First off, tell us what you actually do?
I use social media to fundraise for people in need. Typically, those groups of people include foster, adoptive, kinship, single parent, and at-risk for CPS intervention families. As I’ve become aware of other situations, I’ve also fundraised for hurricane relief efforts, refugees, and bone marrow transplant patients.
How did you start?
In 2015, friends of mine who were involved in our church’s foster and adoption support group opened a foster pantry filled with items that would be made freely available to foster families. They were well stocked on clothes, toys, etc., but needed larger items like car seats, strollers, and high chairs.
On a whim, I logged onto Amazon, saw that a car seat was available for a great deal, and posted it on my Facebook profile with information about the foster pantry opening in case anyone wanted to participate in stocking it. I offered my PayPal and Venmo links and wrote that any amount was appreciated, and that once I received enough money to purchase the car seat, I would. The seat was covered almost immediately, and people went crazy over the fundraiser.
We raised about $2,000 toward foster pantry items in twenty-four hours. Afterwards, I had more than one person say, “I had no idea this was a need!” One woman even said, “I just assumed when they brought the baby or children, they brought the stuff to go with them!”
The Lord used that night to start opening the eyes and hearts of a lot of people in my community to something that they had heard of but not fully seen or deeply felt until that night. He also used it to show me that I might be onto something—a way of bridging the gap between the needs of some families and the resources of others, right from my own home.
Why did you start?
In 2014, my husband Jared and I became licensed foster parents. I became pregnant with our second son during the licensing process, and we were certified about five months before he was born. During the pregnancy, we learned that our son Gabriel would be born with bilateral clubfoot. Several months after he was born, we learned that he had something more than clubfoot, and that at least for the foreseeable future, we would not be able to foster.
I was completely committed to Gabriel’s care, and simultaneously heartbroken that we couldn’t be foster parents. I felt like a failure. We knew so many other families parenting children with disabilities who were still fostering or adopting, but we, perhaps especially I, simply did not have the capacity.
God saw my heart made sick by a deferred hope and helped me begin to see that our inability to foster was not equivalent to an inability to support the foster care community. The loss of our foster care license was a heartbreak to be sure, but it was an opportunity too. God led my pain to a place of purpose.
It’s possible that starting to fundraise was partially an effort at compensation or proving myself. Overall, I think it came from a place of genuine love and creativity, brought about by how generous people had been to our family while things with Gabriel were deeply difficult. This side of eternity, motives are often a bit tangled. And yet, God has continued to purify my approach to fundraising and advocacy just as he was the one to lead me to it.
How is this different from any other kind of relief fundraising?
This type of fundraising excels because it is quick, shows up in a space where people are already scrolling, and really digs into the power of crowdsourcing. People sometimes give $1 or $2 donations, and before I can believe it, we have all the money we need. Social media’s population is so numerous that compelling language, a clearly articulated felt need, and the suggestion of a simple way to give can often get the job done quickly.
On the downside, gifts people give via my PayPal or Venmo accounts are not tax deductible. They also are taking the risk of giving their money to me and trusting that I’ll do what I’ve said I will do with it. As others have shared the posts and publicized their personal trust in the fundraisers, clout and trust have built.
Social media based fundraising is perhaps different than some fundraising efforts in that much of it is personalized. For example, I started a program called Monthly Meals in which people can give any amount as a monthly gift that will go toward ordering dinner delivery or reimbursing people who want to cook meals for foster/adoptive families who have recently received placements. My friends who run the foster pantry and I talk with families about dietary restrictions, preferences, and special needs in order to ensure that they are taken care of to the best of our ability.
How do you find out about these needs?
I learn about the foster pantry and meal calendar needs through my friends who run our church’s local foster and adoption support group. Often, they are learning about the needs through caseworkers at our local Child Protective Services office, with whom my friends have developed a strong relationship. The relationships between my friends and the caseworkers are one of many examples of the redemptive ripple effects of this kind of work. It doesn’t just touch families in need; it reaches so many others who are close to them.
I live about 90 miles from Houston, so when Hurricane Harvey struck, the needs were apparent, abundant, and personal. Trucks were being loaded in our town to bring supplies to Houston and coastal cities as soon as possible, so I quickly put a post on Facebook saying I was going shopping for supplies to put on a truck, and if anyone wanted to send me a Venmo or PayPal, I would shop for them too. People were thankful for a way to give, and I ended up going on three large shopping trips thanks to all of the donations. Needs and funds both continued to arise, and I was able to send money onto several different churches in Houston coastal cities that I learned about through friends who were either on staff or members of those churches.
How do you work it into an already busy life?
My husband Jared works at least two evenings a week, so I tend to host fundraisers on those nights (after our kids are in bed), when a lot of people seem to be online and ready to interact. During the days, my kids are great at playing together while I work here and there on fundraising. They now ask me about the “families who don’t have what they need.” It’s led to great conversations with my kids, opportunities to teach them about creative ways to live generously and sacrificially.
I’m privileged to have a good amount of control over my time. I’m the primary caregiver for our children, but not in a wholly traditional way; when Jared is home, I often steal away to write or work or fundraise. I work fifteen hours a week from home, take one class a semester toward a master’s degree, write a few articles a month, and conduct fundraisers. The way I allocate my time is like putting together a puzzle for how I spend my days and weeks. I have very few commitments that require me to spend a certain amount of time in a certain place.
While I love to serve largely from home, friends of mine regularly give financially, or love cooking and delivering meals, or regularly babysit pro bono for single moms. One of the great joys of this type of work is watching the ways that God gifts and equips each person to use their days to his glory. I’m grateful for the opportunity to celebrate the variety of ways that my friends serve within the contexts of their unique day-to-day lives.
I think the first reaction for most people is that all this collecting and distributing is overwhelming. How do you make it achievable and not feel like a daunting task?
A few of my friends fill the hands-on, face-to-face role at our local foster pantry. I ship items to their homes and they take care of stocking the pantry. When it comes to disaster relief or other needs, I generally find individuals who are as close to the need as possible and are willing to be the boots on the ground. Sometimes that person is me, but more often it’s not, and that’s a big part of what makes this work for me.
I’m able to find little moments in the day to post a need, or follow up with fundraisers from my phone. I’m not as available to deliver items or run around town, both because of my season of motherhood and because of a personality that leaves me quickly drained, and therefore less helpful, if I’m out and about a lot. Having a team with different strengths has been key.
You have a good social media following—is this kind of fundraising possible without that?
In my case, it seems that the combination of being an effective communicator and knowing a few things about how social media works (like that posts with pictures get way more interactions than posts without), in addition to having a good social media following, has led to fundraising success. It seems to me that it’s much more important to know how to write a compelling post with a clear action step for people to take than it is to have a large following. If you’re able to present a need in a way that helps people feel it and feel like they can do something about it, they’ll not only likely give but also share the need with others and encourage them to respond. The heavy presence of a hurting world often leaves people stuck in a phase of pity, but these easy-to-engage fundraisers both give people a way to engage and teach them that engaging is possible in all seasons of life.
Why is it so important for Christians to be involved in this kind of work?
In the age of advocacy and social justice (which I celebrate!), it can be easy for Christians to think that their participation must look a certain way or it “doesn’t count.” But this isn’t the paradigm that scripture offers us. Rather, we are told to care for widows and orphans and to look out for the marginalized—no caveats.
Because our God is good, we can trust that he would not command us to do that which he will not also equip us to do. Because he has been generous to us, we can be generous as well. We involve ourselves in the work not only because we are commanded to, but as an act of trust that he will give us the insight to participate regardless of our season or limitations.
In The Drama of Doctrine, Kevin Vanhoozer writes that “the biblical script asks not to be admired but performed. Christian faith is neither a metaphysical nor a moral system but a way: a shape of covenantal life with others and with God.” It can be easy to look at the ways people obeyed God in scripture, or even the ways people around us obey God, and merely praise their contribution while failing to make our own. But God offers us a way to perform, not merely praise. We do not perform so that we might earn his approval, but so that we might offer a compelling witness to the world. When we are faithful to be formed into the shape of covenantal life with others and with God, we are transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2), the oppressed are lifted up, and the world is given a glimpse of the kingdom of God. I can think of no better way to spend our lives.
How might someone who is interested in doing this kind of fundraising get started?
Brass tacks: all you need is awareness of people in need and what would truly serve them, a Facebook profile, Venmo and/or PayPal accounts, and no fear of posting online to what may feel like a gratuitous degree. I wrote a short blog series with practical steps and insight, and I’m also always happy to answer questions or brainstorm ideas for what might work in your community. Just email me.
Cover image by Priscilla Du Preez.
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