Extreme feats become fodder for social media fundraising; how to cash in is unclear

Climbing peaks or long-distance running can net cash for charities.


Dan Hobbs of Minneapolis climbed 57 mountain peaks in Colorado in just over 25 days as a fundraiser for Save the Children. His appeals on social media netted $14,000 for the charity.

Photo: Photo courtesy of Dan Hobbs,

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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!”

Fundraising soars

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.”

Success unpredictable

Even fundraisers requiring physical stamina are all over the map, a scroll through GiveMN fundraising pages shows.

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