Success Story: Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation raises $71k on creative Givebutter Livestream

Written by
Rachel MillsWhite arrow icon

Success Story: Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation raises $71k on creative Givebutter Livestream

In this video, Wendy from the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation shares how they raised over $71k with one of the most creative Givebutter livestream events we’ve ever seen. Not only was this virtual event super fun, but all proceeds went towards empowering the lives of young people from underserved communities through gymnastics. Plus, Wendy shares:

  • What made them choose Givebutter for their fundraising efforts
  • How they used their favorite Givebutter features to make their campaign successful
  • Tips, tricks, and lessons learned for staying connected with donors during a virtual event
“[Our experience with Givebutter Livestream] was very lively, which was really nice. It was engaging, I think would be one of the best words. People, when they do it, they stay engaged. That's really important when you work with donors. Also it's got to be easy, and it was really easy for the team to get it up and running. Givebutter a very friendly platform to use as an organization.”

Did I mention they included a live Zoom DJ dance party?

Campaign at a glance

View campaign

Full video script

Rachel: Hey everyone, Rachel here with Givebutter again. Thanks so much for joining for another inspiring Success Story from within the Givebutter community. If you are in search of a creative livestream fundraising idea, you have definitely come to the right place. Today we are featuring the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation, who recently had one of the most creative, fun, and well-done live streams we have ever seen on the Givebutter platform called Flip It Forward. Wendy is joining us to share how the foundation came together to raise over $71,000 to empower the lives of young people from underserved communities through gymnastics. Wendy is also going to share what made the foundation turn to Givebutter for their fundraising efforts as well as tips, tricks, and lessons learned along the way. Wendy, thanks so much for joining us today.

Wendy: Nice to be here, so nice. Thank you.

Rachel: So to start, why don't you go ahead and introduce yourself and a little bit more about your foundation.

Wendy: So I'm Wendy Hilliard and I'm the Founder and CEO of the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation. We've been around for almost 25 years. I competed for the United States. I was the first Black to compete for the US rhythmic gymnastics on the national team. I was on the national team for about 10 years, competed in three world championships in Olympic trials, and then after my competitive career became a coach. One of my athletes, Aliane Baquerot Wilson, was on the ‘96 Olympic team. And then I started the Gymnastics Foundation actually after that, but in the middle I did a lot of TV commentating for the sport and performance. I performed on Broadway and I also was President of the Women's Sports Foundation. So I kind of put everything together, started my own gymnastics foundation, and we've served over 20,000 youth with free and low-cost gymnastics primarily in Harlem, but we expanded to Detroit in 2016.

Rachel: Very exciting stuff! I mean, everything from your personal story to how you have cultivated that to change so many lives through your foundation. So walk us through Flip It Forward. How did this campaign all get started?

Wendy: That's such a good...interesting...Well, you know, it was so hard when the pandemic hit. We had to stop all of our on-site programming and it was, you know for everyone it was so hard. New York was so hard hit, Detroit was hard hit as well. So I have to say my coaches were super amazing because they turned around right away and went online to do programming for the team kids to keep them engaged. It turned out really well, which was kind of interesting. And then after a while, we were sharing our gymnastics videos and instruction with our partners who sent it out to all of the kids that were now at home. You know, learning school at home, they sent it out to the New York Public Schools, which serves 1.1 million kids. So we kind of found a new interesting way to do what we were doing—our service online—and we did it all for free. But we did realize that we wanted to stay viable, we still had cost. Everyone kept saying you still need to fundraise which is kind of hard for us to think about doing when so much is going on, but I actually came up with the idea of kind of Flip It Forward in a way. What it was is that they were trying to do a #GivingTuesday thing in May, so they were encouraging a lot of nonprofits to do that one. So we kind of thought about it in that sense, but we were also supposed to have our major fundraiser in May. So we knew we needed to do something for our finances, basically. One of my board members Brenda Liven sent me the email with the link to the RXR Realty site where they were going with different professionals that were offering their services pro bono—which is kind of amazing. Believe me, I didn't really think it was going to turn out to be anything because when it's free you don’t really trust it. I was able to connect with two very important people. Dana who connected me with Karen and Frank of the Women to Women that really produced our show and also to Max at Givebutter. Max was just so, just really very helpful. And I found out that the Givebutter platform was really—it's so interesting because it was so perfect for us because this whole virtual event was something new. The one thing is that we do gymnastics, so we're used to performing, right? We were asked to put it all together and tape it...people think on-site fundraisers are stressful—this was stressful. This was stressful because then we wanted to do a Zoom dance party after, and I don't think people understand it's all about the technology. It's all about technology, even live events! A live event will almost live and die on your technology, right. So a virtual event for sure. So if you don't have a team of people that can hold your hand through it and you have to trust them. Givebutter and Max and the whole team was just so open because there were a lot of moving parts. We had kids, and then I had, I was calling on my friends, “Billie Jean, can you send a message? Billie Jean King and Bart and Nadia” It was so funny because in one way, you think it's simple but it’s not—but it worked. I will say that it's all about having a team, it's all about having the trust. It was so worth it because it's actually going to live longer than our other events, right? People can go back and they can still experience it. We still—like every week—we still get people donating to us. Which is really wonderful. So yeah, that's what makes it work.

Rachel: So it sounds like it was a combination of things. You know, the pandemic hit. There was hardship all around, pivoting and adjusting, figuring out programmatically how do we make this work? But also on the funding side, how do we pivot that as well? You were able to connect with the right people, and part of that we are so fortunate that it turned you to Givebutter because we have just loved having you in the family. I'm going to actually share my screen so people can see this beautiful Flip it Forward campaign so we're all looking at it. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous! Branded so well. You'll see that there were multiple team members that were raising and you'll also notice basically that the foundation utilized every feature that Givebutter has to offer and that is what we recommend. You have the team leader board. You have event details very clearly written out. You have your inspiring story with pictures which makes it all that much more engaging and expectations which we don't always see that on livestreams. I really appreciated that you just spelled it out for people and made it easy. Also, like you said, you had a dance party which we just adored that you did that. I know our CEO Max joined for this entire live stream. He could not stop watching. He actually made it all the way to the dance party. Anybody who is watching or reading this right now, you are definitely going to want to click the link and check out their campaign for some inspiring visuals and maybe get your dance moves on as you watch the video. I'm actually going to share the first minute of this video so people can see kind of how you got the ball rolling in terms of your livestream event.

Video VO: The Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation proudly presents Flip it Forward. Featuring Nadia Comaneci and Bart Conner, Nia Dennis, Renée Elise Goldsberry...

Rachel: So some of these people that you had mentioned, that you were getting those clips from, right?

Wendy: Yeah!

Rachel: What I loved about your introduction was the amount of energy. You had the countdown going on, there's music, and you just know you're in for a good time when you start this livestream. I think that's something that anybody who's looking for a little bit of guidance on how to start a livestream, I think this is a great example. So walk me through—I shared a little bit of your page—tell us a little bit more about your Givebutter experience in terms of not just a live stream, but everything else. Like getting the donations in, having team members, spreading the word. What was your experience like?

Wendy: You know, it was really great on lots of levels. Part of it was I really enjoyed being able to have the text-to-give be a part of it. What turned out really great because it really brought my board along—they weren't used to the peer-to-peer fundraising, my board members weren't. But one of them really took it to heart. It depends on how they do it, but as it went along, it was totally fun because as people were watching the stream, they could see who was donating. For people to be able to give their messages and go along, it made the whole experience really fun because they could see who was donating. We had some parents donate to us. We had some random things that would come up. People put pictures in. That really made it feel like everybody was a part of it. I have to say, I really like that part—that you can see how people were giving and how they were doing that. Then I would get an email, right? So you say so-and-so gave you money, say thank you. It's so funny because one of my board members just loved that. She was like “I just love that Givebutter says to say thank you.” Sometimes when you run an organization, there's so many things, but that kind of connection I think is really interesting because you want to stay connected with your donors, and that's pretty simple. Then sometimes someone would email me back, and you can start a little conversation. That part we really enjoyed. It was very lively, which was really nice. It was engaging, I think would be one of the best words. People, when they do it, they stay engaged. That's really important when you work with donors. Also it's got to be easy, and it was really easy for the team to get it up and running. It's a very friendly platform to use as an organization.

Rachel: Yes and you made it easy to navigate as well on your end, the way that you had set it up. So happy to hear that. Not to mention it was incredibly successful. You've raised over $71,000! Can you share a little bit of your fundraising strategy? Or what did you do that made it so successful?

Wendy: You know, that's very interesting. We were going on a wing and a prayer on this one. Because you just didn't know, you just didn't know how people are going to react. Remember, this is like a week and a half after the George Floyd situation. There was so much racial disparity going on. The energy in the country was just crazy, so you really could not know day-to-day how people were going to react. Were they going to get tired of being online and things like that. What we found out is that we were giving back to our kids, right? Whatever was going on in the world, kids needed to be engaged, they needed to be lifted up. I think people related with that part. What our strategy was is that we just sent it out to all of our donors. I think Karen and Frank did a really good job on social media. We had a big social media push and we just sent out the emails and people enjoyed it. It was so funny because it was—I'll tell you, it was taped to be live. Because that was our biggest decision. Let me tell you: we were going to do this life, that would have been scary. Don't do it. So we taped it to look live, which was true. It took a lot of work, but let me tell you...

Rachel: It looks live!

Wendy: And in different parts...I saw a few things, and if it's not working at that time, you can't do anything about it, right? You're going to say “Oh well.” So that's my recommendation, but that didn't come from me that came from Max and from Karen. They had the experience and that was one of the—to be honest with you—that was the biggest game changer. Otherwise I would have been stressed beyond beyond. It was still stressful, but to have to go through it and wait to see if the wireless would work on everybody's behalf. So that's why you want to go with Givebutter who has this experience and can kind of take you through there. You want the organization. They were so responsive to what we needed to do. We had a lot of different questions but it made it work. The fact that it’s going to live forever is actually a big deal for us. Like I said, we're still getting donations, but it still looks great. So people can still experience it even after that, and it still looks fun and they still feel very engaged. So yeah, it was a hard time. The outreach strategy is, you just have to go to your donors and just let them experience it and then reach out to them again.

Rachel: Mm hmm. Right. You bring up a really good point that you were going live with this livestream in a really difficult time. No one's ever fundraised through anything like this before, right? You just don't know, is it going to be different than it normally would be with the livestream? We have seen again and again at Givebutter with everyone who's fundraising in the last four months that people want to give now more than ever. It can feel really scary to ask for donations right now, but people are looking for a way to give back and to have hope. To see the good that is happening right now as well in the world. Your campaign is a shining example of that. Like you said people wanted to see the good that was happening in these kids lives. Also, great tip on pre-recording. Yes, we definitely recommend that. Do you have any other tips, tricks, or lessons learned for other people in the Givebutter family that are watching or reading right now?

Wendy: I would say that I would move forward. Here's the thing. The biggest thing is making the decision to do it. It took our board a long time, we were trying to figure out when to do it…The folks at Givebutter have a lot of experience and you want to use that experience to help you make your decision. But I would tell most people to go for it because this is something new that you’re always going to have. In a way, it was so beneficial for us because an onsite fundraiser already had $60,000 of expenses with it and this doesn't. You know what I'm saying? This is actually more, it's probably financially more of a risk that you would take you wouldn't lose as much, right? But you have it, so I think it's very important that people still keep fundraising out there. I would just say from my experience it was a little hard early on, but I’m so glad I did and I’m so glad I had the support to make it successful. To be honest with you, I think any part of it would have been successful. Just getting it out there and live and being able to live like it does. You can work on the strategy for fundraising, because you'll always have something there that people can go back and see.

Rachel: Right. Excellent words of advice. To close, I'm curious what do you think is the future of Flip it Forward this year, in terms of both programmatically and with fundraising? What's next?

Wendy: Well we're still going to use it. We actually got a shout out from one of the world's top gymnasts and she wants to send out a little message.

Rachel: Wow!

Wendy: Yeah! So soon as we get that. So that's why I'm saying: it's something that can live and people can see that one. It's something that we’re flipping it forward. We're going to still need support as we go forward. I've got to give a shout out to Ingrid, who's our graphic designer who really helped us with that., I have to say this time, which has been so difficult, on the other side brings the best people together. It really helped us take this and have this great experience and to be connected with people that are like-minded and want to move things forward. So as tough as a time has been, it's also been a time we've had really great people come together that have been very creative. You never know what you're going to have, but most likely if you're in a good place and you want to do good service, it'll turn out great.

Rachel: Wendy, thank you so much for joining us today. It was such a pleasure and know that everyone in the Givebutter community is going to be cheering you all on.

Wendy: Thank you Rachel! I really appreciate it.

Rachel: Take care.

Wendy: You too. Bye bye.

View campaign: Flip It Forward!

Get started on Givebutter - it’s free →

Written By

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