Gail Gettler didn’t have any experience when she started a fundraiser, but knew she needed to help The Plaster House.

The Plaster House is a nonprofit based in Arusha, Tanzania. The organization provides pre- and post-operative care for children in need of operable surgeries for which they may not otherwise have access. These include clubbed-foot corrections, burn scars and cleft palate surgery recovery. The Plaster House started in 2008. According to their website, “From an idea, scribbled on a piece of paper, it grew rapidly.”

Kids after surgery at Plaster House
Children go to The Plaster House to prep and recover from surgery.

Gail Gettler, her husband and two daughters moved to Tanzania in January 2015. She had visited the country previously and loved it, so they decided to try life overseas.

Fundraiser daughter plays with kids recovering from surgery in Tanzania
Gail and her daughter volunteered at The Plaster House for an extra month while living in Tanzania. Photo credit: Gail Gettler

Gettler and her daughter Anna became “introduced to the magic of Plaster House” through local Tanzanians towards the end of their stay, and decided to stay an extra month in June 2015 to volunteer at the facility. “In Tanzania, children with correctable disabilities are often hidden from the view of others,” Gettler said. “Without treatment they will grow up to be a burden on their community.”

Anna played with the kids, while Gail taught English to a small group of older children. In their last week, Anna and Gail, along with a staff member, returned 6-year old, Nuru, to his rural village after successful surgery and rehabilitation for clubfoot. The mother, overwhelmed by Nuru’s ability to walk like every other child, sobbed, according to Gettler.

Kids kick soccer ball in Tanzania while recovering from surgery
Kids play outside at The Plaster House. Photo credit: Gail Gettler

While there, Gettler spoke with Founder and Executive Director Sarah Rejman about the organization’s needs. The Plaster House started with nine beds to accommodate children, and now has more than 42 beds. However, they currently have 100 children in their care, meaning many are sharing beds or sleeping on mattresses on the floor — a less than ideal situation for children recovering from major surgery. According to their website, they never turn away a child in need.

“We asked, “‘How do you keep kids healthy?’” Gettler said. Rejman responded with crossed fingers and luck, according to Gettler.

Rejman explained the plans for the expansion and showed Gettler blueprints from an architect. For Gettler, it was clear what to do next.

A Lofty Undertaking

So, Gettler vowed to return to the U.S. and raise the funds needed for the expansion — approximately $550,000. Gettler — a lawyer by trade — had no fundraising experience, but wasn’t daunted by the task.

Gail set up a fundraiser on Mightycause to help the organization get needed funding for the expansion. The fundraiser started in January 2016, with a goal to raise $340,000. Since the organization is international, Gail set up a fundraiser under another organization based in the U.S. for tax purposes. The African Mission Healthcare Foundation (AMHF) is a nonprofit that supports medical missionaries & mission hospitals, and The Plaster House is one of the many organizations under their umbrella. AMHF covered costs associated with the fundraiser, according to the fundraiser’s Story.

Like many capital campaigns, this fundraiser has a longer lifespan than most. The average fundraiser on Mightycause is roughly 40 days long. Like most capital campaigns, Gettler managed their lofty goal with a longer timeframe.

“You need to have longevity and momentum to make it successful,” Gettler said.

Ground razed and foundation built for expansion from fundraiser
The Plaster House expansion breaks ground. Photo credit: Gail Gettler

Starting the Fundraiser

Gettler secured sponsorships from doctors, businesses and other sources in Bozeman, Montana, for the Plaster House expansion. “Our largest corporate donor raises money all over the world for kids with disabilities that can be fixed, “ Gettler said. They had a connection to another company supporting the project and came to Gettler to donate a large chunk of the funding. She added the gifts as offline donations to help show the $300,000 that was committed to The Plaster House from various corporate sources.

“However, it’s been the small, individual donations that have carried us and will continue to carry us because they will continue to support us throughout the expansion,” Gettler said. They’ve so far raised more than $30,000 from individual donors to their online fundraiser.

In addition to the fundraiser on Mightycause, Gettler and Rejman went on a fundraising tour where they would focus on face-to-face conversations with potential donors and show a film Gettler created. For Gettler, this was the most difficult piece of the project.

Rejman travelled to these events to help, Gettler said. The duo visited Seattle, San Francisco, Missoula and other cities on the west coast. Their effort raised more than $60,000 towards the facility expansion. They next plan to do a fundraising tour on the East Coast, visiting places like Nantucket and New Jersey.

The Plaster House also added a link to their website, and encourage donors to help them with the expansion by giving to the building fund fundraiser:

Breaking Ground

Once construction began on their expansion, the Plaster House continued to update donors with their progress. They regularly post on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to donors know how the expansion is going.

Plaster House expansion Instagram photo
The Plaster House shares updates on social media

With five months left to go in the fundraiser and construction already underway, Gettler helped the Plaster House to raise more than $400,000 total. The Plaster House still lists the fundraiser on their website and in its scrolling banner on the homepage. The fundraiser continues to receive donations well after its start in January 2016.

The goal is to raise $550,000, and Gettler thinks they’ll hit it soon. “We’re on people’s radars and have kept up with it,” Gettler said. “It takes a lot of persistence.”

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