How An 8-year-old’s Fundraiser For Hurricane Matthew Victims Went Viral

Madeline may just be a third grader, but she raised thousands of dollars to help people in Haiti and Cuba after Hurricane Matthew’s devastation.

An “Aha” Moment

Most people involved in activism or advocacy have an “aha!” moment. It’s a moment when an issue finally makes sense, fits into a bigger picture and inspires you to act. For 8-year-old Madeline Fox, that moment came when her mother Erin, explained to her the Hurricane Matthew was about to hit Haiti and Cuba.

“We have to warn them!” Madeline insisted, worried about the families in Haiti and Cuba would be hurt or their homes destroyed in the hurricane.

Erin gently explained to Madeline that many people in Haiti and Cuba live in poverty and don’t have access to television, Twitter (her mom’s favorite tool of communication), or even radio. “The phrase that hurt her heart was that the people in Haiti didn’t know the storm was coming,” Erin told Mightycause in November.

Madeline got quiet and went to her room to spend some time alone. When she emerged, she showed her mom a picture she had drawn with crayons and notebook paper:

Madeline told her mom, “I want to do a fundraiser to help them.” Erin immediately started researching online fundraising platforms.

Choosing Mightycause

Madeline’s mom Erin did a lot of research before choosing an online fundraising platform, and she ultimately decided to use Mightycause because it was user-friendly and easy to ensure any money raised was sent directly to the nonprofit. “I loved how easy it was to link to the charity and that donors could choose to cover fees,” Erin told us.

Erin helped Madeline research nonprofits that were helping countries hit by Hurricane Matthew. They decided to raise funds for Direct Relief International, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides disaster relief and humanitarian aid in all 50 states and in 70 countries.

Erin handled setting up the fundraiser, and let Madeline dictate her story. “My name is Madeline Fox,” she told her mother to type. “I am 8 years old and in the third grade. I feel really bad that there are people who might lose everything because a hurricane is going to hit them.”

The drawing she had made after her “aha!” moment became the cover photo on her fundraiser.

Once Madeline’s page was published, Erin went to work helping to spread the word about her daughter’s fundraiser.

Going Viral

Erin had a cool advantage when it came to spreading the word about Madeline’s fundraiser. “I am active on Twitter because I’m a weather spotter and I network with meteorologists throughout the country,” she told Mightycause. “I knew that it wasn’t going to go anywhere if we didn’t get it out there, so I just posted it and then I started tagging anyone that I thought might be interested.”

Friends, colleagues and Twitter followers rose to the occasion and helped Madeline’s fundraiser build momentum. The donations climbed closer and closer to Madeline’s goal of $2,000.

But it wasn’t just Erin working to promote the fundraiser: Madeline herself reached out to her own social network — her school. She talked to her teacher about her fundraiser and went on her school’s morning show to tell her fellow students.

Her teacher’s husband works on a local radio show, and she was able to help Madeline score an on-air interview.

From there, everything started happening fast.

“I have a friend who partners with CNN and The Weather Channel,” Erin said. Her friend passed on Madeline’s story and CNN picked it up. Direct Relief also got wind of Madeline’s story and posted about it on their blog. The story was also picked up by several news stations in Tampa, Fl., where Madeline and Erin live. ABC affiliate WFTS Tampa Bay ran a story about Madeline’s fundraiser, as did Bay News 9. Erin even got a call from “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” discussing the possibility of being on the show.

Erin worked with her young daughter to deal with her newfound fame. “It was a little over Madeline’s head because she’s just eight, so I talked to her about how to talk to people,” she said.

Thanks to the media coverage, Madeline’s fundraiser quickly reached its initial goal of $2,000 and she increased her goal to $3,000, which she also exceeded.

Tips for media outreach

Erin studied public relations in college, but the tactics she used to help spread the word about her daughter’s fundraiser and get the media interested could be used by nearly anyone.

Here are Erin’s recommendations about reaching out to the media about your fundraiser:

  • Network: Use your personal connections! You may have people in your social network who have connections you don’t even know about (like Madeline’s teacher whose husband worked for a radio station.)
  • Don’t put the horse before the cart: Before reaching out to the media, take the time to gather grassroots support from people you know. “The media will pick it up if there’s a demand, so building that support is so important.”
  • Email: Let the media know about your fundraiser. Don’t be shy about emailing them to see if they’d be interested in writing a story about your fundraiser.
  • Utilize social media: “I’m on Reddit, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter,” Erin said. She used social media platforms to both spread the word about Madeline’s fundraiser to personal contacts and to reach out to the media.
  • Don’t give up: “Persevere and keep going because you’re not going to hear back from everyone,” Erin said. If you reach out to one media outlet and don’t hear back, just move onto the next one.

Encouraging budding philanthropists

“We were surprised by how she wanted to do something that big,” Erin said. But the experience was great for Madeline: she had been learning about civic responsibility in school and this gave her an opportunity to turn those lessons into action. “Sitting down with Madeline and going through this step by step has taught her a great deal about how to reach people and that one person can do a lot if you focus on it, make the effort and believe in what you’re doing.”

If your child wants to get involved in an issue and help, Erin said, “Support it! We as parents need to support her children.” By handling the logistics, like signing up for a Mightycause account and researching charities, Erin was able to help steer the process while empowering Madeline to be actively involved in the process and learn from the experience.

Madeline even learned about the importance of reaching into her own pocket to help: She donated her own allowance ($10) to her fundraiser.

While parents must be actively involved in any online fundraising activities (due to the Children’s Online Privacy Act, children under 13 may not create their own Mightycause account), online fundraising can be a great way to teach children about giving back.

And now, a word from Madeline herself…

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