by Wendy Hathaway
Fund-a-Thon season has always looked a little different depending on which community you’re in, from traditional bowling to trivia night to dance marathons.
That hasn’t changed during the COVID-19 pandemic and while some funds organized virtual film screenings, yoga practices, and online brunch, others discovered that hosting an event just wasn’t a good fit and found success through more low-key social media and crowdfunding.
NEW RIVER ABORTION ACCESS FUND
Despite some challenges—being a fairly young fund, fundraising entirely online, and navigating COVID-19 safety considerations—the volunteers behind Virginia’s New River Abortion Access Fund say their first official Fund-a-Thon was a success.
“It’s been absolutely amazing and I’m so happy and so impressed,” says Jen Simonetti, Board President and Founder of New River Abortion Access Fund.
Simonetti established New River in 2019 after finding the Blacksburg, Va., area lacking in on-the-ground reproductive justice and abortion funding efforts, outside student-led work on the Virginia Tech campus.
A wave of supporters from all over the country have come out for the fund over the past year—in large part due to pandemic fatigue and political frustrations, Simonetti believes—contributing to an impressive inaugural fundraising season.
“I think a lot of people were excited to support a newer fund,” says Sophie Drew, Intake Coordinator and Board Vice President of New River. “There’s so much energy around protecting abortion access in the South and in Appalachia where there are so many barriers to abortion. I’m very grateful for all the people who chose to spend their money the way they did when everyone is struggling.”
Most of their fundraising was through word of mouth and peer-to-peer fundraising, although the team also promoted Fund-a-Thon on social media, held prize giveaways, and hosted a virtual sex ed trivia night.
Simonetti and Drew are thankful for the support of fellow funds, who shared advice and elevated their message on social media.
“It definitely helped having this network of shared resources all over the country and being able to ask questions of more established funds,” Drew says.
Simonetti agrees: “This is a fantastic community, and we wouldn’t be where we are today without the assistance of all the funds I talked to—everyone we’ve met or co-hosted events with or who shared documents and advice. I love this network.”
THE SUSAN WICKLUND FUND
Right now, The Susan Wicklund Fund is busy reevaluating their fundraising strategy and tactics and gearing up to take on growing challenges to abortion access in Montana.
The number of people applying for funding has increased 300 percent in five years, from 36 applications in FY2016-17 to 145 applications so far this year.
“Our clients have been left behind by the system, including their ability to access health care and jobs that pay living wages,” explains Kate Kujawa, Board Chair for The Susan Wicklund Fund. “Our goal is to find and retain new donors, so we don’t have to turn anyone away.”
The other hurdle? A Republican super-majority in the Montana state legislature just passed a series of anti-abortion bills, erecting new barriers to abortion access almost overnight, including a 20-week abortion ban and prohibitions on providing medication abortion via telehealth. It’s a huge shift for a state that for decades has had comparatively fewer restrictions than some other states.
These new restrictions will likely force many clients to seek an abortion out of state, so The Susan Wicklund Fund is working hard to make sure they can fund more people with more expenses like childcare, food, lodging, and travel.
Thankfully, folks across Montana are up for the challenge, says Nicole Smith, Board Vice President. “There are really dedicated advocates across the state,” she says. “I think we’re going to see this through to the other side, and Montana will come out better for it.”
For their first-ever Fund-a-Thon, the volunteer-led team relied on social media and peer-to-peer fundraising to communicate with current and potential donors. “I’m really proud of our volunteers,” Kujawa says. “We have an amazing team that is compassionate and caring.”
Smith agrees: “This is an incredible organization with so many innovative thinkers. We’ve been this small, scrappy little group for a long time, and we could do so much more if we just had additional resources.”
Kujawa and Smith look forward to possibly planning in-person fundraisers next year. The board’s long-term strategic planning also includes building a network of organizations and volunteers across the vast and largely rural state, plus aspirations to create paid staff positions and connect with student groups at Montana State University and the University of Montana.
THE JANE FUND OF CENTRAL MASSACHUSETTS
In early 2021, the volunteer-led team at The Jane Fund of Central Massachusetts agreed they would not organize an official event for Fund-a-Thon season, a decision Board Vice President Liz Goodfellow describes as difficult.
For several years, the fund hosted a Bowl-a-Thon and, more recently, started a Trivia Night at a local bar where they raised awareness as well as donations. Last year the trivia event moved online, but not this year. “We were just feeling ‘Zoom’ed’ out,” explains Goodfellow. “It was partly volunteer capacity, but also the emotional and social challenges of living through a pandemic for more than a year. We were just trying to be kind to ourselves, and also realistic.”
Instead, they put their energy into a one-month online campaign called Abortion Access April. Regular emails and social media posts featured weekly themes, like abortion storytelling, highlighting a local independent clinic, and education about barriers to abortion access. They were able to smartly repurpose content from their annual meeting and annual report, such as fund statistics and a video featuring a We Testify storyteller.
“The people who always show up for us showed up again and we had a really good month of fundraising,” Goodfellow says.
The shift in fundraising strategy also brought to light the importance of volunteers and funders who support The Jane Fund by spreading the word to their own networks. For example, Goodfellow applauded the efforts of the captain of “Team Jane (Fund Me By Your Name),” a funder who has reliably rallied her people locally and nationally for several years.
“Seeing how her friends showed up for her, and by extension for The Jane Fund, was really moving,” Goodfellow says.
Though it might have felt like a more modest effort, Goodfellow is proud of the amount the fund raised and for doing what they could. Her biggest takeaway from this year’s fundraising season is a lesson we can all take to heart: “Be kind to yourself. It doesn’t do any good for the long-term to burn out.”