Right on the Money: Youth-serving Agencies Raise Money on Groupon

Young people taking advantage of a groupon for a fitness center.

There’s a hot new deal out there for charities looking to raise money for specific projects. And several youth-serving agencies have been among the first to snap it up.

The nationwide deal-a-day site Groupon -- with more than 100 million subscribers -- recently launched a program called “G-Team,” offering nonprofits a chance to raise money and reach people they may never have reached before.

Heartland Farm Sanctuary, which runs a farm-animal shelter and an animal-therapy program for youth in Madison, WI, raised more than $2,000 with its G-Team campaign in January. The two-year-old organization also gained a few dozen new supporters.

“It’s great for a newer program like us, raising awareness and getting the word out,” says Dana Barre, Heartland’s founder and executive director. “We didn’t raise a huge amount, but it helped us launch a new area of programming.”

When G-Team chooses to feature an organization, an ad for the group’s fundraising campaign appears at the bottom of the Groupon home page and on all “deal” pages for that city or area for several days. Groupon also advertises G-Team deals via Facebook and Twitter. In order to collect their donations, organizations must reach a “tipping point” of a certain number of pledged donations. Donations are small, usually $5 or $10, and Groupon members aren’t charged until the tipping point is reached.

G-Team’s roster has filled for 2012 in Chicago, New York, Washington, DC, and Los Angeles. But other locations are still accepting applications.* Barre and Valerie D’Ambrosi, who until January coordinated marketing for Covenant House New York, offer this advice to youth-serving groups that want to apply:

1. Build your social media presence first. Having a good number of Facebook and Twitter followers and a list of your supporters’ emails will help you publicize your Groupon campaign and get more donations.

2. Pinpoint a very specific aspect of your program that you want to raise money for. Research on charitable giving habits shows that people are more likely to contribute when they know what their money will do. Heartland asked for contributions to help the organization  take animals on visits to youth groups. Covenant House solicited donations to provide free medical care to homeless youth in its G-Team campaign last spring.

3. Be familiar with Groupon’s intended audience and the style of its site. “Groupon uses youthful language and interesting catchphrases,” D’Ambrosi says. “I didn’t write my application like a grant proposal. I wrote it like I was writing for twenty-five-year-olds who would sign up for Groupon.”

4. If your campaign is accepted, tell people about it. Barre sent emails to her supporters and stakeholders, like board members and community leaders, a week before the three-day campaign, and posted announcements on Facebook and Twitter. Then she sent a reminder the day before. The first day, she added a link to the Groupon offer to Heartland’s website and Facebook page. Once Heartland reached its tipping point of $400 – which happened fairly quickly, Barre says -- donations dropped off, so she sent another email encouraging more people to give.

5. Find a "matching donor." Barre recommends contacting your most ardent supporters to find someone who can match other people’s donations. Then announce the match on the final day of the campaign to drum up last-ditch support.

6. Thank your donors. Just as you would with any other fundraising campaign. (Read “Five Ways to Thank Your Donors.”)

*As of February 2014, G-Team (now called Groupon Grassroots) was not accepting applications.

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