Hi there! I'm Camille and I'm the owner of Valia Honolulu. We just wrapped up an amazing fundraiser campaign on Instagram (our first ever!) where we brought together 50+ small businesses in support of positive change. We donated 100% of the sales (not profits or proceeds) to YWCA O'ahu and the NAACP. We had so much positive response and we still had brands asking to join in even after we started. So I thought the best way to keep this thing going is to provide a roadmap based on my experiences so others can run similar fundraisers for causes dear to their hearts. So here is my experience running an Instagram Fundraiser.
WHAT WAS MY WHY?
In late June 2020, the country had become engulfed in emotions over the killing of George Floyd. I felt it too and I was trying to digest everything happening as my social media quickly become flooded. On June 1st, Instagram was blacked out with posts of black squares. I wanted to do something. I was still sorting through emotions and everything floating around on Instagram. I ended up thinking so hard about it that instead of posting a black square, I muted our Instagram for the day and continued to think about what action I could take.
As things started to settle, an idea popped in my head. It was actually inspired by something I had seen before. Last year, a small business owner we knew was going through a difficult time. The small business community came together to put together an auction. I was out of country taking my first vacation of since opening the businesses (First in three years!), so I just barely heard bits and pieces come through on my Instagram feed and I'm not sure of the outcome or how it was run but I thought it was inspiring.
I think it inspired me because I've always felt that Hawaii's small business is really amazing. We support each other, we appreciate each other and we help each other. I cannot tell you the countless calls and texts I've had with other small businesses owners just to check up on each other during this challenging time. Maybe it's because the small business journey is lonely without like-minded friends or maybe its because we live in a place where Aloha is a state of mind. Either way, I've always felt the love and always wanted to pass it forward.
So next steps... the thought popped into my head one evening and it made sense to me. I wanted to highlight small businesses (something we have always done) because that is true Valia's heart. I also wanted to donate to causes true to my heart but ask people to participate in a way that made them feel comfortable. I know that this may be difficult to understand from a consumer standpoint but as a business owner, you truly overthink your messages to your customer. And while I know saying something is the right thing to do (and trust me my personal Instagram is super vocal), there is still sort of this belief that business and your personal feelings should be separate. I get it...but I don't. To me, social causes are not political causes unless you decide to make it one in your personal viewpoint. That is just my opinion though!
I immediately took out my phone and wrote out a huge list of logistics of how this event would run. I understood that because it was different, it may require some explaining. I have donated as a business to silent auctions in the past and actually helped with manning the booth when I used to volunteer for Boys and Girls Club of Hawaii. So while I didn't have experience running a silent auction from start to finish, I did have some exposure to how bits and pieces of the process. Anyway, my logistics included...how much would be donated (easy...100%!), how long would it run, what am I asking from the businesses involved and when would I need it by, how would bidding work, what would the starting bid be, how would the brands be presented in the post, etc.
The next morning I was super excited and pumped and went around asking people their thoughts about this Instagram Fundraiser. I asked my business friends, I asked other friends, I asked my parents. I cannot say all the response was positive. There was some pretty negative feedback, some "eh" feedback and some challenging questions that I really needed. But I wouldn't say any of the feedback was unnecessary. I forced me to think even further. Had I really listened to every single opinion and took it to heart, I may not have even done this. Sometimes, you just gotta go with your heart and move forward with conviction.
I hadn't decided on the organizations to donate to yet. I just knew I wanted to donate to an organization dedicated to fighting racism with action and different levels (through education, legislation and social justice). One piece of feedback I got was "don't forget about our islands too" and she was right! So I decided to include two organizations, NAACP and YWCA Oahu. To be honest, YWCA Oahu was a no brainer for me. I had worked with them in the past and love the staff there for all they do! And they have a TON of programs to help women in Hawaii ranging from building your small businesses #shopsmallhawaii, building financial independence with Dress for Success and even programs like YWCA Fernhurst that provide work furlough programs to incarcerated women and successfully help them back on their feet. I really believed that finding causes genuine to my heart was important in this process. Researching organizations before getting involved is super important too!
LOGISTICS and OUTREACH
With that all set, I reached out to YWCA Oahu about the fundraiser and partnership. I would really recommend that if you can reach out to the nonprofit you would like to support prior to starting something it really helps. Any time we have done something for our local organizations like Boys and Girls Club of Hawaii or Goodwill or YWCA Oahu, we have reached out to partner together. Sometimes organizations will ask you to complete paperwork as well. Make sure its all legit!
With YWCA Oahu's blessing and a little bit of paperwork, we got started emailing local small businesses! Together with Megan, my part timer (her title should really be part time shop girl, part time marketing help, part time photoshoot coordinator and full time friend), we put together and reached out to 50 businesses. We didn't hear back from all but within a week we had about 25 committed and excited!
The amazing Kea at Kākou Collective, another local small business, put together a beautiful graphic for us to share. We shared this graphic with the 25 small businesses as well as a list of everyone who was participating and asked them to start building excitement.
What happened next, I could have never imagined. Over the course of a week, I received so many DMs on Instagram from small businesses wanting to join in on the fundraiser. I couldn't believe it. I was receiving inquiries up until the day before we launched. I didn't say no to anyone. I wanted to let everyone who wanted to be a part of this be a part of it. I actually had to cut it off at 9pm the night before we launched because I simply ran out of time. That is actually what inspired this blog post because I really want someone else to host another!!!
So three days before we launched, I started to get the posts ready for launching. I use a scheduling app called Later so I just used that to prep all the posts ahead of time. Each post included a brief explanation of the fundraiser and who we were supporting, how to bid, the item, retail, starting bid, a brief description of the small business and a call to action at the bottom asking people to share and tag the businesses even if they don't bid on anything.
I quickly realized that I had so many items that I needed to create a webpage so bidders could see things ahead of time. I asked my Instagram followers through a story and they agreed. I think it ended up being a great idea because it was able to generate excitement and let people plan their bidding before it started. It would have been difficult to just go through each post and read. I was able to link each bid item to the small business' Instagram to help shout them out and give them extra exposure too! It was a lot of work but a necessary step.
The link to the list of bid items was sent out to my email subscribers and posted to the bio link on my Instagram profile. I also emailed the list of participants with the link and the updated list of vendors. Sunday night before we launched, I posted the graphic from Kākou Collective again with the bidding rules.
(Sample of a the bid listings we posted on our website - we made sure the graphic in the listing matched the Instagram post to make it easy to find when bidding started!)
We launched on a Monday with all the Instagram posts written ahead of time and ready to go first thing in the morning. I woke up at 5:30am because I wanted to have it all up before noon. I didn't know how long it would take to post it all and estimating 5 min per post, it would have taken me 6 hours. I didn't schedule them to autopost because I wanted to check for mistakes and I was worried Instagram might freak out. I heard your could post up to 100 posts a day max but wasn't sure. It ended up taking me about 3.5 hours to post the 73 bid items. No posting issues :)
It was amazing to see the initial response! I reposted every Instagram story shoutout and tried my best to answer any questions that popped up as quickly as possible to they wouldn't disappear in my notifications! The small businesses were amazing about promoting not only their bid items but other small businesses too!! Like I said, our community is THE BEST!
During the campaign, I posted quick daily updates to the story about bidding or the campaign. I did not post any of my own content to the feed (meaning no "selling" on my part). Strictly just left the bid items up for 3 days and nothing else. A couple things I did encounter that I needed to address were 1) people were having a hard time seeing the top bid because Instagram lovingly scrambled the comments. I could totally see them chronologically on my side by selecting Newest Comments instead of Top Comments...but yeah... Instagram didn't wanna do that. I asked people to look for the top number and bid and not worry that I wouldn't see that they bid first. But that might be something to consider if you plan to do something similar. 2) There were questions on when bidding ended. I would have added that into each post's details too in the future. Even though I did say it in our post with the bidding rules, it would not have hurt to add it in to every single bid post too. 3) No one really brought up this issue but if I did it again, I would have added in a step to tag each bidder in the post (since you can tag up to 20 people) so they would get a notification when someone placed a bid.
We closed bidding RIGHT before midnight and then came a flurry of checking each photo and making sure no one was bidding past midnight (so important for fairness)! I wanted to make sure I checked each photo and then commented on who the winner was right away so that there would not be any confusion in the morning when people checked their bids. It actually took over 3 hours to go through the 73 bids, comment the winner, and also note on a spreadsheet I had created to track donations, winners and paid/claimed bids.
Forgot to mention this spreadsheet, but it tracked the brands, contact name for brand, donation item name and description, retail value, company bios, any additional notes from the brand ie. will email digital gift card to winner, bid winner, bid amount, where they wanted their donation to go to (since there was a choice for our fundraiser), if they paid and if they picked up/shipped/claimed their item.
It took about 24 hours to reach out to each person individually via Instagram DM to connect on checkout details. It took a while because messages often needed to be specific to that person's bid item and redemption details. It took me another 48 hours to respond to all the questions or messages after the initial checkout detail were sent. It was quite a lengthy process overall and probably one of the more lengthy parts of this fundraiser.
We preferred using cash or cash type of transactions for this fundraiser since we did not want to process anything through our store register system. We basically didn't want it recorded as a sale when 100% of the sales would be donated. We offered an additional $5 at checkout for those who wanted shipping. We planned to donate any overage collected in shipping, but, as typical when shipping, there was no overage (isn't shipping just getting super expensive nowadays??)
Items were picked up at the shop, shipped to the winners or the winners were connected to the brands for redemption. The best part of checkout was hearing all the amazing stories of how this fundraiser had such a heartfelt connection to so many people. We love hearing stories and we appreciate this chance to connect with a new audience who had similar hearts.
One thing I would add to checkout and also mention as a note to those running fundraisers, silent auctions typically don't provide donations receipts. Seems like that sounds sketchy but its not. Because bidders are receiving something for their bid, meaning it's not a true donation. A donation is made when nothing is received in return. That's why when you get a donation receipt for a clothing donation or (during current covid time) a mask donation, it will say at the bottom that there were no goods or services received by you. So technically those who are making a donation are the small businesses. They are the ones donating items/services to raise funds and not getting anything in return. To them, we addressed donation receipts will not be available. Most bidders do understand but it would be convenient to add it in during bidding info for clarification at the beginning.
Throughout this process, we sent out four emails. First, to brands asking if they were interested, explaining the logistics and a deliberate note not making them feel pressured to join in.
Second, to let the initial group of small businesses on board who the list of brands were and share the graphic. We asked them to share initial details the fundraiser such as dates and the causes. We also shared the graphic for them to post.
Next, we sent out one more email before launch with the latest updated list of vendors and the graphic again.
Lastly, we sent our last email out to THANK all of our amazing small businesses and share what we achieved together!
ALWAYS FROM THE HEART
Lastly, I truly believe if you decide to put together something like this, it is most important as with any company wanting to incorporate social cause into their mission, to be true and genuine to causes that are important for you. Don't do it if you are looking to get something back in return other than some good karma. Do it because you want to support a cause and you genuinely believe you are making a difference with your actions. When you do, your work shines through! For us, this meant we raised over $5500 in donations that went straight to NAACP and YWCA Oahu!!! We absolutely could not have achieved that without the generous donations from small businesses and the participation of all on Instagram who bid, shared, won, and just commented with a show of support. (Side note...send a check to help the nonprofit avoid paying credit card processing fees to make your donations go further!)
Note: I'm not an expert on Instagram rules so who knows if what I did was okay according to their user agreement but nothing seemed to get flagged and it was for a great cause! I also figured that Facebook groups have been running similar bid type sales (and those are FOR profit) so it should be ay-okay.