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Raise Your City: Millennial Tactics for Fundraising

Sep 11th, 2013Business, National, Opinion, Tech, Washington D.C.

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It’s becoming an age-old question: How do you engage today’s 20-somethings in charitable giving and community engagement? Organizations and nonprofits have racked their brains and literally devised development strategies to engage millennials. They’ve made Generation Y out to be an elusive, almost unobtainable mindshare.

But, what if it were as simple as putting on a good party?

Rewind to a few years ago, when a friend-of-a-friend ran all 2,663 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in just over two months — that is an average of 44 miles every single day, or about 100 consecutive marathons from the Canadian to Mexican borders.

The runner, Sam Fox, 23, who “every morning was up with the sun,” made this journey and pushed the limits of his body to raise awareness and money to fight Parkinson’s, a disease his own mother was diagnosed with in 2000. Through an incredible test of willpower, Sam inspired others to join the cause and pledge dollars for Parkinson’s research across the country.

This epic adventure known as “Run While You Can,” complete with a documentary film and web journal, raised nearly $300,000 for the Michael J. Fox Foundation in 61 days.

On the weekend Sam crossed the finish line in October 2011, we decided to host a benefit event far away in Washington, DC—partly to applaud the feat, partly to celebrate the finish, and partly to donate to the cause.  We were inspired, and in less than two weeks, we leveraged our personal and professional networks to reserve a host venue, book music, and promote the occasion through social media and friends.

Together, we quickly raised over a thousand dollars for a man neither of us had ever met.

This nearly spontaneous achievement shared between a host business, performing artists, a powerful cause and compelled attendees would eventually become the crux of a new endeavor.

Raise Your City, our organization, was founded in June 2012.  It’s a social enterprise that curates hyper-local benefit events targeted to millennials. RaiseDC, the organization’s first of many city chapters, helps to accelerate positive change in our immediate surroundings. The premise of this “virtuous nightlife movement” is simple—turn social activities into acts of civic engagement.

Of the thousands of charitable organizations and nonprofits based in Washington, DC, only a fraction reinvest directly back into the city in which they reside or are headquartered.  It is this fraction that we serve, with the foremost objectives of raising funds, heightening awareness, and attracting volunteers for these smaller, resource-strained organizations.  We are also a temporary extension of their teams, providing a viable fundraising platform and digital marketing services at zero cost.

Nearly 100% of profits turned over to organizations, like DC Greens, helping to teach DC students healthy eating habits, and The Perry Center, providing adult education and childcare services to low-income families living within sight of the U.S. Capitol.

We asked ourselves, very early on in this endeavor, “If this truly is to become a platform to progress community, how can we offer that community a louder voice in the process, too?” Democracy was the answer. Instead of a behind-the-scenes beneficiary selection process, we give the power to our followers in the most democratic process of all – a vote.

Beneficiaries are mostly selected through Facebook polling; whoever tallies the most clicks receives the benefit and proceeds.  This allows local nonprofits to monetize their social communities while driving social media traffic to each stakeholder.

Traditional fundraising strategies have, for the most part, excluded our target audience—the urban millennial.  Only recently have younger demographics been targeted as real candidates for philanthropic giving, due in large part to new digital fundraising platforms (“text-to-give”, “tweet-to-give”, and crowdfunding) and the rise in social media consumption.

We do not throw extravagant galas, nor do we solicit large contributions from our followers.  Rather, we cater to their lifestyles, providing an attractive way to engage with the city’s social, economic, and environmental issues, while donating within their means. Unlike the pricey gala, our costs are spread over a much more palatable timeframe and the donations reach a much wider range of beneficiaries.

By leveraging this focus, we strive for millennials in every metropolitan city to become civic change agents while having the time of their lives. By weaving together nonprofits, the arts community, venue spaces, and a generation poised to change the world, our goal is to instill a sense of civic participation and locally-focused responsibility with a low barrier to entry and high potential for reverberations.

But before we scale to other cities, Raise Your City must expand our reach within, becoming truly representative of all the ages, colors and interests that make DC. The fact that DC is so diverse makes this an intriguing, yet challenging, launch city. Our virtuous nightlife movement begins in DC, but there’s no reason the same model cannot scale city-by-city in the U.S. and beyond.

Learn more by visiting

This is a guest post by Ryan Ulbrich, co-founder of Raise Your City. Photo Courtesy of Subject.


Readers, what do you think of this approach to fundraising – let us know.  We want to hear your views on this approach for Millennial support.

One Response

  1. Barney says:

    good solutions, this is what I called brilliant