When Jenna Rasmussen heard that Betty White died on New Year's Eve, the Minneapolis woman logged onto the Animal Humane Society's website and made a $100 donation in the actress' name.
"I watched her over the years and wanted to honor her love of animals," said Rasmussen, a retired insurance underwriter who adopted her last two dogs from the Humane Society and has left the organization a bequest in her will. "Betty White was an animal freak like me."
Rasmussen's impulse was spontaneous, but there's now a national initiative to raise money for animal welfare nonprofits in honor of the late comedian.
Via the #BettyWhiteChallenge, apparently started by a fan on Twitter, animal lovers are being encouraged to donate $5 to their favorite animal charity on Jan. 17, which would have been White's 100th birthday.
White was vocal about her love of animals and used her celebrity and her time offscreen to promote the welfare of animals with fins and feathers as well as traditional pets. She was a trustee of the Los Angeles Zoo and the Actors and Others for Animals fund and a supporter of the Marine Mammal Center. She also made significant donations that sponsored more than 30 animal health studies.
For Minnesota nonprofits that are always in need of money from donors, the grassroots groundswell honoring White's legacy could prove a real windfall.
"Ruff Start Rescue would be honored if you chose to memorialize Betty by making a donation in support of our efforts to save animals in need," said Azure Davis, founder and executive director of the animal rescue organization based in Princeton, Minn.
Mission Animal Hospital in Eden Prairie has organized a January campaign around the challenge, using its social media channels to remind donors to give.
"I'm a Betty White fan. Isn't everyone?" asked Mission founder, executive director and veterinarian Dr. Susan Miller. "She valued the hard work of caring for animals and she understood that when you help pets, you're helping people."
Mission Animal Hospital serves "working poor, paycheck-to-paycheck pet owners," said Miller, providing them with free and reduced-price veterinary care. In 2020, the nonprofit subsidized $1.1 million in veterinary services. Eighty-five percent of those served are low-income patrons; the 15% of pet owners who pay full price underwrite those costs.
"Of course we are glad for any donation but I'm glad they are asking for just $5, so many of her fellow animal lovers can participate," said Miller. "We know that people who are low-income are some of the most generous out there."
The Animal Humane Society is not making a direct plea connected to White, but it already has benefited from donors who have been motivated by the challenge. Donors have been mentioning the actress by name on the donation form when they give online or through the organization's phone line.
"This is especially powerful because it's not run by one animal welfare organization and it comes from the community," said Krista Gallagher Colt, the society's director of annual giving and advancement services.
Colt said the challenge is likely to do more than just honor White's legacy.
"These donations could start a long-term relationship with organizations like ours," she said. "When people raise their hand and put their money where their values are, they find out how good it feels. Betty White knew that."