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My Fundraising Odyssey: 5 Lessons from the Social Media Trenches

Just about one year ago, on September 1st, our then 17-year-old daughter Charley was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. As you can imagine, the diagnosis has come as quite a shock to us. After some initial disbelief, then despair, and a helping of anger, we’re dealing with it. Charley has impressed us with her drive to master the situation, the math, the needles, and get on with her life. In the last fourteen months, she has made her two worried parents very proud.

Feeling utterly powerless, my wife and I turned to the organization JDRF [Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation] and quickly discovered that their One Walk, an annual fundraising event, was just weeks away. So, I decided to try and raise a little money to help out.

At first, I was a little shy about coming right out and saying “give us your money.” But that quickly changed. I found that being honest about our fears and keeping the message simple — “two freaked out parents determined to rid the world of Type 1 Diabetes so give us your money” — was striking the right tone.


It’s Who You Know

People began giving right away. Friends from our close network here in Roanoke. Friends from my distant past. People I hadn’t heard from for years. All of them lavished us with sincere words of valuable encouragement — and made donations to Charley’s Angels.

By the day of the One Walk, we had raised over $7,000 which, in just three weeks, was proof of the adage “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” We know a lot of very awesome whos.

In the time between last year’s walk and this year’s, we learned a lot about the nature of fundraising. For starters, it is not uncommon for “new” T1D families to raise a large amount in the aftermath of a diagnosis. And it makes a lot of sense. Friends care and want to help — and that is beautiful. But we also learned that it’s very difficult to maintain that kind of momentum into the second year of fundraising. That makes a lot of sense, too.

But we were determined to try, knowing it would take considerably more effort. We put together a social media strategy of three posts each week with a set schedule: Monday’s post would be about Charley, Wednesday’s some fact about T1D, and Friday’s about our team. We figured we’d appeal to emotions on Monday, intellect on Wednesday and camaraderie on Friday.


Our first Monday post — six weeks away from the One Walk — was a photo of Charley and the message: “This is Charley. She’s my hero! And so are you!” That post received 260 likes and four shares and got our campaign off and running.


On our first Wednesday we posted our first informational piece under the message: “You are Jonas Salk. Because you — yes, YOU — are helping to make medical history. You are helping to cure Type 1 Diabetes [T1D].” followed by some information about the research that’s happening thanks to donations.

Nothing. Not even crickets chirping. Friday’s post about joining the team for the walk did no better.

The following week was worse. The Monday post got a tiny trickle going and then Wednesday and Friday shut off the tap completely. For an advertising creative, this was kind of devastating. We had a plan. We were appealing to different audiences at different times at different levels. Only we weren’t. Not at all.


A Small Blue Thing

So I began to look back at the messages that had worked from the years before and renewed them, like: “before last year, I gave absolutely nothing to JDRF. Thankfully, someone else did!”  This scored some likes, but nothing more.

Then there was a play at humor: “These posts are a damned nuisance! However, you can put a stop to the madness.” Likes, but no dollars.

What I had lost sight of was that a lot had happened over the past year. The story was no longer that Charley had T1D, but that she is living with it and she is conquering it and she is doing well. That’s when I began to post about things that had happened since our first One Walk. I posted about the new technology Charley uses to monitor her blood glucose in real time. I posted about Charley’s trip to Mexico where, because she wears a monitor on her belly every day she helped a little boy she met accept the monitor he wears every day.chris-blog-2

And I posted about the small blue circle Charley has tattooed on her wrist as an act of brave defiance, not against her freaked out parents, but against the disease she’ll live with and conquer every day for the rest of her life. 



That’s all it took.

In the end, we raised nearly $8,000. Thanks once again to a lot of awesome whos. At the same time I remembered some of the most basic and important lessons about advertising and social media — and what it means to communicate.

  1. Keep your messages fresh.
  1. Keep your messages brief.
  1. Keep your call to action obvious.
  1. Keep your messages personal.
  1. Keep your messages emotional.

But probably most important of all, I came to realize that this is Charley’s story and not mine. And now, all of these wonderful friends I’ve made throughout my life — these incredible whos I know — well, they’re Charley’s whos now, too.

You can learn more about Type 1 Diabetes and how you can help turn Type One into Type None at:



Author Chris Henson is a designer, writer, composer, editor, and conceptual thinker, who joined Access in 2011 and has helped create award-winning broadcast, web, and print advertising in regional and national markets. Click here to learn more about Henson.

Topics: Agency Life