by Wendy Hathaway
For more than a year, the number of people seeking financial and practical support from abortion funds has continued to climb. Throughout Fund-a-Thon season and beyond, our robust community of staff, volunteers, supporters, and fundraisers has responded by showing up for abortion access with incredible creativity, perseverance, and kindness.
DC ABORTION FUND
Abortion funds across the country are facing unprecedented financial challenges. Budgets are tightening, yet requests for grants are rising due to increased barriers to access, government funding restrictions, and the effects of the pandemic.
DC Abortion Fund is no exception. In the first four months of 2021, DCAF already pledged $425,000—nearly their entire budget for the previous fiscal year ($500,000). “We don’t ever want to turn away callers or shut down our helpline,” says Tia Subramanian, DCAF board member, events director, and long-time volunteer. “But we’re really worried about the future and our sustainability.”
“As hard as it is for funds,” she continues, “it’s worse for our callers. No one should face the kind of barriers and anxieties patients do, especially people of color who are being disproportionately impacted. We’re all here because it’s an unjust situation and we want to make it as easy as possible for every patient to access the care they need and want.”
DCAF provides grants to people in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. Led and staffed by volunteers, they’re right now laser-focused on fundraising and development, as well as exploring opportunities to boost media attention and additional collaboration with other nearby funds.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the board wasn’t sure how to approach fundraising, knowing so many people were living with uncertainty. But donors and supporters understood the increased urgency to fund abortions. “We were overwhelmed by the support we received,” Subramanian says. “We have an incredibly engaged community of volunteers and donors who are deeply invested in DCAF and abortion access and they showed up.”
Subramanian describes past in-person Fund-a-Thon events (including Bowl-a-Thon and, more recently, Game-a-Thon nights featuring board games and prizes) as celebratory, an opportunity for people to be in community with each other. That feeling intensified with ongoing stay-at-home recommendations. DCAF started hosting virtual happy hours—including a kickoff to the 2021 Fund-a-Thon season—and hosted a virtual baking event in late May featuring the owner of a D.C. culinary bookshop and celebrity Instagram baker-slash-activist The Sweet Feminist.
Fundraising has never been more critical, says Subramanian, but it’s also important to give supporters the chance to be together and strengthen a sense of community, especially between seasoned volunteers and new fundraisers who might be nervous about how to make the ask. People shared small talk and fundraising successes and strategies, as well as their worries and hopes around abortion funding and Reproductive Justice. “The happy hours especially helped build enthusiasm, momentum, and a collective sense of purpose and fun,” she says.
“It’s hard to describe the amount of love and joy we’ve seen—even online, during a virtual happy hour or holiday party. That’s why we love Fund-a-Thon; it’s a chance for everyone to connect and spread the message to their networks.”
BALTIMORE ABORTION FUND
Brigitte Winter credits the dedication and talents of Baltimore Abortion Fund’s new development committee for the record-breaking success of this year’s Fund-a-Thon.
“Everyone was really energized and committed to meet our goal,” says Winter, former BAF case manager and current Board Vice President. “We had a dedicated committee who found a way to be both organized but also empower each person to take responsibility in their role and run with it.”
Heading into this year, the Fund-a-Thon team knew it was essential to try something fun and different centered within a virtual space. Last year’s fundraising season was not very successful, financially or emotionally. They’d wanted to try hosting a Skate-a-Thon but, like all funds, were forced to switch to online events when the pandemic hit.
This year’s campaign theme centered around BAF’s inclusion in a new pilot program called Operation Scale Up. NNAF will provide technical and financial support to five funds located in Southeastern states with significant barriers to abortion access, helping the funds more easily coordinate and collaborate with one another. They’re working toward a “one phone call” model where a caller only needs to dial one number, taking the hassle out of closing their financial gap.
BAF announced this exciting news to kick off their “One Call” Fund-a-Thon campaign and went all in with the theme: Stevie Wonder memes, ‘90s-style graphics featuring the classic “Saved by the Bell” mobile phone, and a montage video of board members dialing one another. The month-long campaign culminated in a virtual dance party with a phone call theme; prizes for weekly fundraising contests included nominating a song for the party playlist.
The ingenuity of individual funders made a big impact, too. Some held their own events like contests, an art auction, and a book club.
However, it was a pack of Reproductive Justice-themed crossword puzzles that generated national enthusiasm and quite a few donations.
Crossword constructor and editor Rachel Fabi first connected with BAF when she was earning her Ph.D. in Health Policy and Bioethics in Baltimore several years ago. So when friend and board president Jaylynn Johnstone asked Fabi to create a crossword for this year’s fundraiser, she agreed right away and then recruited 13 friends to help—a team of some of the top crossword constructors in the country with credentials including the New York Times, the New Yorker, USA Today, and Vox.In case you didn’t know, the crossword community is pretty progressive and often raises money by releasing new puzzles. Last year, the community created a Grids for Good charity puzzle pack to fundraise for COVID relief and Black Lives Matter work. Queer Qrosswords benefits LGBTQ+ support organizations. Fabi named her pack “These Puzzles Fund Abortion” to make it clear where the money was going and to destigmatize the word. Many clues were tied to Reproductive Justice or Baltimore.
“I did not expect the response we got,” she says. “I’ve seen this model succeed before, but I never thought so many people cared about both crossword puzzles and abortion funding!”
Within the first week, hundreds of people were donating before the puzzles were even finalized and available. As of mid-May, the puzzle packs alone raised more than $35,000 for BAF.
In all, Fund-a-Thon netted more than $100,000, nearly double their previous fundraising record. Winter says the vibrancy around this year’s fundraising season was exactly what they needed.
“With the changing funding climate and the increasing burden on callers, it’s hard to work for or with an abortion fund right now. Having something fun and positive and optimistic like Fund-a-Thon was perfect.”
HOLLER HEALTH JUSTICE
In case you’re not familiar with regional vernacular, Holler Health Justice — the first and only abortion support fund in West Virginia — gets its name from the small valleys that sit among the hills and mountains of Appalachia. (Of course, it can also mean to shout or yell.)
Board Member Hayley McMahon says HHJ instantly felt familiar to her, almost homey, having grown up in a small middle Tennessee town in the foothills of Appalachia, a literal holler.
A Master’s student with a background in Reproductive Justice communications and advocacy, McMahon joined the board last summer and helped run this year’s fundraising efforts, which included outreach to key volunteers, board members, and past funders through social media.
McMahon credits her co-lead, Peshka Calloway, with renaming the campaign Hussy-a-Thon, a sort of reclaiming of a term often used to invoke shame. “We wanted to give it our extra HHJ flair,” McMahon explains. “Reproductive Justice and equity and harm reduction are so important to us, and of course the work is very serious. But we also have close relationships and like to have fun.”
With folks facing unemployment, rising health care costs, and other financial challenges, McMahon wasn’t sure what to expect of this year’s fundraising season. “Overwhelmingly, so many people showed up for abortion access in Appalachia,” she says. “Folks across the country were very generous and wanted to support our work.”HHJ got an unexpected boost that helped spread the word and raise awareness of abortion funding among a much wider audience. A mutual aid collective operating entirely on social media called Pocket Change Pools reached out and asked to promote Hussy-a-Thon. Since forming last June, the collective has redistributed nearly $400,000 to bail funds, birth workers, housing for asylum seekers, and more. In just one day, people gave $5,000 to HHJ; one donor offered a dollar-for-dollar match to double that total to $10,000 to fund folks in Appalachia seeking abortions.
Although HHJ decided not to host any official events this year, McMahon says she’d be interested in holding something in person once it’s safe to gather face-to-face again — perhaps a film screening or a cooking demonstration of local recipes. “It’s really important to create a safe space for people in Appalachia and rural areas who support abortion access to come together, network, and just hang out.”