Ellie Burke
Ellie Burke
The Honor Foundation, image of soldiers like those served by their program and online fundraising efforts.

How Birthday Campaigns Kick-Started The Honor Foundation’s Success

This is the first post in a series chronicling The Honor Foundation’s growth in 2016. We’ll check in with Founder and CEO Joe Musselman throughout the year to learn about what strategies work well for them and set them up for future success.

When Joe Musselman realized how difficult it was for members of the U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) community to transition into the workforce after serving their country, he decided to dedicate his professional career to bridging this gap. Working alongside some of the country’s top academic institutions and businesses, The Honor Foundation (THF) provides SOF members the tools and resources they need to transition into the civilian world.

In 2012 and into 2013, I interviewed 215 SEALs in seven states in six months and they all were within five years of exiting their specialized community. What I found was that they spend 12 to 18 months underemployed, unemployed, or unhappy in their first role. This is our nation’s top one percent out of all veterans…we can’t find a better talent pool that is to be brought into the private sector. I took that 12 to 18 months and shifted it into their active duty time.”

– CEO and Founder, Joe Musselman

In order to provide the SOF community with these resources, THF relies heavily on large gifts. However, as Musselman began to spend more time on the Classy platform, he quickly realized online fundraising’s potential as a revenue generator that would also diversify his organization’s fundraising strategy.

I divide my time out now throughout the week. So, on Friday I get a pie chart of my week. I said, ‘I need to get my time to about 15 percent just to work on Classy’–the minute I did that we raised $80,000 on Classy and it was just from birthday campaigns.”

– CEO and Founder, Joe Musselman

Getting Started With Online Fundraising

The Honor Foundation has seen incredible growth in the last few years, and 2016 promises to be their best year yet. With a variety of thoughtful strategies, they hope to raise $5 million this year, putting them well ahead of previous results.

2013: $20,000 raised
2014: $200,000 raised
2015: $2,000,000 raised

So how has The Honor Foundation scaled their results so quickly?

In 2015, after Musselman began to devote more time to the Classy platform, he realized its potential to activate the networks of well-connected individuals as peer-to-peer fundraisers. These individuals wanted to give back to the military community and a simple place to start was by donating their birthday to the cause. With the right resources in place, Musselman found that peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns yielded powerful results, especially when compared to the small amount of time THF put in to set up the permanent fundraising option on their website.

Classy gives organizations several options to integrate year-round fundraising into their website. From a simple link to custom designed microsites or even full API integrations, there’s no reason an organization’s website cannot include a peer-to-peer fundraising option.

How Some Extra Effort Multiplied Results

Early in THF’s birthday fundraising program, Musselman traveled to speak at one fundraiser’s party as a show of support. On the day of the party, guests were emailed a link to the individual’s fundraising page. In his speech, Musselman encouraged guests to pull out their phones and donate, which they could do immediately thanks the mobile-responsive donation page.

I said, ‘Everyone on [their] phone right now has a link to what you’re supporting,’ and that was after my talk. They were all kind of revved up and then they went online–they donated.  Twenty-seven thousand dollars later, that was one birthday party, one flight to New York of my time.”

– CEO and Founder, Joe Musselman

A Targeted Approach

One person’s birthday was enough for Musselman to realize how important individual fundraising would be for The Honor Foundation. He began to pursue individuals with strong online followings and offer them unique opportunities to support the men and women of the SOF.

Through Facebook, THF now actively targets individuals with large networks in the hopes of activating them as fundraisers. This approach has proven extremely effective for the organization with individuals both in and out of the military community.

Why Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Works

Many psychologists speak to the power of the martyrdom effect. In essence, people are more likely to participate in a fundraising event or initiative when they have to endure or sacrifice something in return. Peer-to-peer fundraising fits into this effect as it gives donors the opportunity to give something up or complete something in honor of a cause they care about. The process also allows an individual to tell their personal story and appeal to their individual network, thereby leading an organization to untapped pools of prospects.

With the right software and strategy, the process is also highly appealing for a fundraiser because of its simplicity. Musselman knew it was incredibly important that the look and feel of THF’s online fundraising pages matched the rest of their branding and made supporters feel confident in their donation. Classy’s ability to integrate with your website gives donors a sense of security and ease.

In order to set fundraisers up for success, Musselman recommends taking steps to ensure they have the resources they need.

All the pre-work should be done. You should have your messaging complete, emails drafted and scripted. You don’t want to overwhelm someone, but you do want to profile that person, make sure they’re prepared with all the information ahead of time, and lastly, be there for them. Let them know, ‘I’m here to answer questions.’ The senior person at your organization should be engaged with that network—thanking them and giving them real-time stories about where their money is going and how they’re effecting the mission.”

– CEO and Founder, Joe Musselman

While peer-to-peer campaigns can be effective for a great number of themes or activities, birthday campaigns are a particularly great opportunity to reap the benefits from peer-to-peer fundraising all year round. These campaigns, which take place throughout the year, reveal power fundraisers you can nurture into cause champions. You can then call upon these supporters to rally others when you have a new campaign.

We look forward to chronicling The Honor Foundation’s growth over the next year as they travel across the U.S. to build an “alumni” network for individuals who complete the Honor Foundation’s program. These supporters will act in the way a traditional alumni network would leverage their connections to help members transition into the corporate world. Keep an eye out for updates on the strategies that are activating a powerful group of supporters for their organization.

The special operations community has never built a formal alumni community for people to turn to when they make the military-to-civilian transition.  So, we’re doing that, and we’re doing it in 2016 in eight cities. Those initial 1,100 people who come out of that network will be the beginning of their alumni connections.”

– CEO and Founder, Joe Musselman

When you create a year-round peer-to-peer fundraising program, you can build a steady stream of revenue for your organization. To familiarize yourself with the overall power of peer-to-peer fundraising, check out the following resources library to plan your first campaign.

All You Need to Start a Peer-to-Peer Program

P2P fundraising resources

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