Toucan Rescue Ranch (TRR) has had some of the best and most creative fundraisers we’ve seen at Mightycause. It doesn’t hurt that they have some of the most adorable subjects a nonprofit could hope for: they’ve raised money to help baby sloths, baby owls, and even otters! Recently, Toucan Rescue Ranch brought together art, philanthropy and wildlife conservation for their t-shirt fundraiser. Their t-shirt fundraiser easily blew past its initial goal of raising $2,567 for medical equipment. The campaign ended up raising a whopping $8,839!

Mightycause spoke to Zara Palmer and Josephine Repschläger from Toucan Rescue Ranch to find out more about their work, their fundraising strategy, and what made their t-shirt fundraiser such a success. 

About Toucan Rescue Ranch

The Toucan Rescue Ranch’s (TRR) mission is to rescue, rehabilitate, and release Costa Rican wildlife. TRR works with a model that focuses on conservation, education, and research to ensure a brighter tomorrow for native wildlife.

Toucan Ranch Rescue receives and cares for confiscated, sick, and injured animals from government agencies. The Toucan Rescue Ranch works closely with the Ministry of Environment and Energy of Costa Rica (MINAE) who rescues wildlife and brings them to our facility. TRR provides sanctuary while providing premier medical treatment, rehabilitation, and eventual reintroduction into its natural environment.

Toucan Ranch Rescue’s T-Shirt Fundraiser Inspiration

TRR’s team is small but mighty. They have a total nine staff members, including directors and management. Zara Palmer heads up their marketing team — which is, as she puts it, “a two-person show, me as the marketing specialist accompanied by a marketing intern.” Josephine Repschläger started working as Toucan Ranch’s marketing intern in 2018, which Zara says gave her the support she needed to expand the nonprofit’s marketing efforts. Josephine created their t-shirt fundraiser as a legacy project. 

“My passion for the whole organization was and is huge,” Josephine explained to Mightycause. “I thought it would be nice to have my legacy project combine all the tasks and skills I gained over the past months with something that was entirely new to me; creating my own crowdfunding campaign!” The idea had been percolating in her mind for awhile, and seemed to be a natural fit for Josephine. “My partner is an artist himself, so the idea occurred somewhat naturally. It always was around, almost like some sort of fantasy.” She came up with the theme, “Call for Artists,” when she was still preparing to travel to Costa Rica for her TRR internship, in her hometown of Berlin, Germany.  

Setting Up TRR’s T-Shirt Fundraiser

Zara took a hands-off approach with this fundraiser: “I wanted to allow her to take it head-on and enable her creative spirit.” She did lend her expertise and help quell Josephine’s nerves as she grappled with the anxieties of setting up the crowdfunding campaign she’d been dreaming of for quite some time. “What if no one submits anything and what if people just scroll through their feed, without reacting to it?” Josephine worried. 

Campaign Structure

The campaign had two stages. First, the fundraiser on Mightycause to determine the design of the t-shirt. Supporters chose their favorite design by mentioning it during the checkout process on Mightycause; $1 equaled one vote. Then, when a winner was chosen, TRR sold the t-shirts as a fundraiser on CustomInk.

The set up took about two weeks, according to Josephine. “I started with the Mightycause page setup, spending hours on researching the approximate amount of donations we would need to fulfill the biggest wishes of TRR’s clinic,” she told us.  “Zara obviously proofread all content and gave me hints and suggestions here and there. I also used her previous campaigns as an example, so I had a lot of guidance that helped me throughout the process.”

Getting Submissions and Building Support

“When Josephine and I were talking about logistics regarding the campaign,” Zara told us, “we had to work out how to maximize engagement, even if the supporters were not artists.” They announced the call for artists to submit their work for consideration first. When they had submissions, they launched the campaign to the public, inviting “the artist’s family, friends, and community to vote for their loved one’s work through donations,” according to Zara. “It really allowed us to leverage social media to engage everyone with reaching our goal while encouraging an artwork winner.” 

This peer-to-peer method of building support is similar to the way TRR conducts its annual Sloth Ironman Games fundraiser. (And, from us at Mightycause to you, we highly recommend watching the Sloth Ironman Games on TRR’s YouTube channel.)

painting of a sloth in a party hat
“Feliz Cumplesloth” – a submission to the t-shirt fundraiser from Andres Reyes

Building Hype and Sustaining Momentum

TRR may have a small staff, but their marketing efforts run like a well-oiled machine. They’re active on social media, posting on various platforms daily. So, when it came time to market their campaign, it was a natural shift. “We basically just incorporated the campaign into that routine,” according to Josephine. 

They did lay the ground work on their social media channels. “Before launching the campaign, I created a basic, recognizable theme on selected platforms,” Josephine told us. “That includes the making of new page headers and brief flyers to get the idea of the project across. In that case, we were calling artists from all over the world to engage and submit their designs to participate until a certain deadline.” The details of the campaign resided on the Mightycause page. 

Screenshot of the t-shirt fundraiser's details
The t-shirt fundraiser’s details on the Call for Artists campaign’s page

Incentives for Artists

To drum up interest from artists, TRR tried to appeal to all the artists’ interest, from fame to getting the chance to visit TRR in person. “We made clear that we’d give all artwork submissions exposure on our social media to thank them, as well as having the chance to win an educational walk at TRR and becoming the star of the follow-up T-shirt campaign, where the design winner received a free shirt for incentive,” Josephine said. 

painting of a kinkajou
“Kinkajou” by by Loreto Gestoso – one of the submissions to TRR’s t-shirt fundraiser

TRR posted daily updates on the social media channels. And it worked: “In the end, we had 43 submissions from all over the world.” It was also a joy to work on for Josephine and the TRR team. “It never felt like actual work, because we enjoyed it so much!”

Building Excitement

TRR used an integrated approach to spreading the word about their campaign. They used social media as the primary method of communicating with their supporters, but they also utilized their email list and newsletter to build hype. They have over 10,000 subscribers. “When the art submission deadline was through, the audience still had two more weeks to vote (donate) to determine the winning design,” Josephine said. “For those two weeks, we scheduled out all entries as posts, about three a day, starting with the ones that had the least or no donations yet.” 

A time limit was key to getting supporters to act and vote for their favorite design with a donation. “Every update came with a countdown, to drive more activity,” according to Josephine. And they hit the jackpot after one of their newsletters was sent out. “One very generous donor decided to support the campaign with $2,500,” Josephine told us. “In the end, he was so engaged that he decided to help us further by proposing grant matching on top of it to keep up the activity.” 

Keeping it Going

Once they set up the campaign and voting began, it wasn’t very hard for TRR to keep people engaged. “We had a good starting point,” Josephine explained. “Wildlife conservation is exciting itself. Many people liked the idea and set up.” 

Many supporters felt the same connection to the subject matters that made Josephine passionate about this campaign, art and animals. “A very cool feature about including people’s artwork is that it’s something personal they are very passionate about themselves,” she told us. “Having a competition where artists can not only boost their exposure but also help to spread awareness about wildlife conservation, the willingness to contribute was very high.”

“TRR Pals” – A submission by Georgie Ross

TRR was diligent about using their campaign to boost the artists, tagging them on social media to make it easy for them to share. They used Mightycause’s donation tools to quickly respond to each and every donor that they used to let them know how much time was left to vote/donate for their favorite submission.

The Results

In the end, the winning submission was a watercolor painting from artist Marcie Long, titled “TouCAN -Help Rescued Wildlife!”

brunette woman holding the winning submission for the t-shirt fundraiser
The winning t-shirt design: “TouCAN – Help Rescued Wildlife” by Marcie Long

TRR sold the winning shirt design on CustomInk, raising an additional $810 for the campaign.

The winning t-shirt design in TRR’s CustomInk shop

The Impact of TRR’s T-Shirt Fundraiser

TRR set out to raise money for new medical equipment, and they easily met their goal with their creative campaign. They used Mightycause’s Update feature to keep donors up to date about the medical equipment TRR was able to purchase with the money raised during their “Call for Artists” t-shirt fundraiser.

toucan rescue ranch staff operating on an animal
TRR’s staff utilizing their new anesthesia machine to operate on a kinkajou

TRR purchased an anesthesia machine, and was immediately able to put it to use helping a young kinkajou who needed his tail amputated. They were also able to buy an autoclave (which is used to sterilize medical instruments), a new IV stand, and an operation lamp. TRR did an amazing job of connecting their t-shirt fundraiser to the work they do to help wildlife every day, and never lost sight of that as they built and promoted their campaign. By keeping their donors and supporters up-to-date on the impact of their donations and showing the real-world use they were able to put the funds they raised to help animals, TRR successfully closed the loop on their campaign and reinforced the importance of supporting their work.

Advice for Other Nonprofits

On Running an Active and Exciting Campaign

From Josephine:

“Set clear milestones and deadlines and think of all steps to be taken until that time. Having an overview to meet your targets will make the whole process a lot easier.

Before publishing a new campaign, make sure the overall fundraising goal is clearly defined as well as what the money will be used for and an emphasis on why it is needed. A precisely defined guide for all participants, artists as well as donors. including the incentives. Be precise but keep it simple, only include info that is most relevant. That will help to maintain the attention of your audience. When initiating such campaigns, it’s important to make sure all participants feel valued.

One component on how to achieve that is by being very responsive. I tried to reply to all inquiries within 24 hours and made sure everyone received further updates on what to expect. What really benefits all parties, is to inform the artists once their works are on various channels and their updates. That kind of activity surely drives engagement and may lead to some first donations to get the campaign going.”

From Zara:

“I think Josephine said it perfectly. Another facet of successful crowdfunding, especially competitive ones, is to ensure the donors and participants that you are an accredited facility and their dollar is doing GOOD work. It feels good to support a family member or friend, but it feels even better knowing your dollar is helping a noteworthy cause and is honest with their donations. Another component I have found powerful is establishing credibility with a specific platform – I chose Mightycause years ago because it was a crowdfunding site competitive in platform fees and focused on nonprofits. 

Another side note would be if it’s a competitive campaign to perhaps separate in skill level or age group. We found that mixing children’s artwork with professionals was a bit uneven.” 

On T-Shirt Fundraisers

From Josephine:

“T-shirts are a great way of promoting a cause, it gets values across and helps brand your organization.

If you’re unsure which company to team up with, do your research, read reviews. Try to get in touch, tell them about your project and find out about their costs and go from there. The one that we used has been very reliable in the past and helped wherever they could, the set up included. The printing company also offered different product examples and tell you the minimum quantity that needs to be sold, in order to gain something from it. They even have fundraising offers on their homepage. But at this point, the second component of our fundraising campaign, Zara the specialist took over with the marketing strategy because it was time for me to fly home to Berlin and I already had first work appointments on my plate.”

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