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Inside the Smithsonian: Giving in America

It started with a Facebook post that said, “Lo and behold, there I am!

Greg Ng, the host of the 24-Hour Telethon fundraising campaign for the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina, found his picture squarely featured in the Giving in America exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum of American History. I was in charge of that campaign. My colleague took the photo. It was 2013.

Within my role as a digital fundraising strategist, there is often doubt and a troubling amount of skepticism. There are questions, so many questions, about how to approach a comprehensive online engagement and revenue strategy. It’s not just putting the tactics in place. There are layers of issues that fundraisers face: how to collaborate in difficult environments, handle limited resources, overcome technology barriers, how to start over when there is a resignation and loss of institutional knowledge, how to prioritize in the avalanche of responsibilities, and trying to show leaders that, yes, with intentional time and investment, digital fundraising works and you CAN make a million a year.

And so to have our li’l ol’ campaign prominently featured in the largest complex of museums, education and research centers in the world just about took my breath away. It was the ultimate endorsement. An affirmation of the strategy. A reward for the exhaustive and exhilarating hard work of not only this event, but many others over the years.

#FoodBank24 was a 24-hour fundraising campaign that was live-streamed every year from 2012 to 2015. We not only raised over $50,000 each year (after the first), we engaged hundreds of community volunteers, partners, and donors. It was the perfect example of a campaign that spanned the growth funnel from acquisition to conversion to stewardship. We had wildly creative elements: a midnight BBQ, veggie yoga, dance lessons, cake decorating contests, live music, blind cheese tasting, martial arts, face painting, magicians, a dunk tank, and more. We hosted a family-friendly Social Media Mixer with games, raffles, and treats, a Midnight Madness sweet potato sorting event paired with a sweet potato pie tasting, and a Food Truck Rodeo. We had local celebrities join us: Wool E. Bull of the Durham Bulls, the Carolina Rollergirls, and Bob Garner from PBS NC’s NC Weekend. There were incentives for donating, match challenges, and on-air shout-outs. Our social media ambassadors were an invaluable part of planning, promoting and executing the event. It was a tremendous team effort that included not only the time and talent of Greg, but also his producer, Mike Adams, and the internal team (at the time): Molly Rivera, Maxine Oakley, Jen Caslin, Linda Fisher, Christy Simmons, Carter Crain, Charlie Hale, among many others!

When I saw Greg’s Facebook post, I was not only thrilled, but also curious. How did the Smithsonian find out about the campaign? How did they select the photos for the exhibit? Did they know anything about the campaign? I reached out to the curator and was delighted to get an email back for a zoom meeting. Unfortunately, the selection of the photos pre-dated her. Apparently, the exhibit has been in place for several years!

Closeup of Giving in America Photo Collage

While I didn’t get the answers I was seeking, what an honor it is to be included in the museum collection. You can see the original photo here and the interview with Greg and Telethon sponsor Brooks Bell here.

As a bonus, read the behind-the-scenes recap from 2013, posted the day after the event. Oh, man, was I tired! I can still feel it in my bones to this day.

I also featured many of these details in Chapter Nine of my book: The Power of an Ambassador Program.

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