Going Online: The Trick to Updating a Fundraising Classic

It was 1947, less than a year after UNICEF was founded, that a Pennsylvania couple handing out candy on Halloween wondered if they could do something more meaningful. They organized door-to-door collections of coins in hand-painted milk cartons to help the world’s children.

That was the beginning of “Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF,” a tradition that has since been formalized by the organization and has spread not just throughout the U.S. but around the world. UNICEF estimates that 1 in 5 baby boomers participated in Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF as a child. The ubiquitous orange paper collection boxes still accompany children on their October 31 quest for candy.

Trick or Treating Goes Online

Fast forward to 2011. This year, the venerable Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF campaign has gone digital in an effort to keep up with the times. While the orange boxes still exist, there’s a new twist to the fundraising effort. Not only could the boxes be ordered online, but this year’s box features a scanable Microsoft tag so donations can be made via smartphones. UNICEF has also added the ability to make an instant $10 donation via mobile phone by texting the word “TOT” to UNICEF (864233). The donation will be added to the user’s mobile phone bill, in much the same way the Red Cross raised millions of dollars for Haiti earthquake relief.

That’s just part of the online transition. The updated campaign also includes a social media-enhanced “costume party” website that includes a virtual costume creator tool. The user can upload a photo from a computer or Facebook, dress up in a virtual costume, add a color “filter,” and then share the photo with friends. UNICEF asks for a donation for some of the costume and filter options.

On the site, we are told that model Heidi Klum is “famous for her super fun Halloween parties,” so she appears as the campaign’s spokesperson, encouraging parents to plan a Halloween “Party for a Purpose.” All the materials needed to plan a party—information about preparation, ideas for the party, sign-in sheets, invitations, and so on — are available online.

The site also includes an area for individuals to share their stories and photos about supporting UNICEF, which could be featured on the campaign’s blog, as well as an online donation form.

Why UNICEF’s Tricks are a Treat for Fundraisers

It’s always a scary proposition when a nonprofit organization tampers with something it has been using successfully for decades. In this case, UNICEF did a good job of modifying a fundraising classic by mixing the old with the new. Here are three lessons nonprofit organizations can take away from this campaign:

  1. The organization took the orange box — the physical representation of its Halloween fundraising—and brought it to the next level by incorporating mobile-enabled giving. It’s questionable whether people will actually scan the code on the box to make a donation (they may in fact be more likely to use the texting feature), but this is still smart marketing. Why? Because UNICEF didn’t eliminate its iconic collection box; instead, the organization found a way to bring it into the 21st century. By including the code, UNICEF changes the perception of the box as an antiquated collection device that appealed to an older generation and engages a new technology-connected generation.
  2. By engaging Heidi Klum as a celebrity spokesperson, UNICEF appeals to a youthful mom demographic. As with the code on the box, the addition of Klum is another way to contemporize UNICEF’s Halloween campaign. Klum is indeed known for her high-profile Hollywood Halloween parties, but she also has credibility as a goodwill ambassador for worthy causes. This creates a halo effect that reinforces the images of both Klum and UNICEF.
  3. UNICEF’s “Costume Party” website does a nice job of collecting together various elements that all reinforce the basic selling proposition, namely, supporting UNICEF during Halloween. Importantly, the site offers many ways to get involved. A participant can make a virtual costume, get friends and others involved by sharing photos and stories, hold a party, get donation boxes for Halloween, or make an online donation. This offers supporters multiple involvement paths so people can participate however they want. This is one of the key ways in which a fundraising organization can spread its message.

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