Two recent Charity Science birthday fundraisers have raised thousands of dollars each. As well as simply being inspiring and nice stories to share, they’re interesting examples of how anyone can raise a lot of money and spread awareness of effective charity, and of the reactions that friends and family have to this.

The fundraisers in question were run by Theron Pummer and Peter Hurford. Theron is a philosophy post-doc associated with FHI’s Population Ethics Project who previously ran the San Diego EA group; Peter is a Chicago-based data scientist who co-founded .impact. Theron’s fundraiser raised $14,028 and Peter’s raised $5,010.32 including matching funds - a pretty good haul! They both vastly exceeded their original goals - Theron originally aimed for $1,000 before doubling this to $2,000, and then overshooting by a cool twelve grand, while Peter raised his goal from $1,000 to $2,000 to $3,000 to $4,000 to $4,500. It was fun to watch - charity meets the Grand National.

How did they do it? It wasn’t magic. They simply emailed a particularly large cross-section of their personal networks - Peter, for instance, emailed 145 people. Naturally, the majority of these people weren’t in the habit of giving them birthday presents, but this didn’t matter in the way it would have had Theron and Peter been asking for accessories for their private yachts (which I gather are already well furnished). We’ve consistently found that friends and family react very positively when asked if they want to contribute to fundraisers. Many of Theron’s donations came from philosophers who he only knew passingly from conferences and the like, and hadn’t spoken to in a long time.

One useful lesson from this is that many people don’t need much prompting to give to effective charities. Plausibly they were ready to give to charity anyway, and a friend (even a loose one) making an ask prompted them to do so and determined their charity choice. It’s worth noting that Theron and Peter judged that the vast majority of their donations wouldn’t have been made otherwise, basing this partly on what those responsible for those donations said. An uncertain question is how much difference was made by the choice of charity (deworming for Theron and AMF for Peter). As I’ve said, the fact that a friend was making the ask and had chosen this particular charity was plausibly dominant, but these were clearly causes that people were happy to give $20 or $200 to, and it’s hard not to think that the figures Theron and Peter were able to cite made a difference.

If you’d like to see if you can emulate Theron and Peter’s success - and help a great many people in the process - then you can sign up to run a birthday or Christmas fundraiser. If you do, be sure to follow their lead and send out emails far and wide. You may be pleasantly surprised by who gives, and how much.




Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 9:57 AM

From the Facebook thread, here's Theron's description of what he did:

"I emailed over 300 people - several individually, but most were part of a large and less personal email. Here's the message I used (note that I included a hyperlink to my fundraising page over the text "Deworm the World"):

Dear friends,

My birthday is coming up on the 13th! Then on the 22nd I'll move from San Diego to Oxford. To celebrate these events I've decided to hold a fundraiser for a highly effective charity called Deworm the World. While I would be very touched if you made a contribution of any size, I do recognize that there are different views about giving and that many of you have already made substantial donations to other charities this year. So please don't feel bad if you are unable to give on this particular occasion! You can keep track of how much money is raised by returning to the above link (and please feel free to share it on social media!).

I hope all's well with each of you.

With best wishes, Theron"

Wow, that's amazing! It exceeded my expectations by a factor of around 5.

I don't have much to show for my own fundraiser, given that I haven't sent any emails at all yet. I'm really shy about asking people for things. Do you think that future fundraising projects could benefit from some one-on-one time between novice and experienced fundraisers to make sure that people are doing it right? (And not just setting up a fundraiser and letting it gather dust like I did).

Also, do you think people would grow weary if they get these fundraising emails year after year, or from multiple people in their extended network? I really don't want to put people off by being too pushy, and I'm curious whether this is a card you can only play once.

Remember that people genuinely want to help you and will be excited by this opportunity to do good.

I'd be happy to personally talk to you about your fundraiser! :)

Hey Giles, I think there's a strong bias towards overestimating and being over-worried about pushiness. This is what you'd expect given that humans have evolved to have hyperactive social threat detectors. I don't think that people would regard asking once a year as objectionable - a year is a long time, and giving every year (e.g. every holiday season) is a widely recognised practice. And this worry doesn't even apply when it comes to sending out emails for your first fundraiser - it doesn't make sense to let worries about using up 'asks' stop your from making even your first ask!

Curated and popular this week
Relevant opportunities