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Frank Gray

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1-day charity push raises $100,000 online

For some time now, people have been using the Internet to tell their sad stories to the world and have reaped huge sums of money in a relatively short time.

That’s what happens when you have an audience of hundreds of millions of people.

But can you really use things like Facebook and Twitter to appeal to a limited audience for a major, one-day fundraiser?

The Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne tried just that Tuesday, appealing particularly to people ages 25 to 40 to raise money for five charities in Allen County.

And it worked. The fundraiser, which had $25,000 in matching money from the Knight Foundation and another $25,000 in matching money from an anonymous donor, managed to raise $102,159 between 6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.

“We’d never done this before, so we didn’t know what to expect,” said David Bennett, executive director of the Community Foundation. “I’m pleased,” he added, especially considering it was a one-day deal.

What was also heartening was that of the 635 donors, almost exactly one-third were younger than 40, and of those, 68 percent had never donated to any of the five charities before.

That was particularly important to Bennett.

The Knight Foundation had surveyed 26 communities around the country and found that young people in Fort Wayne had much less of an attachment to the community than young people had in the other communities that were surveyed.

That’s troublesome because it really won’t be long before the young crowd becomes the old crowd, which traditionally has provided the most generous donations to the Community Foundation.

And social media seems to be the modern way to get them involved.

Bennett acknowledges that experiments like Tuesday’s don’t generate $20,000 donations. But it can generate piles of $10 and $20 donations, which add up.

To help provide a little fuel to the effort, a couple of members of Young Leaders of Northeast Indiana spent the day at the Community Foundation offices, tweeting and messaging and emailing and posting on friends’ Facebook pages, drumming up business.

That’s the way life works these days, Bennett says.

Young people often have hundreds and hundreds of friends on sites such as Facebook; they post about everything they are doing, and their friends respond. If they post that they have gone to a charity’s Facebook page or if they “like” that page, their friends are notified. If they post that they’ve made a donation, their friends are notified.

They will tweet their followers about what they are doing and hope that the tweet gets re-tweeted.

Then there’s texting.

“If you have an effective social presence, it can be very effective,” Bennett said. “In terms of quantity, it’s very efficient.”

Looking at results around the country, some larger cities raised more than $1 million, but they also ran the fundraiser for 24 hours and raised money for up to 300 charities, giving the effort broader appeal.

By comparison, raising $100,000 for five charities was impressive.

“The engagement of the younger crowd was really heartening,” Bennett said. “We learned a lot. The question we have to ask is: Should we do it again?”

Why not?

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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