Rhinebeck Responds: 6 Steps to Successful Community Fundraising

A Community Comes Together to Support Small Businesses

Rhinebeck responds banner

 

Background

The Village of Rhinebeck is a relatively small historic town (Pop. 7,548 as of 2010 census) in New York's scenic Hudson Valley. About two hours from New York City, many call it home and many have permanent second residences in the town. Residents take pride in the prevalence of independent, local businesses and lack of big box retailers.
 

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, a small group of community members came together to form Rhinebeck Responds, an all volunteer pop-up organization to help address the most urgent local needs. These needs included helping small independent businesses with problems such as payment of rent and applying for government loans. They began to gradually raise money to create a fund to award small grants (up to $5000) to help worthy small businesses survive through the pandemic. The funds came from two generous local businesses and then, more broadly from community members.

Rhinebeck responds facebook-1

 

As the movement grew, the all volunteer committee wanted to expand their reach and support more local businesses. The committee came up with the idea of having local artists paint bird houses to auction on an online auction platform. The committee considered several options and ultimately chose BiddingForGood, a part of the digital fundraising platform Panorama by FrontStream.
 

Once they had the idea, things moved quickly. Here are the key 6 steps they took to ensure the campaign's success:

Circles 1 Get things donated and keep costs low

The entire organization is volunteer led and they've been able to limit the overall costs of operation. For the birdhouse auction, the local hardware store-Williams agreed to donate three dozen Audubon birdhouses and then over 20 local artists came forward to offer their creative talents and transform the plain wooden boxes into works of art.

Local businesses agreed to display the birdhouses and the local farmer's market has also given them free booth space where they can display the birdhouses and spread the word about Rhinebeck Responds.

The committee worked with a local printer and got the posters and brochures they distributed printed at a lower cost.

Finally, they utilized the option in BiddingforGood where the winning bidder pays the processing fees (instead of the organization) and winners agreed to paid for shipping.

 

BirdhousePosterMASTER-1

Flyer advertising the Birdhouse Virtual Auction

 

Circles 2 Engage local talent

Rhinebeck Responds was able to combine all these donations with the creative energy and passion of a couple of celebrities that call Rhinebeck home.

Hilarie Burton Morgan- an actress and author- and her husband Jeffrey Dean Morgan- also an actor- agreed to help by painting birdhouses and wanted to get the word out about the fundraiser.

In an August 15, 2020 interview with CBS News, Burton discussed her love for Rhinebeck:

"When we found this community that was all mom-and-pop shops, it was so important to us that we preserved it and honored it in a way that other people maybe saw the value in it." 

-Hilarie Burton Morgan

 

In addition to loving the town, Burton and Paul Rudd's families helped to save (and now own) a historic small business in Rhinebeck, called Samuel's Sweet Shop. Protecting the small businesses in the area is especially important to her and she even published a book about her family's decision to leave Hollywood and move to small town called "The Rural Diaries". Burton asked her fans to purchase the book from her local bookstore, Oblong Books & Music, where they sold over 7,000 copies.

 

Hilarie Burton

 

"So many of the businesses in this town are on the verge of collapse because they didn't get the assistance. They don't have a fancy accountant to muscle through the paperwork. So Rhinebeck Responds, they're giving loans, they're giving grants, so we're trying to fundraise with them to keep as many businesses in town afloat as possible."

-Hilarie Burton Morgan

 

 
Tips for a great BiddingForGood homepage

 

Circles 3Determine what type of organization you need to form

Many people want to help people but it can be hard to know where to start if you don't already have an established nonprofit organization. Many assume that you need to create your own 501(c)3 organization to be successful, but getting this certification can be costly and take a long time. Also, it's not always necessary.

Rhinebeck Responds chose to set up an LLC (limited liability company) and partnered with their local community foundation and an existing local nonprofit. Partnering with a community foundation helped with the distribution of grant funds and the setup of an LLC limited liability for the individual volunteer staff members.

 

Aya Rosen

 

 Get things donated and keep costs low

The entire organization is volunteer led and they've been able to limit the overall costs of operation. For the birdhouse auction, the local hardware store-Williams agreed to donate three dozen Audubon birdhouses and then over 20 local artists came forward to offer their creative talents and transform the plain wooden boxes into works of art.

Local businesses agreed to display the birdhouses and the local farmer's market has also given them free booth space where they can display the birdhouses and spread the word about Rhinebeck Responds.

The committee worked with a local printer and got the posters and brochures they distributed printed at a lower cost.

Finally, they utilized the option in BiddingforGood where the winning bidder pays the processing fees (instead of the organization) and winners agreed to paid for shipping.

 

Circles 4 Get the whole community involved

The committee secured spots to display the birdhouses in local businesses throughout the town. They published a guide to where to find them and encouraged their supporters to visit each business and preview the birdhouses in person. In addition to creating an in person aspect to their virtual auction, this helped to drive traffic to the local businesses they endeavored to support.

 

Circles 5Make a short timeline work for you

From idea to implementation, Rhinebeck Responds was working within a very short timeline. The large amount of community support, donated items and leadership helped to bring things together quickly. They even benefited from the short timeline as supporters and volunteers felt an urgency to step up and respond very quickly.

A shortened timeline won't work for every cause and event, but Rhinebeck Responds was able to mobilize their resources rapidly and grant funds to businesses that needed the support as soon as possible.

 

Tess Miller  Steve Miller

 

Circles 6 Create a unique experience for supporters

For the most part, standard charitable auctions have been a part of a bigger, in person event, but COVID-19 has forced many fundraisers to reevaluate their standard practices. There's growing popularity in auctions that are completely virtual. When done properly, these virtual auctions can raise as much, or more than a traditional in person event.

It often helps to add a special and unique experience for supporters. Adding an in person aspect to their auction- displaying birdhouses at local businesses- really helped Rhinebeck Responds to create a comprehensive event experience and generate excitement about their campaign.

The committee built a community of supporters using social media. Hilarie Burton has promoted the campaign on her Instagram multiple times which has helped to bring in new supporters. The group also collaborated and combined their contacts to create an email distribution list to promote the auction to.

 

Joanna Hess BH Kelley Fanelli-Hedin BH Robert Phillips BH Aya Rosen BH

 

Initial Results

Rhinebeck Responds has already surpassed their internal goal and continue to raise funds. So far they have dispersed grants to over two dozen local businesses and nonprofits. Businesses that would like to apply for funding fill out a grant application that requires documents to show that the business was solvent before the pandemic. Rhinebeck Responds wants to support businesses that they believe can survive the pandemic and thrive in the future.

In addition to providing vital funding to local businesses, Rhinebeck Responds has brought together the community, local artists, shop owners, and local celebrities. The auction ends on September 14th and Hilarie and her family have created another birdhouse to auction to create one last push for bids and an exciting end to the campaign.

Paul Rudd painting

Actor Paul Rudd painting his birdhouse

BONUS TIP:

If you have a really exciting item and want to make sure it gets lot of attention, you may want to wait to introduce it. For example, if your auction lasts for 30 days, you could  wait to open the bidding on your top item until the final week. You can advertise it and start to build excitement, which can help to keep your supporters and engaged throughout your entire campaign.

Alternatively, if you're getting a lot of engagement with your auction, see if you can procure an additional  "surprise" item to include towards the end of your event..  If you have an event chair or celebrity involvement, like Rhinebeck Responds, ask them to help you  with another item. Hilarie Burton and her family wanted to decorate and donate  a second birdhouse and  and Rhinebeck Responds  was happy to add it to the auction.

The birdhouse, painted by Hilarie, Jeff and their two children , features original artwork and a special message from the family. They issued a press release  to help generate more excitement and open up the auction to more new bidders.

Birds of a feather Hilarie box 2-auction Hilarie box 2 message

 

Rhinebeck Responds added the birdhouse  to BiddingForGood.com  during the last week of their event and unlike the other birdhouses, there is no cap for the maximum bid on this item.  The highest bidder on Monday, September 14th at 6PM EST will win! 

 

Additional resources

Blog Post: Nonprofit Fundraising for the Digital Age

Case Study: Shriners Virtual Lemonade Stand

 

Auctions with Panorama by FrontStream


 

Panorama: Online Only Auction Tips

COVID-19 Resource Center

Case Study: Jacksonville Humane Society

 

Share this article