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Monday, November 8, 2021

Case Study - Hope for Haiti: Embracing Iteration and Technology to Inspire Support and Exponential Growth

Photo credit: Hope for Haiti. All rights reserved.

Over the past two years, Charity Navigator has featured stories of innovation, adaptation, resilience, and success by nonprofits serving communities in the U.S. and around the world. Today, we are pleased to feature Hope for Haiti, a 4-Star rated charity, providing critical relief services in the Caribbean nation of Haiti for over 32 years. This case study highlights their annual fundraising appeal - Hike for Haiti. We hope their story will inspire other organizations, and provide a unique view to donors and funders about challenges faced and conquered by strong and determined teams. www.hopeforhaiti.org

INTRO

The COVID-19 pandemic, a new generation of grassroots donors, a remote workforce, and a plethora of emerging technologies have challenged organizations of all sizes to innovate and think creatively about how to best engage with donors and build a global community of support. At Hope for Haiti, we’ve seen firsthand how embracing the ‘new’ can reduce barriers to giving, reach new supporters, and lead to exponential fundraising growth. Our annual Hike for Haiti Challenge, now entering its fourth year in 2022, has seen greater than 35x revenue growth from its first year (2019; $9.5k) to its third (2021; ~$350k). As the nonprofit sector gears up for the giving season and looks towards 2022, we hope our best practices and lessons learned can help other organizations maximize support and growth.

WHO WE ARE

For the past 32+ years, Hope for Haiti has worked in southern Haiti to improve the quality of life for the Haitian people, particularly children, by empowering local leaders and supporting systems of education, healthcare, access to clean water, and economic opportunity. We currently have 11 team members in the United States and 156 Haitian team members who call Les Cayes home, and who serve as the key leaders in the implementation of our strategic plan and response to the devastating 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti in August. Over the last three decades of running poverty alleviation and disaster response programs, Hope for Haiti has emerged as one of the most trusted nonprofit organizations in Haiti, and currently has a perfect score on Charity Navigator, as well a Platinum Seal of Transparency on GuideStar. Our Healthcare Program was also a winner at this year’s Classy Awards.

EVENT CONCEPTION

At Hope for Haiti, we continuously strive to provide authentic ways for our supporters to connect with the impact their donations make possible on the ground in Haiti, despite the physical distance. While virtual events are now considered a core strategy for nonprofit organizations due to the pandemic, they were still considered a novelty in 2019. At the time, our online fundraising campaigns were targeted to our supporters and followers around the globe, but our event attendee base was limited to where we held our two major annual in-person fundraising events: Naples, Florida and Stamford, Connecticut.

As part of our 2019 strategic plan, we committed to exploring emerging sources of revenue (like cryptocurrency, which we began accepting later that year) and new types of event structures that would allow our team to engage with a larger and more diverse community of supporters. While working on our annual report, we were inspired by the story of our partner community of Marre à Coiffe, where children climb a mountain every day to attend school. From there, the idea for the Hike for Haiti Challenge (first called the MAC Challenge, in honor of the community) was born. We would challenge supporters around the world to hike in their hometowns in solidarity with the children in Marre à Coiffe and fundraise to support our Back-to-School Program. 

The idea provided us the opportunity to meet three of our goals: host an event targeting grassroots donors; engage our community in something fitness-oriented; and allow for global participation. Because we had never run an event like this before, we settled on a conservative fundraising goal of $5,000, picked a weekend for the following month, and launched the campaign with the understanding that it was a pilot event and we would adjust our strategy as needed. Registration cost $30 (fully tax-deductible), and the suggested donation amount was $5, which would provide one student with all of their back-to-school supplies. The event exceeded our expectations and raised over $9,500, with an average donation size of $64.47. 

TWO YEARS IN A PANDEMIC

We recognized the Hike’s potential for exponential growth, and set out to make the second annual event in 2020 even more successful than the pilot. Feedback is critical for future success, so we surveyed participants, then gathered as a team for an internal debrief to critically evaluate what worked well and what we could improve upon. The first adjustment we made going into the second year was to change the name of the event from the MAC Challenge, which didn’t connect strongly with our hikers or social media followers, to the Hike for Haiti Challenge. Our hikers wanted more ways to connect with each other, so we developed a plan to hold in-person activations in key markets. We also chose to introduce an ambassador program for the event, through which high-profile individuals would fundraise from their networks and help raise awareness for the cause. 

Soon it became clear that the COVID-19 pandemic would make in-person activations impossible, and with potential hikers quarantined in their homes, a 220-flight hike over three days was also unlikely. Rather than cancel the Hike for Haiti Challenge, we adapted and embraced all of the technology options available to us. We extended the timing of the event to last a full month to give hikers the opportunity to complete the full challenge inside, created an online community on Facebook for hikers to gather virtually, and invited instructors from top fitness facilities to hold complimentary virtual hike-inspired classes online for our registered hikers. We held weekly Instagram Lives, highlighted hikers’ social media posts on our social media feeds, and opened the event up to cryptocurrency donations to help us reach our fundraising goal of $50,000. We also adjusted the event funding to support both our Education and Community Health Programs, given the additional support needed in the fight against COVID-19. By the end of the second Hike for Haiti in May of 2020, we raised over $105,000, and kept our average donation size under $100. 

When the pandemic forced us to abandon plans for large in-person hikes again in 2021, we turned to technology once more to help us iterate and innovate. We invited a team of gaming livestreamers to participate, and together they raised over $90,000 -- almost the entire revenue of the previous year’s event. Using lessons learned from our first virtual auction (held in late-2020), we also hosted two major livestream events of our own during the Hike for Haiti Challenge month: the Mid-Month Motivation Event, which was a full-day virtual fitness festival; and the All-Stars Celebration Event, which featured live performances by Hike for Haiti Challenge Ambassadors as well as an awards ceremony for the hikers. In total, the event raised nearly $350,000 -- over 35x the first year’s revenue.

LOOKING AHEAD TO 2022

We’re currently planning the fourth annual Hike for Haiti Challenge, which will take place from April 1 - May 1, 2022. We’ve already made some adjustments to our strategy after the devastating 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck our impact area of southern Haiti in August, as the needs of our partner communities have grown and shifted. After two years of cancelled plans for in-person activations, we’re also hopeful to finally provide opportunities for hikers in several locations to come together in person. Finally, we successfully piloted our new virtual reality app on Oculus and held our first NFT auction in October, and plan to incorporate both technologies into the 2022 Hike for Haiti Challenge.

KEY TAKEAWAY

During each year of the Hike for Haiti Challenge, our team utilized a new technology to bolster the event’s success and reach a new subset of potential donors where they feel most comfortable. By embracing iteration, supporter feedback, and these emerging technologies, the Hike for Haiti Challenge has seen exponential growth over three years, and introduced our work to thousands of new donors, media, and high-profile individuals.

About the author: Taylor Hebble is Hope for Haiti’s Director of Marketing and Communications. You can connect with her on LinkedIn here. Registration for the 2022 Hike for Haiti Challenge will open in December 2021. To get involved, please email hike@hopeforhaiti.com

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