When DIY grows your signature event: How Covenant House did it - Part 2

Team DonorDrive

Team DonorDrive

This is Part 2 of our series on the success of DonorDrive client Covenant House and covers creating their virtual Sleep Out America event. Start with Part 1 here.

Expanding the experience with Sleep Out America

To call Sleep Out America a “virtual event” is somewhat of a misnomer. It’s the type of program we’re seeing a lot of from our DonorDrive clients: The DIY or virtual component to their signature event. Pam Sandonato, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Growth at Covenant House,  explains: “So to me, ‘virtual’ means you can be sitting in front of a computer and have an experience. In Sleep Out America, we make sure that people understand the significance of stepping out of your comfort zone and doing something in solidarity with individuals who are unstably housed. We don’t want anyone to think they can sit online and just be a clicktivist.”

The choice of DonorDrive was a logical one: “With the success of our DIY program we decided to launch Sleep Out America on DonorDrive. We had everything lined up for it to be a success from the start. We knew that we just needed to be able to give people a really easy platform to build a campaign and then speak on our behalf.” The ease of setting up a major fundraising event in DonorDrive also helped: “We went from a meeting in January of 2017 saying ‘Hey it might be cool to have a DIY Sleep Out. Let’s see if we can launch the program in November.’ With DonorDrive, we could launch an entirely new website and a new program in a matter of weeks. So that was huge. Building the whole program felt easy and pretty straightforward.”

While the Sleep Out focuses on larger events that are hosted through Covenant House and affiliates, Sleep Out America allows smaller groups and individuals, anywhere in the country, to create their own Sleep Out. To maintain the experience, Colleen Veldt, Director of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising notes that Covenant House is much more hands on with Sleep Out America than nonprofits typically are with build-your-own type DIY campaigns: “We guide them through how to set up their page and then how to plan their event. We make it as simple as possible and really stress to people, you can do this alone in your backyard or you can do it with a group. If they start a group page, we might send them recruitment materials for how to get others to join them. We give them sample messages and an editable planning timeline, so they have things to think about with their team and donors. We also try to be as responsive as possible on social media and on through email to make sure people know this is meant to be a night of solidarity. We want to make sure everyone does this is in a way that’s safe and legal.”

Pam notes that the launch of Sleep Out America on DonorDrive has had a huge response: “In 2017, as a pilot event, we had 1,300 people sign up and say, ‘I care about individuals experiencing homelessness.’ In 2018 we registered almost 5,000 on DonorDrive, doing the exact same thing, just more amplified. So part of us giving someone the DIY experience is just making it so accessible to them and then moving them along at a pace that feels appropriate. We want to make sure there’s no barrier to entry. DonorDrive allows us to bring new people into our circle, even when they don’t feel savvy online.”


Watch Coleen Veldt present how Covenant House created DIY program that helped grow their Signature Program at the 2019 Peer-to- Peer Professional Forum's DIY Summit. 

Watch the video presentation here.


Ensuring the growth of the Sleep Out with DonorDrive

When it came to upgrades, Covenant House’s previous software felt like it was stagnating. Pam sees that innovative software is necessary for the growth of their peer-to-peer success: “For the long-term roadmaps we’ve seen from DonorDrive—often the suggestions came from us. We’re managing a program that isn’t really like any of the other peer-to-peer programs. We’re not a health-based charity. We’re not a walk, we’re not a run, we’re not a ride, but DonorDrive is listening to our needs.” Colleen concurs: “With DonorDrive, you’re innovating on a daily basis. We feel like you guys get excited that we’re helping shape the future of how peer-to-peer fundraising will look. And so when we get called by our account manager and your dev team asking: ‘Can you talk to us about what your needs are, what you see coming down the pipe,’ we know it’s because you want your product to be better too. So it feels like a real partnership.”

Managing all their peer-to-peer on DonorDrive has allowed Covenant House to have a better understanding of the individual participant, see their impact and manage that relationship. Pam sees this as a big plus: “I think for us, a cool strategy that we've been able to incorporate recently in migrating everything to DonorDrive includes valuing each individual participant over time. We now see a cumulative amount of money that someone has raised on the platform. We’ve been able to use the Event Insights on the back end of DonorDrive to create some new strategies that will help us with overall fundraising goals.”

We asked Pam and Colleen what they liked best about working with DonorDrive’s software. For Pam, it’s accessing the back end on the go: “Whether I’m logging in at home, from my phone, or at my desk, I find when I need something quickly—I need to make an edit or need to pull something from a report—it’s all where I need it to be. It’s searchable, it’s easy to navigate. I’m often in DonorDrive when I'm on the go. It never disappoints me. I can log in easily and I’m never frustrated by it.” Note that DonorDrive’s superior responsive design makes everything on the front and back end accessible from any device, even a browser on your phone.

Colleen likes DonorDrive for the time it saves her: “It's tough to beat how quickly you can get a fundraising page or a new website up. I can make it look really nice, pretty easily. I’m not a developer, I don’t write code, but I can make a really good website on DonorDrive, and that feels like a super power. I can say ‘yes’ to our supporters’ fundraising creativity when they want to go beyond simple DIY. I can say: ‘Absolutely, we can get that live in a couple of hours.’ Another plus is being able to log in as the participant when they’re stuck. On our previous software I couldn’t do that. I would have participants' passwords on Post-its all over my desk so I could get into their accounts. It’s so much simpler now.”

Pam feels that genuinely caring about your cause is really important: “Colleen and I are both Sleep Out participants for the Women Unite edition. We’re not only administrators of DonorDrive on the back end, but we’re also participants on the front end. We both put DonorDrive out there as fundraisers and have great success doing that.” She values that DonorDrive take the time to care about Covenant House as well: “Our partnership with you guys is exemplary and what we look for in all our relationships. When your CEO, and our DonorDrive Account Manager, Ashley, visited us last year, they took a tour of the shelter. I saw them both feel very emotional about the work that you’re helping us do. We want everyone at DonorDrive to feel as though you are playing a significant role in raising money that’s helping kids at 31 Covenant House sites. I mean, we are raising millions and millions of dollars using DonorDrive.”

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