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

Team DonorDrive

Team DonorDrive

This is a 2-part series on the success of DonorDrive client, Covenant House. They provide housing and services to youth facing homelessness, helping 5 million youth in 31 cities and 6 countries and are committed to the fight against human trafficking. Starting out with DIY on DonorDrive, they recently moved over their signature Sleep Out program and started the virtual Sleep Out America program on DonorDrive.

“We now have three DonorDrive instances,” notes Colleen Veldt, Director of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising for Covenant House“The first was our DIY fundraising program, which also became our catch-all for our endurance program and other supporter-driven events. We love the flexibility of DonorDrive and how versatile it is, so we made the decision to move our entire Sleep Out program onto DonorDrive. That switch happened in January. Around the same time, we launched our newest Sleep Out program, Sleep Out America. That’s a DIY version of our Sleep Out events that anybody, anywhere can participate in.” The Sleep Out, Covenant House’s wildly successful experiential fundraiser, has helped provide 700,000 nights of safe housing for young people.

Better technology gave Covenant House fundraisers the green light

Pam Sandonato, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Growth at Covenant House, explains how their DIY program fit into their overall fundraising strategy: “Leadership recognized that finding new supporters for Covenant House is a top priority and to do that, we need to be multichannel. We have to be in places where people have not yet connected with the Covenant House brand. We also need to be really nimble, and as our fundraising ideas come, have peer-to-peer fundraising software that allows us to try new things, like DonorDrive does.

Our leadership gave us permission, not only the green light, but a bright green light, and the encouragement to say: Let’s be in the business of saying ‘yes’ to anybody who wants to help us.” 

DIY allowed Covenant House to do that: “We found all these people who wanted to do something with their kids, so we came up with Family Service Night. We put it on DonorDrive in our DIY program because it gave us a place where people could fundraise and have an experience.”

Pam notes that saying ‘yes’ became the norm with their DIY program on DonorDrive: “We wanted to do service trips to Latin American sites, so we put it in DonorDrive. We started sending people to Latin America and coupled that with a fundraising campaign.” Colleen notes: “The Covenant House brand on all our DIY sites gives us credibility, so with our donors and participants it’s so nice to be able to say ‘yes, we can do it’. It's a game changer. I never have to tell somebody ‘no’ with DonorDrive.”

An example of the ability to say “yes” is the Edrington Americas Epic Ride. Employees from around the world of Edrington, the company that makes Macallan Scotch, wanted to do a three-day benefit ride on the California coast. An employee of Edrington who had participated in Sleep Out called Covenant House to inquire about a potential partnership. Colleen notes that getting the event hinged on one thing: “They were going to have this event one way or another, and they asked: ‘which charity can build a website fast enough for us?’” Pam wasn’t even in the office when she got the call: “I talked to the Edrington people from my vacation and by Monday Colleen had the site ready to go.” Colleen found it easy: “I created a site for their event in DonorDrive within 24 hours that looked really great.”

The ride raised almost $50,000, with the company double matching what their employees raised. Colleen sees this event as DIY proving itself once again: 

“That’s $150,000 that we wouldn’t have had if we couldn’t say ‘yes’.”

Transitioning The Sleep Out to a new fundraising platform

Despite issues they were having with their previous software, the Sleep Out had already been a big success. Pam feels the deep experiential factor makes a huge impact on participants: “We provide a night of experience that allows someone to not only educate themselves, but also to talk to other advocates while they’re also spending the night outdoors uncomfortably. It’s not about pretending to be homeless, by any means. It’s an act of solidarity and a recognition that there are people who are living this way and that we can’t remain indoors while so many people are forced to sleep outdoors.”

Pam says the negatives of their previous platform necessitated the move, but the positive experience with DIY made it an easy decision to move the Sleep Out program to DonorDrive: “We were experiencing a lot of problems with our previous fundraising software. We’d been existing on a platform that required so many workarounds to get us what we needed that we were paying an additional web developer. He had to skin all of our websites to just make them marketable. So in addition to this tremendous cost that we were incurring, the web platform that we were on was outdated. We were already feeling as though we were behind with the product. It wasn’t mobile responsive, so then we had to pay another company to build us an app for that. We were spending a lot of money just to make it work.”

The good working relationship that Covenant House had with DIY on DonorDrive made the decision to switch an easy one, according to Pam: “Our relationship with you guys at DonorDrive is in a really good place and the product has been serving us well. So moving our whole Sleep Out Program to DonorDrive was a natural fit.” Colleen found the move got a thumbs up, especially from her staff: “We were managing the events for all of our affiliate sites on our previous software. Moving to DonorDrive allowed for a lot more flexibility and customization of events, which our site staff loved.“

In Part 2, Pam and Colleen explain how they created their virtual Sleep Out America event. Read Part 2.

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