On a Friday afternoon my husband Cory Tkatch made an interesting Facebook post. “Sooo….should I shave my head?”, he asked. While this post may not seem significant, for him, it was. Over the years my husband’s hair has been his trademark. If someone doesn’t know his name, they refer to him as “the guy with spiky hair”, “the guy who looks like he belongs in a boyband”, and “the guy who looks like a Chia pet”.
I asked him why he made the post and it turned out he was canvassing interest because he had been thinking about creating a fundraiser around shaving his head. We both quickly agreed that a food bank would be a worthy recipient. He suggested a target of $10,000 in 48 hours because it was such a lofty goal we would never make it — and he would therefore get to keep his hair. He updated his Facebook post, “Better yet… Think I can raise 10k for a food bank in 48 hours? Then I’ll shave it!”. The comments came in. One person suggested he live-stream the event.
We did dinner and bedtime with our kids. Then he got on a Zoom call with his friends. And I got to work.
“Hunny, what’s your Facebook password?”, I asked. He gave it to me without asking why. I made an event poster, ensured our charity of choice was legit, and made a Facebook fundraising page that Friday night. The deadline was Sunday at 11:59pm.
During his Zoom call, his friends starting to receive invitations to our fundraiser. Now that people were invited, there was no turning back!
In under 2 hours, we raised over $2000 from people I have since referred to as our “anchor donors”. I believe these early donations helped the event pick up steam and made the goal seem achievable, thereby inspiring others to donate generously.
I am going to cut to the chase and tell you that we not only raised $10,000 in 45 hours for Feed Ontario, but at the time of writing this we have exceeded $14,000. The fundraiser culminated with me shaving my husband’s head on Facebook live to a few hundred family members and friends. It was nerve-wracking. And fun. And it made the news.
Quite a few people, mostly strangers, have reached out to my husband and asked him how we raised so much money in a short amount of time. He tells them they should talk to me. And so, I decided to write a blog dissecting why this fundraiser was so successful. I hope it helps others raise funds for a great cause.
How We Did It
We literally had no strategy. We made it up as we went along over the course of the weekend. All I can say is, it was an opportunity to draw on knowledge and relationships that already existed. But I will explain here what we did and why I think it worked.
(1) A key factor in this fundraiser was that we promoted it primarily to our friends and family; in other words, people who cared about Cory’s hair. Most people would not care about a man with already short hair shaving his head. We tapped into an existing interest. Our friends and family know that Cory loves his hair and did not want to see it go. It’s not like we were asking for money to do something we already aspired to do, like run a race or climb a mountain. This was going to require real sacrifice. For this reason, I don’t think other head-shaving campaigns will necessarily go as well. I think the best fundraiser of this kind will tap into something your community wants to see happen.
(2) My husband is a paramedic during a pandemic. Neither of us thought about this as a relevant factor. I didn’t think to mention it on the poster or the event headline. After all, it was all about his hair. The relevance of his profession was pointed out by a few people part way through the fundraiser and so I started to incorporate it just a little. For the most part though, all our marketing was on Facebook to our friends and family — people who already know he is a paramedic. But it does seem likely this was a factor in the fundraiser’s success. And almost certainly why it subsequently got picked up by the media.
(3) We first thought perhaps people could e-transfer us the funds and we would donate them. We thought the fundraiser would be that small! But then I discovered Facebook lets you set up a fundraising page and accepts the money. I have no doubt the level of trust in this method improved our success. I don’t think strangers would have been sending us money directly! And we would not have enjoyed spending the time processing over 200 e-transfers.
(4) I have been listening to podcasts and audiobooks by Gary Vaynerchuk lately and one thing he talks about relentlessly is the importance of consistently delivering content. That lesson was fresh in my mind and I quickly decided that we needed to constantly be adding new and entertaining content to our fundraising page. Had we put up a fundraising page on Friday night and left it at that, we never would have reached our goal. Our content was all about having fun and mostly incorporated songs and jokes about Cory’s hair. I wrote a cover song to “When It’s Gone” and my talented sister-in-law Lindsay and her husband Karl performed it beautifully on a whim after putting their baby down for a nap. I also made a silly slideshow of pictures that show off my husband’s hair, set to none other than the song “Hair”. I made this using the app TikTok. For those who don’t know, TikTok lets you add music to images and short videos. I made the video, posted it privately so no one would see it, saved it to my device, and then used it on Facebook. We also made fun videos of my husband styling his hair in the mirror and even did a little interview about his hair. And of course, we shared the content as much as we could. To our own pages. And to our stories.
People are already staring at their phones more than ever. But we made sure our Facebook friends could not look at their phones without seeing something about the fundraiser.
We also made sure to like every comment, donation or share. “Liking” a donation on Facebook also felt like a way of saying thank you.
My takeaway from this is that we created something like a telethon — a fun distraction during a difficult time. We didn’t focus on Feed Ontario or COVID19. The sad parts are already well-known and we didn’t feel the need to repeat them. We focused solely on the positive.
(5) The 48 hour deadline was chosen by my husband because he thought it was too short a timeframe to meet our goal. I immediately agreed because I thought the opposite. I saw Daniel Pink’s keynote speech at a conference in October (and subsequently bought his book, When). He talks about the motivating force of a tight timeline. I thought 48 hours would get people to donate money faster than a prolonged fundraiser. I think I was proven right. 🙂
(6) While a small part of the campaign, I was glad I spent a few minutes creating a professional-looking poster to accompany the Facebook fundraiser. I made a new one after we reached our goal and wanted to share the details about the Facebook live event with our friends and family. The posters were made for free on Canva.com (they also have an app).
(7) Don’t strive for perfection. As mentioned above, we made things up as we went along. I made the posters on the fly in a few minutes. I wrote a quick song while watching my kids play and my husband slept after a night shift. My husband came up with the fun idea of filming him doing his hair — we ran to the bathroom and filmed it in one take. The Facebook live began sideways until a few people pointed it out and we flipped our phone to a vertical direction. Because our audience was family and friends who know us, there was no pressure to be perfect.
Looking back, there are a few things we could have done things differently that may have helped us raise even more money.
(1) We didn’t create a fundraiser hashtag. We probably should have. And used it liberally. I suspect we could have invited people to use it by sharing their memories of Cory’s hair, nicknames for his hair, or memes about who he will most resemble once he is bald. In other words, we could have turned the audience into creators and promoters. I regret we didn’t think of this because his hilarious friends and colleagues would have delivered comedic gold.
(2) Our marketing was almost exclusively on Facebook. We don’t use Instagram or SnapChat. While we are both on Twitter, we didn’t leverage it. We focused on Facebook because that is where we interact with family and friends — namely, people who care about Cory’s hair. But we may have raised more if we used other social media platforms.
(3) My husband and I did not seek out media (although once we reached our goal, people we know decided to do so). As we had already reached our goal, we were indifferent. Neither of us cared about “15 minutes of fame”; we’ve both been in the media before for our jobs so it does not hold any special appeal. But in the end, after the story made the news, another $2000+ came in. Perhaps more will over the next few days as the story fizzles out. All of which makes me realize, early media attention may have increased donations.
Despite these lost opportunities, I still consider the fundraiser a huge success. I am so proud of my husband who followed through and shaved off his beautiful hair. And it took a lot of courage to let me be the one to do it!
To any of the donors reading this, thank you again! Almost everyone is suffering financially right now to a certain extent, and the fact that you contributed funds not only means the world to us, and everyone you are helping, but shows us what selfless individuals you are. And to those who donated who we don’t even know, thank you so much! You probably don’t care about Cory’s hair, so the fact that you donated is extra special.
I genuinely hope this article can act as a playbook for someone. If you have questions, feel free to reach out. I am not a professional fundraiser, but I am happy to help you dream up fundraising ideas. A great place to reach me is on Twitter at @lisafeldstein. And remember, you don’t need much to run a successful fundraiser. A silly idea and a cell phone can go a long way!