In this video, I’m joined by Knitwear Designer, Laura Nelkin, from Knit for Food. Knit for Food recently hosted a 12-hour knitting marathon to raise funds and awareness for food insecurity. All funds raised benefitted four organizations committed to the fight against hunger: Feeding America, World Central Kitchen, No Kid Hungry, and Meals on Wheels. Laura’s taking you behind the scenes of her first-ever fundraiser. Follow along to learn:

  • What made her turn to Givebutter (Shoutout to Gilmore Girls and Club Knitflix!)
  • How to build a community for good through online fundraising efforts
  • Tips, tricks, and lessons learned for impactful messaging and seamless fundraising
“We had 5,258 unique donations and 4,163 of them were $50 and under. It was a really strong showing-up-small donations, building up that whole.”

You are kniterally not going to believe how much she was able to raise.

Campaign at a glance

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Full video script

Rachel: Hey everybody! Rachel here with Givebutter. Thanks for joining for another Success Story from the Givebutter community. Today, we are highlighting Knit for Food. You might recognize the name because we featured them as a ‘Campaign We Love’ on our site, as well as in a Good Newsletter. Recently, Knit for Food’s 12-hour Knit-a-thon raised over—get this—$265,000 on Givebutter, which was backed by more than 5,000 supporters. I think you're really going to love hearing more about this one. I have Laura here with me to share how they raised funds and awareness for food insecurity. She's also going to tell us what made her turn to Givebutter with tips, tricks, and lessons learned—all the things you want to know about. Laura, thank you so much for joining us and for sharing your story today.

Laura: Thank you for having me. I'm thrilled to be able to share what we got done in that short period of time.

Rachel: To start, why don't you go ahead and introduce yourself to everybody and how you started Knit for Food.

Laura: Sure! My name is Laura Nelkin. I'm a Knitwear Designer. I live in upstate New York in the Finger Lakes Region. I've been working as a Knitwear Designer for about 15 years, but I went to Cornell for Apparel Design, so I've been steeped in making and creating for as long as I can remember. To make a long story short, my daughter—who's in college—got sent home last spring when the pandemic started. When she finished her spring semester, she got a job through Americorps working for our local food bank doing food intake. All summer long last summer—it was the summer of 2020—while I was working in the studio I could hear her on the phone upstairs in her bedroom doing intake and basically signing up my neighbors to get food at our local food banks who were experiencing food insecurity for the first time. I was never aware of the extreme hunger and food insecurity that was being experienced by people right in my region before that. It was really just firsthand. She was going to distributions and helping people get food and our dinner conversations were very much centered around this issue that we had heard about but weren't completely aware of before. I knew that was something that I wanted to work on and put some energy towards and help create some kind of—not necessarily solution—but help. What I do is fun. I love knitting. I love creating. It creates community. Knitting is therapy; I’m sure you guys have heard that. It's meditation. It’s everything good for you, but it can be a little—I don't know—self absorbed, right? It's me and my needles. What am I doing for the world? This was something I felt like I can do something for my neighbors and something for my country. I was inspired by the Gilmore Girls’ episode—I believe it was season seven, episode nine...

Rachel: Yes! That’s amazing.

Laura: ...Where they have a Knit-a-thon on for Stars Hollow to raise money to build a bridge. I was like “Well, Lorelai did a Knit-a-thon and that raised tons of money. Why don’t we do that?” Then I Googled “Knit-a-thon” and it turns out doing a Knit-a-thon is not a new thing. There's been Knit-a-thons done since probably before Gilmore Girls. But, I did stumble across a Knit-a-thon run by the Knitflix girls. They're a group of women who are called The Knitflix Knit-a-thon, and they got together to raise money for Black Lives Matter. They used Givebutter, and I think Givebutter focused on them in a blog post. I was able to read that blog that Givebutter had done and really get an idea of how they harnessed Givebutter to be able to do their project. Then I reached out to them and was like, “Hey, would you guys tell me what you did and what I shouldn't do? Or what I should do if I'm thinking about doing this?” I've never met them before. We got together. It was four women in their 20s, fresh out of college. They were an inspiration. I'm not worried about our country's future with women like that at the helm, right?

Rachel: That’s right!

Laura: They were completely open and transparent and shared everything they did and what they felt like worked and what they felt like they made too confusing. I took what they gave me and pared it down to the basic bones because I've learned that the simpler I can do something, the more powerful it can be sometimes. The more I can make it not as complicated. I didn't have teams competing against each other; we were all just in it and raising as much money as we can. We weren't counting how much somebody was raising every hour on that last day of the event. Everybody was working together, and we were just going for the biggest total number we could get without any competition between ourselves.

Rachel: I love that! That's amazing. Shout out to Club Knitflix gals. Hi! I miss you guys.

Laura: I know; they’re awesome!

Rachel: They are amazing and inspiring. Please give us an update on what you have been up to since then. That is amazing and it's incredible how you took that personal inspiration and just thought how you could be a changemaker. Seeing issues that were happening in your own community with food insecurity and doing the most good in many communities across our country. I know you partnered with four different nonprofits that have a large reach and are doing so much good in our communities. You took really a community approach. Instead of getting hyper-gamified and creating these teams who compete against each other, you really just rallied around as one community, one voice, for one cause. I thought that message was really clear when I looked at your fundraiser. Kudos to all of you. Can you break down for us some of your success? In the end, how did all those funds come in? What’s a breakdown of that? Did you know how many supporters you had? All that kind of stuff.

Laura: Sure! The first thing I want to say is that we split the funds raised between four organizations. It was Feeding America, Meals on Wheels, No Kid Hungry, and World Central Kitchen. Each of those organizations has a special focus. It was really important to me that we’d be hitting all of the bases. One of the reasons I think we had the success we did is somehow I convinced them to let us use their logos, which isn't necessarily—I don't know, I think I just said the right words or something. I almost was like, “Well dad said I could use his logo if you say I can use your logo.” And that worked out! The fact that we were able to have all of those on the logo—on our graphics—was really helpful for people to understand exactly where the money was going. In the end, we had over 700 knitters sign up to fundraise. What we told our knitters was that they needed to raise a minimum of $100 to get the Zoom link to be able to be on the Zoom event the day of because I wanted to give them some kind of incentive.

Rachel: Yeah, yeah.

Laura: It seems like you could either probably raise $100 or maybe be able to donate $100 yourself to be on the Zoom for that day. That's a lot less than doing a knitting retreat on Zoom for a weekend. We had 700+ knitters sign up. 492 of them raised over $100. Those of them that didn't end up raising $100, we gave them the Zoom link anyway because this is in the spirit of full cooperation. I didn't want anybody to feel left out of it in the end. 167 of them raised over $500. 66 raised over $1,000. 14 raised over $2,000. The bulk of money raised was raised by people who raised right around $100 which is pretty cool. It wasn't that everybody was going all out with their fundraising. Some of that is people who have a stronger social media presence or have done a lot of giving in the past. Then that giving kind of comes back to you when you start to do your fundraising, so I think there's a few different reasons for that. We had 5,258 unique donations and 4,163 of them were $50 and under. It was a really strong showing-of-small donations, building up that whole. There were very few donations that were over $1,000. I think there were four or five that were over $1,000. We did end up with a few private foundations that donated separately to the organizations—equal amounts to the four organizations—so we actually raised about $5,000 more than the amount on Givebutter.

Rachel: Oh, wonderful!

Laura: Those I just told people to donate directly, and we kind of kept track of that.

Rachel: That is really fascinating to hear, but what you're saying goes along with so much research that we've been seeing the last year of the pandemic in terms of giving trends. So many more people have been showing up, but maybe giving less. That makes sense with what's been going on in our world, right? But I think that there's been this myth that people aren't showing up. That people are raising less. In fact, we're seeing people raise more than ever because more people in compassion are showing up for one another. It sounds like your fundraiser is a testament to that as well.

Laura: Definitely. I also told the knitters early on, “Everybody you've ever knit for..” As a knitter, I knit for people often. I make them hats. I keep them warm. I give them a shawl, something that reminds me of them. “Anybody you've ever knit for, hit them up. Just be like ‘Well, it turns out there were strings attached to that hat.’” I think for a lot of people there was a very obvious place to do their fundraising. A lot of us—myself included—raffled off a piece of knitwear to everybody who donated under their name. I raffled off an Afghan that I had knit. I actually raffled to any people who donated or signed up to fundraise. But a lot of people knit a hat during the day and then raffled it off to somebody who donated to them. Some people knit all day for charity that day, so we did a blog post with lots of different charity places that you could knit for to give them ideas of places that accept donations for hats or blankets, etc. That was helpful. Some people really took those 12 hours and focused it toward something. Some people knit themselves part of a sweater. It was really their 12 hours to do with what they wanted. We did have Zoom programming—not the whole time because being on Zoom for 12 hours is insane.

Rachel: Yeah, it is!

Laura: I don't think knitting for 12 hours is insane. Being on Zoom? Forget about it! We had four breakout sessions during the day; they were all around two hours. We had speakers from the four organizations. We had knitting teachers. We had someone who taught knitting ergonomics. We had knitting meditation. We had knitting stretches. We took care of everybody's bodies. We learned from farmers who raise sheep and learned a little bit about the meat industry, which I think kind of fed into Knit for Food. No one was on there for more than a half hour. Most speakers were 15 minutes, some were a half hour. We kept it going. I think the best part of the day is we had playlists. We all just hung out and knit together. The Knitflix girls did a playlist. They had done that on their event and said it went really well. One of my other friends did a playlist, so we all just listened to the same songs and sang around. Some people danced while they knit. It was really fun, super fun.

Rachel: How fun! I love that you’re giving everyone a behind-the-scenes of how you made it interesting because I'm sure people who are watching right now are wondering, “Okay, 12 hours. How did you plan that out?” That's super helpful. I'm just sharing my screen here, so people can see your beautiful campaign. As you mentioned, you have these recognizable logos right at the top. Everything is so beautifully branded across your page. Your story section was heartfelt and to the point. You knew exactly where your donation was going and the impact it would make. I also want to point out—for everyone who was following along—here's a hack from Laura. FAQ, shareable social images, and merch on RedBubble. I just thought this was genius. You made it so straightforward. It was easy to follow. You answered all the questions people were already wondering. I don't know if that's something you added to over time as the campaign went on or you started with it, but either way—kudos! That was really well done.

Laura: Thank you.

Rachel: Anything else that you think would be helpful for other fundraisers who are watching along that either are lessons learned or tips and tricks that you haven't shared yet.

Laura: Oh, I'd love to share that. One thing that I would say that was super helpful was reminding people to use the hashtag. I've never had real success with hashtags before, but every post that I did, I used the hashtag. I reminded people in every email; I sent out an email once a week. We launched six weeks before the Knit-a-thon date, and I would send out an email every Sunday. If we got questions during the week, I would update that FAQ and then make sure that at the bottom of every email there were those links to the FAQ. My goal as a Knitwear Designer is if I get less emails, I get to knit for more. I kind of applied that to this as well. The more I can answer people's questions ahead of time and make it easy for them to find things, the more time I'm going to have to put into other projects. I applied that to this as well. Reminding them to use the hashtag meant when we got to the day of, that hashtag was getting used as people were knitting. Then, if somebody saw their post on Instagram or Facebook and they clicked on the link, they can see the power behind the project because so many people were using it. It went way beyond my small following on Instagram to so many more people. That ended up being a really strong way of sharing the project and getting other people on board. Because the goal for this was the more knitters we sign up, the more people are fundraising, the stronger our community is. They were really beyond my initial pushes. It was everybody getting their friends to sign up and knit with them. I think that I attribute that to the success: everybody working together and making it happen.

Rachel: Absolutely. If I'm remembering right—because I was a fan and follower, watching this along the way as you had launched it—if I'm remembering right, your goal was way smaller than what you raised, right? Didn't you increase it over time?

Laura: I did! I mean, I was scared in the beginning. I didn't want to be all ego-y and be like “I'm going to raise $50,000!” I think we started at $10k...and then we went to $20k...and then we went to $30k...and then we were like “Okay, this is insane. Let's just put it to $50k,” Wouldn't that be amazing! We kind of kept doing increments. Once we put it at $150k—that was about five days before the event—I was like “We’re not raising the goal again!” I'm not a professional fundraiser, but my gut was it looks good at the end if you’ve blown your goal out of the water. We decided not to raise the goal again and just leave it at $150,000—which was absolutely phenomenal—and see what happened. I don't think we'll be able to do that next year because we will do it again in 2022. I think we’ll set the goal at a more reasonable start point. But I think it really helped with the momentum to keep reaching the goal and keep being able to say “We met our goal! We’re raising it again!” I think that that helped with the progression of the project.

Rachel: Absolutely. You just mentioned, Laura, that you're not a professional fundraiser. Everybody who's watching right now—lest you think that Laura is fundraising all day, every day. This is her first real big fundraiser! But, you grew up around fundraising. Can you tell everyone a little bit about that? Just to give them a sense of a glimmer of hope for those that are watching that are like, “I'm totally new to fundraising. How did she do this? I don't know if I have the confidence to do it.” Can you tell them a little bit about your story?

Laura: Oh sure! Yes, this is totally my first fundraiser. Never done any fundraising before besides doing some walks in Ithaca for our local Cancer Resource Center. But growing up, my mom was a stay-at-home mom until I was around 10 or 11. Then, she went to go back into the workforce and she got into fundraising. She ended up working for the Metropolitan Opera and New York City Opera and NYU, so I spent my teenage years at the dinner table listening to my mom talk about fundraising. And as much at the time as I might have been rolling my eyes back in my head, I think a lot sunk in. When I jumped into this, I went with what felt right and it seemed to work. I think the messaging—keeping it clean and easy. I always go with that elevator-speech approach; you should be able to be in an elevator ride with somebody and explain exactly what you're doing quickly and have it be clear and concise. We really worked on that with the messaging to get that out there.

Rachel: Absolutely. Thank you so much for sharing your story and success with us today. Just incredible to think and inspiring for those of us who are new to fundraising or maybe just have a dream or idea of ways that we can make an impact in the world for good. Just really appreciate you giving your time and sharing all that you’ve used Givebutter for.

Laura: Oh, thank you for having me. It’s really fun to be able to tell the story from another perspective.

Rachel: For everybody else who is following along, thank you so much for joining us today. Please remember to like, subscribe, and comment on this video. If you have any questions I didn't ask for that you're dying to know—maybe you're trying to make your own Knit-a-thon and I didn't ask the right question—drop it below. Maybe Laura and I can get back to you about it! We will see you again next week for another incredibly inspiring Success Story in the Givebutter community. Until then, happy fundraising! Bye everybody.

View campaign: Knit for Food Knit-a-thon

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Rachel Mills

Rachel Mills

Givebutter Marketing & Contributing Writer

Rachel is a fundraising and marketing consultant for nonprofits whose aspiration since she was 16-years-old is simply this: help others, help others.

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