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Creativity at work to spur holiday fundraising

Donors peruse the wares at the 2011 Alternative Giving Market in Moscow, ID.
Tom Banse
Northwest News Network
Donors peruse the wares at the 2011 Alternative Giving Market in Moscow, ID.

With the year-end approaching, your letter carrier likely delivers at least one or two fundraising letters with each day's mail. You're not alone if you toss some of those pitches straight into the recycle bin. It's a tough fundraising environment right now for charities here on the heels of the great recession.

In Moscow, Idaho this month, 27 small non-profits banded together for a joint fundraiser. They took over a large art gallery and rechristened it as theAlternative Giving Market of the Palousefor a night.

"We came up with a motto of Shop Local, Buy Local, Give Local," says Co-founder Diane Daley Laursen.

Laursen also says the one-stop shop includes charities dedicated to the arts, the environment, human services, youth and international relief. Fellow organizer Mary Silvernale Shook says many non-profits -- especially small ones -- are struggling in the current economy.

"Foundations are cutting back. People are cutting back, and non-profits still have increasing services. This just seems like such a win-win. We can serve a lot of non-profits at very little cost because everything is donated or volunteer run," reports Shook.

Volunteer Ginger Rankin staffs the booth for Orphan Acres horse rescue farm. With 27 charities competing for donors' attention here, no single one goes home with a windfall. Rankin is pleased with the format just the same.

"So many people say, 'I didn't know we had a horse rescue.' It gets them to think about what we're doing and what they can do. It helps the horses and it's a fun evening," says Rankin.

Just days before this market, a University of Idaho sorority organized a different type of creative fundraiser. Pi Beta Phi held a speed reading contest to raise money for the literacy charity First Book. Teams competed to see who could read a Dr. Seuss story out loud, cover to cover the fastest.

Organizer Samantha Fritz says the playful fundraiser raised money through entry fees. She judged it a big success.

"Everybody in the Greek community was really excited about it even as a first year philanthropy. So I think we'll be able to successfully bring it back year after year," says Fritz.

Fritz says lingering effects of the Great Recession are less apparent in the Greek system's charity events.
By contrast, the sputtering economy weighs heavily on the fundraising of the Northwest's biggest international aid organizations. Now there's an app for that. Washington-based World Vision is polishing a smartphone app that connects potential donors with its aid projects around the world. Portland-based Mercy Corps just trotted out an interactive Facebook app. It's dubbed the "gift-o-matic."

"It basically is an app that will prescribe a Mercy Corps gift for your loved ones based on issues they are passionate about," says Megan Zabel Holmes, an online marketing officer at Mercy Corps.

She says the gift-o-matic might suggest a goat ($70), teaching a woman to read ($50), or outfitting a classroom ($135) among other possibilities.

"We're looking for a way to engage our Facebook audience and kind of get them thinking about Mercy Corps gifts without just constantly telling them about Mercy Corps gifts," continues Zabel Holmes.

Zabel Holmes says social media channels are not very conducive to direct pleas for money. She says creativity is a crucial ingredient to successful fundraising in this arena... and in this economy.

While we're on the topic of giving, Seattle tops a list of the "most charitable cities" as ranked by the website, The Daily Beast. Portland came in seventh nationwide. The rankings were determined by personal generosity, volunteerism and giving by local foundations.

Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.