As floodwaters raged in the valley below, Dan Hobbs climbed an icy Colorado mountain and tried to ignore the lightning shocks that bombarded his wool hat. This was not part of his fundraising plan.
The Minneapolis climber had pledged to scale 57 grueling Colorado mountain peaks in 24 days as an extreme fundraiser for Save the Children, a nonprofit that supports children in developing countries.
Hobbs managed to reach his goal just one day late — conquering more mountain peaks than most folks do in a lifetime. But when he returned to the city of Boulder in September, there were no cheering fans, no media interviews — just his parents, a renewed faith in God and $14,000 committed to the cause.
It’s a significant donation, say fundraisers. But given the risks and stamina involved, the amount could have been 10 times more. It points to the challenges of do-it-yourself fundraisers, even for the new breed of extreme fundraising spreading across social media.
The universe of “causes” has exploded so rapidly that it’s getting hard to stand out in the crowd — even if you’re on top of a mountain.
“More and more people are becoming philanthropic with their extreme talents and endeavors, but the fundraising part is difficult,” said Ettore Rossetti, digital marketing director at Save the Children. “A lot of people don’t have a huge fundraising network. Not everyone has rich family and friends. Not everyone has media attention.”
Hobbs, 27, is thankful he met his goal and emerged without injury. He emerged in such good form, in fact, that he ran the Mankato Marathon over the weekend.
“I’m from Minnesota: I’m not an athlete,” he said. “And I just climbed 57 mountains in 25 days!”
Billions of dollars have been raised for charities and causes through social media sites such as Facebook, Razoo and Kickstarter — and the numbers keep growing.
Kickstarter reports it raised $319 million last year, triple the $99 million from 2011. Razoo last year reached its $100 million mark. Last month Facebook’s “Causes” application spun off as an independent entity after raising $170 million since its launch in 2007.
That’s great news for charities and their supporters, but it can be overwhelming for friends bombarded with donation and “like” requests.
“There are only so many Facebook status updates and Twitter feeds that you can notice on your mobile phone,” said Rossetti.
Libby Leffler, who oversees the nonprofits platform for Facebook, doesn’t believe the field is getting unwieldy. She points to the dramatic success of many Facebook fundraisers as proof that people are ready and willing to give.
That points to one of the curious features about do-it-yourself fundraisers.
“What catches on is just unpredictable,” said Dana Nelson, executive director of GiveMN, a Minnesota online giving platform. “You can have a well-executed fundraising campaign that doesn’t reach a wide audience. Or a person could raise a bunch of money for a cause after making a video on their smartphone that goes viral. You just never know.”
Even fundraisers requiring physical stamina are all over the map, a scroll through GiveMN fundraising pages shows.
Christopher Durant of Dellwood raised $10,388 for the STEP Up program at Augsburg College by running Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth in June. Meanwhile, William O’Keefe’s page shows the St. Louis Park runner raised $362 for the same marathon for the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota.
Mike and Janice Dimond of Excelsior have raised $7,265 by running half-marathons in 14 states, part of an effort to raise $25,000 over several years for Feed My Starving Children. Chris Gardener of Duluth last year ran 16 hours on a treadmill, bringing in $1,925 for the Duluth Area YMCA.
Hobbs was happy to reach his $14,000 goal, until he discovered the disparities when he got home.
“I just got an e-mail from a woman who climbed one mountain and raised $150,000,” said Hobbs. “She obviously knew something that I don’t.”
Hobbs was a first-time major fundraiser. He grew up on a hobby farm in Wisconsin, ran an organic lawn care business in Minneapolis and now invests in housing.
A trip to India opened his eyes to the harsh reality facing children in developing countries. He chose to scale mountain peaks “because it was a challenge.” He had some experience climbing the Rockies, as his parents now live in Boulder.
Hobbs hastily put together his fundraising plan in July, sending e-mails to friends and family and creating a Facebook page called “Run Dan Run.” His mom updated the page regularly with photos and his locations during the climb.
By Aug. 10, he was in Colorado with $500 worth of Power Bars and enough money to buy a small truck, a small camper and climbing shoes. Ten days later, still adjusting to the altitude, he set off with his father, Forrest Hobbs, who accompanied him on parts of his journey.
Back home in Minneapolis, Hobbs opened his laptop and clicked on photos taken at 57 peaks. In some, Hobbs is smiling and framed by clear blue skies. In others, fog is so dense his body is a blur. In one night photo, he and his father are wearing lighted helmets and looking cold and exhausted after a 20-hour climb that covered five 14,000-foot peaks.
“This was taken at 1 a.m., after we got done being lost,” Hobbs said, remembering the fear. “You’re sitting on a cliff. You’re in the dark. You don’t know how to get down.”
Climbing up, running down and then driving to the next mountain trailhead — squeezing in some sleep and some pasta or soup. That was the routine of 24 days. The last few days also involved maneuvering around mudslides and trees downed by Colorado’s historic flooding.
Even for the veteran Save the Children organization, it was a remarkable feat. Said Rossetti: “Dan is unique.” Save the Children is very pleased with the $14,000 raised, he said.
“Getting on top of the mountain isn’t the point,” Rossetti said. “It’s the journey. Dan could inspire a whole generation of climbers.”
Hobbs, who is still accepting donations, is inspired to do more. But he will review his fundraising strategy.
Next time, he said, “I think second time around, people have more trust in you.”