Fundraising During Social Distancing

How to bring funds to your community when you can’t leave your home.

When bush fires burned millions of acres of land, destroyed buildings, and led to the deaths of both people and wildlife in Australia in 2019, the Lions Club of Taree in New South Wales knew they wanted to help families, farmers, and first responders affected by the blazes.

Lion Phil Grisold of the Taree club witnessed the damage first-hand.

"I was gobsmacked at what was developing before my eyes," he says. "I realized that resources would be severely stretched and that our traditional fundraising efforts would not be possible due to our need for action on the ground."

In November 2019 the club launched a fundraiser on the GoFundMe online platform that to-date has raised about AUD $113,000 (US$68,000) – AUD $13,000 more than the AUD $100,000 goal they set – to provide fire relief.

Raising funds is never easy, but marshalling resources when the community you serve is in the midst of a disaster takes knowhow and skill. And unlike localized disasters, a pandemic that requires the majority of the global population to stay indoors and avoid contact with other people presents a new kind of challenge for Lions.

Lions Club of Taree in New South Wales, Australia, raised AUD $113,000 for relief during the 2019 bushfires that killed 34 people, approximately one billion animals, and potentially drove some endangered species to extinction.

Virtual can-shaking

How can Lions be there for those in need when they cannot actually be there? One way is through financial support. Digital fundraisers are one way for clubs to continue to raise money when large events and person-to-person fundraising just can’t happen.

"The world is online and there's nothing that proves it more than the COVID-19 pandemic," says Richard Stevenson of the South Tucson Cyber Lions Club in Arizona. "The world is connected online. We have to be moving in that direction for service, recruiting, fundraising, and communications."

While online fundraising will never entirely replace in-person fundraisers, Stevenson, Grisold, and other Lions recommend that clubs make it part of their overall fundraising strategies.

The Taree Club's GoFundMe campaign was a pivot from their traditional fundraising efforts and was motivated in part by a need to move quickly to capture interest in an event of international consequence.

"Normally our club would roster members to go to public places such as shopping centers and raise up to AUD $1,000 in coins donated in a bucket," Grisold says.

But when the fires hit, the club was short on volunteers. They decided to try an online fundraiser with the approval of District 201N1 and with all monies raised going to the District for distribution. One hundred percent of the monies raised went to fire relief in Australia's Mid Coast region.

While the South Tucson Lions have not yet had to cope with a natural disaster, they do use online fundraising to help support their club’s causes. They partner with a local car dealer, Jim Click Jr., who provides tickets for non-profits to sell for chances to win prizes, including a 2020 Ford F-150 Platinum truck and cash.

"We have the tickets and we could bang on doors to sell them, but we sell them online and it's been successful for us," Stevenson says. "For a little club, we raise quite a lot of money."

The club raised US$5,500 in 2019 and US$3,500 in 2018, all of which went to provide vision exams and eyeglasses for children in need in Tucson. Over the past four years, the club has provided about 100,000 screenings.

Create a digital home-base

The South Tucson club promotes the raffle via a website it developed through Lions e-Clubhouse.

"I don't come from a technological background," Stevenson says. "But it is easy. I've been able to figure out how to build a website that has 8,000 followers."

The club's website includes a link that allows people to click to easily purchase raffle tickets through a third-party payment system.

To promote the sale of tickets, the club also sends personal emails with a link to the website, has a Facebook page for the fundraiser, and posts about it on Facebook and other social media channels, with the hope that the posts will be shared to people well beyond their own club and circles.

"If it's a compelling email or post, it will appeal to people beyond my personal friends," Stevenson says. "When you see captivating photos you say, 'I want to support this program.'"

Stevenson prefers for the club to have its own fundraising website, as opposed to doing a GoFundMe campaign, Facebook fundraiser, or using another online platform, because it allows him to track who is donating, to update them on what the club is doing, and to thank them.

"You really need to thank them," he says. "I'll send them an update every two to three months on what our club is doing. My hope is they will become supporters not just once, but for years to come."

The South Tucson Cyber Lions Club in Arizona routinely uses online fundraising to help support the work it does in providing eye screenings for children throughout Arizona.

Get partners

Although Stevenson is based in Arizona, he recently contributed to a fundraiser sponsored by the Indiana Cyber Lions Club that is working with a Wisconsin-based company, Fudgeraiser, to sell fudge online to raise money to offset the new club's administrative costs.

"We have people ordering from all over the U.S.," says Carol Wellman, project chair. "It adds to our base of supporters and gets the word out about what Lions do."

The Indiana club receives 30 percent of the fudge sales. The Fudgeraiser company provides a website and link so people can easily make a purchase.

"They do everything," says Wellman. "All we do is drive traffic to the link they gave us."

Both Wellman and Stevenson agree that it's important to vet and understand the services that an online fundraising company will provide.

"Some (fundraising companies) are a bit more complicated and harder to manage," Wellman says.

To have a successful online fundraiser through GoFundMe, Grisold says it's helpful to tap the input of people who are familiar with social media or willing to learn about it.

"Develop a digital team with social media expertise and create a plan to spread your message," he says. "Work with the traditional press, but continue to drive all interest and traffic to your campaign website."

Stevenson, Grisold, and Wellman agree that the Lions well-regarded and trusted brand is a valuable asset that is crucial to helping them raise funds online.

"This is about all aspects of Lionism," Stevenson says. "We're not giving up our traditions, but we need to move forward to reach people where they are today and continue to spread the word about our important missions."

Make a direct impact today by donating to LCIF's General Disaster Fund at