by Wendy Hathaway
At the same time the COVID-19 pandemic struck the United States last year, most abortion funds were deep into the 2020 National Abortion Access Fund-a-Thon season, the annual event that brings supporters together to pour money into the budgets of their local abortion funds.
Safety protocols and lockdowns forced nearly everyone to cancel events or find a way to deliver programming online. And at the same time folks were experiencing more barriers to abortion access than ever before, some funds felt uncomfortable asking for money knowing their own supporters were out of work.
This year, tapping into the knowledge of what worked (or what didn’t) and our overall increased acceptance of gathering virtually, NNAF member organizations across the country continued to show up for abortion access by finding new and creative ways to engage and fundraise.
NEW ORLEANS ABORTION FUND
“One of the things I love about Fund-a-Thon is that each individual gets to speak about what attracts them to the movement,” says longtime New Orleans Abortion Fund volunteer and Fund-a-Thon Co-Chair Mary Lingwall. “There are so many reasons people want to fund abortions. Fund-a-Thon lets us be our truest selves within our networks.”
In the past, NOAF held Game-a-Thon events and last year, their planned Dance-a-Thon became a “Digital Get Down” featuring a local DJ and a costume contest.
A year-plus in quarantine helped inspire this year’s Craft-a-Thon. NOAF helpline volunteer and Fund-a-Thon Co-Chair Angela Schifani joined a craft club that met monthly on Zoom, which she describes as a lifesaver during lockdown. She pitched the idea of a live-online painting class, which became this year’s fundraiser. Hosted by a local comedian, the evening will feature door prizes to encourage on-time arrivals and a craft show-and-tell. Those who choose to paint will be set up with all the supplies they need to make their own masterpiece, led by a local instructor.
It’s fun, therapeutic, and something you can be really proud of at the end,” Schifani says.
As soon as planning began, helpline volunteers rallied around Craft-a-Thon. They quickly met their original goal within the first week and campaigned to raise the goal much, much higher. Lingwall says she was nervous at first but agreed to increase the goal from $16,000 to $60,000 . . . and it worked. “If I had trusted my gut instead of listening to these folks with so much vision and hope, we might have stopped ourselves before we got going,” she says. “The lesson? Always dream bigger.”
Schifani, who has experience in development, puts it this way: “What’s the worst that can happen? You don’t meet your goal and you try again next year. The way you meet big goals is by setting big goals.”
Lingwall and Schifani have already set their sights on dreaming bigger next year. They want to start planning earlier and focus on gathering support from community partners and local businesses who are ready to demonstrate their support for expanded abortion access. They also want to consider a new Fund-a-Thon model that’s both in-person and virtual to engage fundraisers and organizations across the Gulf South.
Lingwall: “When we couldn’t show up at an event together, some of us lost sight of what it means to be a team. Finding new ways to revive team spirit is really important.”
Schifani: “My team has a group text chat so we can cheer each other on and swap ideas, images, and graphics. I also recommend highlighting funders on social media (with their consent). Try fundraiser shout-outs or spotlight new fundraisers to show that you can be successful even if it’s your first time.”
WESTERN PA FUND FOR CHOICE
The folks planning Fund-a-Thon for Western PA Fund for Choice found a format that works well for both in-person and virtual events: live, interactive shows that entertain and engage.
The fund is concentrating its efforts on two events for 2021: “Spring Break-ing Abortion Barriers” trivia night and a comedy fundraiser featuring popular podcasters Jamie Loftus and Grace Freud.
It’s been really exciting to reach out to these performers and artists who are interested in fundraising and bringing an issue like abortion access to their built-in audiences,” says WPAFC board member Crystal Grabowski.
Elena Facchini is Acting Executive Director at WPAFC and Director of Development at Allegheny Reproductive Health Center, the independent clinic supported by the fund. She describes this year as “a more concentrated effort” that makes it easier for funders to participate.
WPAFC provides financial assistance to people across hundreds of miles and multiple states, from eastern Ohio, through central and western Pennsylvania, into northern West Virginia. Their community of supporters includes a national audience for events like trivia and comedy shows, but also hybrid in-person/online podcasts they’ve done in the past with Street Fight Radio.
“I’d love to go back to in-person events, but you risk losing a national audience,” Grabowski says. “Virtual fundraisers can be fun and accessible and successful! We’re happy with our progress this year.”
Grabowski: “Direct asks are some of the most important things you can do when fundraising. When you have the attention of one or more people, just say you’re fundraising, why it’s important to you and to your community, and that even a little donation goes a long way.”
Facchini: “Get locally relevant artists, performers, and businesses involved.”
Personalize your social media graphics so you can post a quote from a donor or even do a special anonymous shout out to say thank you.”
KENTUCKY HEALTH JUSTICE NETWORK
The Fund-a-Thon challenges Kentucky Health Justice Network faced last year and this year weren’t necessarily just about event planning. “As a grassroots organization that’s really by and for our community, we’ve seen our donor base hit very hard by this pandemic,” explains Fund Director Meg Sasse Stern.
Similarly, one of their most successful Fund-a-Thon tactics in the past was a raffle for locally made art and gift baskets. The logistics of trying to do that virtually was difficult, and no one really wanted to make an ask of small business owners and artists already struggling.
So instead of trying to brainstorm ways to take a raffle or past events like Bowl-a-Thon or Skate-a-Thon online, Stern instead turned her focus to building an impressive $16,000 local match pool that KHJN has promoted throughout Fund-a-Thon season to celebrate International Women’s Day, Abortion Provider Appreciation Day, Fund-a-Thon Fridays, and more on social media.
The match is also helpful for individual fundraisers and teams when they make asks among their own networks. “People love to double their dollars!” Stern says.
She’s also enjoying the creativity of many funders. Some are busy in the kitchen, whipping up pies or cookies for donors or getting crafty (one funder made face masks with holographic stickers that spell out “Feminist Killjoy”). One family has help from their kids, who bake cupcakes and decorate stickers. Another hosted a virtual private yoga practice. One team made up of volunteer clinic escorts (named the “Death-scorts,” a reclaiming of something protestors shout outside the clinic) motivates each other with friendly competition.
How soon crowds can safely gather remains to be seen. But Stern is just excited to get together with other supporters in the future, whatever that might look like. She hopes to explore hybrid virtual-and-in-person events that might be more accessible to all supporters.
I’m looking forward to sharing space with our community. Fund-a-Thon is amazing because new people can plug in and are instantly welcomed as part of our community, just because we’re showing up to support KHJN together.”
Stern: “We’ve found that fundraisers really like thoughtful incentives, something that feels a little more special.”