Have an Operation Gratitude Birthday!

Creative Ways To Support Our Troops
Guest post by Matthew Rosen

Happy Birthday, Matt, and THANK YOU -- from all of us at Operation Gratitude.


For my birthday this year, I held a charity birthday celebration, where I asked friends to donate to my cause of choice in lieu of just buying me a drink at the bar.  I, of course, chose to direct my friends to Operation Gratitude, a cause most near and dear to me. I figure our men and women in uniform could use the support a lot more than I could use another shot at the bar.

I was inspired by two friends who, as far as I’m concerned, have set the bar for fundraising around a birthday or other special event. My friend Rachel Sklar (http://charitini.com), just held a massively successful event for her birthday, where she raised over $7,000 for a number of DonorsChoose projects encouraging math and science education for young women (Event page: http://bit.ly/fORoJp ). Another friend, Sloane Berrent (http://www.thecausemopolitan.com), and her partner in crime, Doug Campbell (http://www.projectfresh.com), hosted a whirlwind cross-country “Cause It’s My Birthday” (http://bit.ly/hAaUhB) celebration last year, where they held seven parties in seven cities in seven days around their respective birthdays. They raised over $19,000 to purchase malaria nets for orphanages and refugee camps in Northern Ghana in conjunction with Netting Nations (http://nettingnations.org). Both of these events are outstanding examples and just drop-kick all expectations as to what one person can do for a cause by leveraging the multiplier effect of friends telling friends who tell friends who…

Now, DO NOT AT ALL feel intimidated and think that if you don’t raise thousands of dollars for your cause of choice, you’ve failed or that it’s not worth doing in the first place. Rachel and Sloane are social media mavens and also opened their events to the public. You can choose to host as large or as intimate a gathering as you’d like. The concept is the same. Know that every little bit helps, and in the case of OpGrat, if one more soldier gets a little taste of home, you’ve done a great service!

In short:

1) Make the decision to have a fundraiser! This is the biggest hurdle. The rest is all downhill.

2) Pick a venue and invite your friends, family, colleagues, etc.

3) Ask that in lieu of gifts, people donate to your cause of choice in person at the event, or online/by mail on their own time if they can’t make it.

Some tips:

Today, there are so many great tools available to assist you in getting the word out about your fundraiser/event.

-E-mail, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc. are great for spreading the word and leveraging your social networks for impact. Use the tools that your peers use, wherever they may be. If you’re going big, leverage all the tools at your disposal. You never know which ones are going to be the most sticky.

-For online invitations, I’ll recommend Pingg (http://www.pingg.com). Pingg provides free, elegant online invitations, announcements, save-the-dates and party guest list management tools. They also happen to be an Operation Gratitude partner!

-CrowdRise (http://www.crowdrise.com) provides a free suite of tools to run your fundraiser, from a project/event landing page, to donation links, to sharing buttons, to goal trackers, etc.

Some learnings:

-Don’t be afraid to ask for donations!  Make it easy for your friends by providing a donation link or doing a collection at the event and, trust me, they’ll be happy to do it.  Just bring it to their attention.  You’ll be surprised. I joked in an e-mail that I was “guilting” everyone into supporting my cause of choice under the veil of celebrating my b-day, though my friend put it best when she said, “You know what, I didn’t feel that at all. In fact, you just showed me how easy it is to help out.”

Everyone loved the idea and especially loved the cause.

-Want to provide a sweetener/incentive? Going with the care package theme, I held a drawing for a care package that I prepared myself for one lucky donor! Use your imagination and come up with your own ideas.

-Take a moment to highlight the cause and thank everyone at the event for helping be a part of your fundraising effort. It’s always great to be around friends and family on such momentous occasions, but be sure to take a second to think about those service members who are thousands of miles away from their loved ones.

-It’s up to you if you want to set a goal, i.e. turning 25? Raise enough for 25 care packages. Setting a goal can help create urgency, but it’s not necessary. Again, every little bit…

-Follow up after the event. Send thank you notes (Use Pingg!). Send pictures. Encourage others to hold a fundraiser of their own. Ask people one last time to forward/tweet/post the donation information for your cause to their contacts. I’m still receiving word from people confirming donations made online.

-It’s not just great for birthdays! How about making donations in lieu of giving wedding favors? Bar/Bat Mitzvahs? Confirmations?


-Operation Gratitude shipped their 600,000th care package the day of my party. Sort of made the event a part of history!

-One of my former campers popped in for five minutes just to say hi before he had to go to work.  He said one of his best friends from growing up was a Marine and is heading to Afghanistan soon.  He couldn’t thank me enough for doing what I did and sent my message to everyone in his address book.

-A friend of a friend showed up who just got out of the Army.  He was in Korea and Iraq.  He had no idea about the fundraiser in advance, but when I told him, he emptied his wallet.  Never met the kid before.

Again, this is another great way to show gratitude to our brave men and women overseas. It’s really very simple to do and can have a tremendous impact!

About Operation Gratitude

Operation Gratitude annually sends 200,000+ care packages to Veterans, First Responders, New Recruits, Wounded Heroes, their Care Givers, and to individually named U.S. service members deployed overseas and their families waiting at home. Each package is filled with food, entertainment, hygiene and hand-made items, as well as personal letters of support. Our mission is to lift the spirits and meet the evolving needs of the Military and First Responder communities, and provide volunteer opportunities for civilians anywhere in America to express their appreciation to all who serve our nation. Each package contains donated product valued between $45 and $100 and costs our organization $15 to assemble and ship. Since its inception in 2003, Operation Gratitude volunteers have shipped more than 1.6 Million Care Packages.
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