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"Why?" "For Who?" "How?": The Key to Fundraising is Answering These Questions

Hi everyone! I wanted to start off by introducing myself. My name is Serena Santoro. I’m a junior here at San Diego State and I’m studying business management with minors in public health and honors interdisciplinary studies. First, I’d like to point out that everyone’s fundraising journey is different and some things that have worked for me may not work for you. However, my goal is to provide many options that you can choose from based on your personal fundraising preference. To preface this, before Dance Marathon I had honestly never really thought much about fundraising, but I’d always been involved in various philanthropic work and figured it couldn’t be much different. 


Prior to joining Dance Marathon, I knew two things: that I love to dance and I enjoyed service. Since I don’t have an Instagram or Snapchat, I made two posts on Facebook the entire year leading up to the event and this is what the first one said, “Please help me fundraise for the local children’s hospital. Any amount helps! The dance marathon will be held in February. Here is the link.” At the time I was so proud of that post and how I was able to raise $116 for the kids. Upon reaching the minimum, I decided to stop fundraising because I knew I was already able to attend the event and I wasn’t required to go beyond that. I didn’t fully see or understand the impact I could or could not have on these children’s lives. I attended Dance Marathon that year on February 20th which ignited a lifetime of passion for children’s healthcare. I learned what I was fundraising for, how to do it, and why I was doing it. And that was key. 


The next year, I joined the leadership team and was the assistant to corporate fundraising. I knew this movement had inspired me, but I still didn’t quite understand how I could go about raising funds effectively. I started my fundraising off by setting up my Facebook fundraiser making sure to tag others, using slightly more words than the year prior, and a picture of me in my Dance Marathon attire. To my surprise, I received many likes, comments, and donations just by those seemingly insignificant additions. In the following weeks, I continued to post with pictures of where my supporters’ money was going and videos of tangible examples of kiddos being treated at Rady. I used this platform to ask for donations but more importantly thank people for their generosity and continuous support which surprisingly resulted in more donations. Many of my posts were focused on why I was fundraising for the kids, which after experiencing the event I realized is because of my mom and how her diagnosis of diabetes in 2017 has altered my family’s life.  Seeing as she’s a grown adult, I cannot imagine any child having to experience something like that. In this, I recognized how these hardships don’t solely affect the children at Rady, but majorly change his/her family’s lives as well. I focused on how in order to do my part for the kids, I couldn’t do it alone and would need to seek the support of my family and friends. 


After I exhausted posting, I began to text friends and family to see if I could Venmo request them $5 for the kids at Rady and they were more than happy to accept. I then got more crafty by providing an incentive for people to donate by selling PuraVida bracelets and donating all the proceeds. I wasn’t really sure where to go next but then I remembered how many of my friends told me how they received donations from embarrassing themselves. I know it sounds strange, but people are very willing to donate just to see you make a fool of yourself. I quickly equipped myself for the challenge and posted that if I got $365 that day that I would wear a chicken costume to school... all day. Sure enough, I ended up walking around campus in a chicken costume getting literally bocked at, which naturally sparked many spontaneous conversations that generated even more money for the kids. All because people became curious as to why I was wearing a chicken costume. They were so impressed with how much I cared about the organization to do something so, well, out of the ordinary that they knew this was a cause worth supporting. 


After my year of fundraising came the event which is where it all started the year before. While at the event, I updated my supporters and explained what was going on throughout the evening. My dad and sister were in attendance as well and they helped me update my family members and their friends too. We did some last-minute outreach, literally all night long via email and text and the results, to put it simply, were astounding. By physically being present at the event, we generated more than double the amount I had raised over the course of the whole year leading up to it because my supporters were finally able to understand what I was doing, why, and how I was doing it. 


This year, I have been incorporating these tactics into my fundraising, and have additionally been selling stickers, posting on Facebook, thanking donors, doing live videos, and ultimately educating people about this cause and how grateful I am for any bit of support.


In finding Dance Marathon at SDSU I didn’t just find another organization, I found one that embodies my entire being, and it helped me discover my desired career path as a children’s hospital administrator. So often, my family and friends wonder why I would want to work in a hospital because they feel like it is such a sad and heartbreaking place. I then explain that I want to be the person that turns that heartbreak into hope and that is what Rady does for its patients and families.


Overall, fundraising is not just about receiving money, it is mainly about giving and what you can provide for your supporters so they understand why they should support you. The key to fundraising is understanding why. I fundraise so these kids will know what it’s like to just be a kid. I fight for the kids. Do you?


- Serena Santoro, Co-Director of Corporate Fundraising 2020-2021

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