels like a full-time job, but then again we’re trying to raise an amount comparable to many entry level salaries. It is a delicate balance to walk between alienating people who become tired of our pleas and motivating people with a life-changing mission. It is a walk of humility and generosity. It is sometimes a reflection of how generously we have loved others, and at the same time an experience in absolutely undeserved grace. I am gratefully indebted to those who made our miracle adoption possible and I am committed to a pay-it-forward attitude. I look forward to when our adoptions are complete and I can lead the fundraising efforts for friends who come behind me.