By Elizabeth Bromstein, co-founder of Northern Lights Canada

Hello, Fundraiser!

By helping bring refugees to Canada through the Canadian private sponsorship program, you are literally saving lives and changing the world. YOU are stepping away from the status quo, defying normal, and basically are now one of the coolest people ever. Give yourself a pat on the back and a round of applause.

Getting Started

Fundraising is hard work, but it’s also a lot of fun. It’s an opportunity to be creative, have new experiences and make new connections.

Depending on the type of person you are, you may find that fundraising is easier and more efficient when you have a detailed plan. This might include mapping steps in advance, from setting a fundraising goal to sending a thank-you note. Or you might be the type of person who works better on the fly. Only you know what kind of worker you are.

Regardless, it’s still a good idea to have a list of steps for reference. You can put these in a super organized spreadsheet, jot them down on a napkin, or just keep them in your head:

10 Steps to Successful Fundraising

1. Decide how you’re going to collect donations. Set up your own crowdfunding page on Fundrazr or Facebook or Chuffed or GoGetFunding (but not GoFundMe, not allowed as of April 26, 2021) or use one of our existing pages. You can also collect cash and cheques. Some people won’t want to donate online, and you need to have options for them.

2. Set your fundraising goal; we’re encouraging this group to raise $1,000, but you can raise as much as you want and we encourage you to go higher.

3. Create a list (or lists) of prospects: Look at your real-life friends and social media accounts, and ask yourself who is most likely to donate. These are your top prospects. That doesn’t mean to ignore everyone else. You’re sure to be surprised. Just note who is most likely to donate and easiest to ask. The people with whom you’re not connected on social media will have to be contacted in other ways.

4. Familiarize yourself with the refugee stories. Write them down and get to know them. If you’re asked about them, you want to be able to talk about who these people are and why they need our help.

5. Create a version of the story in your own words. If you have a personal connection to this story (e.g., your parents were refugees), even better. Craft this into a letter you will use in your emails and social media pitches/asks. People obviously donate more generously when they are moved to care. Stories are what will get you there.

6. Choose your fundraising activity/activities from our list or create your own.

7. Start posting and asking! Connect with your network and ask. Ask by email, ask on social media. If you’re creating your own fundraising page, send it out and share it. Ask away! Post about the campaign and about our progress. Post pictures and related stories. Make videos. Encourage people to share your campaign if they can’t donate.

8. Keep donors and the public updated. When people feel like they are a part of something, they will be moved to donate more and to tell their friends.

9. Thank your donors. Thank your donors often. Thank them by email and thank them publicly, on social media. Thank them until you run out of thanks, and then thank them some more.

Some Things to Keep in Mind

1. Start with the people you know. Don’t overlook the obvious. Your family, close friends, and coworkers are a great place to start. So, start there. Research suggests that people are more likely to donate to somebody they know. One study found that people give significantly more to their university if the person asking for a donation is their former roommate. The more you share and engage with your friends and community about your fundraising efforts, the more likely you are to reach your goal.

2. Ask personally. Asking personally – in person, over the phone, or through email or messenger - is an important step. People can pretend they didn’t see a social media post, but can’t ignore you if you ask directly. Don’t be afraid to ask.

3. People will surprise you. You may be very surprised by who donates and who doesn't. Acquaintances and strangers may donate far more than your closest friends.

4. Many people respond more to video posts that other forms of posts. We all respond to different types of communication. Some of us prefer to read an article or post in text form, while others prefer to watch a video. Make the information available in different formats, including videos in which you talk about this cause and why it’s important to you, and ask for donations.

5. People are more likely to do something when they see others doing it. A fundraiser that is doing well will start to do even better when people see that it’s doing well. People don’t want to be the only person doing something. Sharing that people are donating will encourage others to donate. And research has shown that the nearer a fundraiser gets to its goal, the more likely people are to donate to it.

6. People like to feel like they’re a part of something. Keeping people updated makes them feel that they are a part of something and your campaign becomes a community working together, rather than you asking them for help.

Three Types of Donors

There are many different types of donors, and knowing who they are will help you decide how to speak to them and make your ask.

Three of these donor types will make up a large part of your donations. Here’s who they are:

1. People who donate because they care about you.

Some of your friends and family might not be very interested in the refugee cause, but they donate because they care about you and want to support your efforts. These people donate small to medium sums.

2. People who donate because they just are the type of people who donate to things.

Some people just want to help everyone. They donate to everything, like someone’s campaign to bring an injured dog from Mexico, or to raise money for their sick friend. And they will donate to you too, also small to medium sums.

3. People who donate because they care deeply about the cause.

Some people care a lot about the plight of the world’s displaced people. Maybe they or their families were refugees themselves. Or they feel responsible for the situation. These people may donate large sums. When we were fundraising for Manus Island refugees, Australians who are ashamed of, and furious about, their government’s terrible treatment of refugees donated thousands.

People who care a lot about the plight of the world’s displaced people will donate the most of anyone, if you can connect with them.

Obviously, this may not be your experience and it all depends on whether someone is financially able to donate. I’m just sharing my personal experience from five years of continuous fundraising and I find these things to be pretty consistent.

All of these donor types, and others, are equally important and you need to reach all of them to run a successful fundraising campaign.

Fundraising ideas to help you reach your goal

Send an email (or two, or three)

Sometimes you can raise $1,000 with a single email. Two people will donate $500, and you’re done.

Post on social media

Depending on how many people you know and who they are, a few posts on Facebook or Instagram may get you all the donations you need.

What your email and social media posts should say:

Include information about the Canadian private sponsorship program and the refugees you’re helping. Talk about our mission and how the funds will be used to settle the newcomers in Canada (ask us for this information). Include any information or stories about your personal connection to the cause. Be sure to link to the fundraising page.

Birthday fundraiser

It’s now common practice for people to post fundraisers for their birthdays.

Bake sale

Classic! You only have to sell 1,000 brownies for $1,500 brownies for $2,100 brownies for $10, 50 brownies for $20, 25 brownies for $40, 10 brownies for $100, 2 brownies for $500, or 1 brownie for $1000. More realistically, if you know people who bake, or you have bakery connections, ask them to donate some goods and sell these with a side of coffee, tea, or wine.

Host an event

Have a party. Make it a clothing auction, a concert, a cooking class, or a dinner party. Think small. It may seem counterintuitive, but people often make the mistake of trying to host huge events with sit-down dinners, silent auctions, etc. which takes a TON of work, and asking people to donate 25 bucks to come to a kegger with hot dogs and a dance party at your house may yield the same results with far less effort.

More event ideas: wine and cheese party, movie night, dance-a-thon, karaoke party (people donate $10 to sing a song and $20 to make their friend sing one). None of these working for you? What do your friends like to do? Do that.


Would your friends pay to see you shave your head, jump in a freezing lake, or take off all your clothes in a Starbucks and not be allowed to tell anyone why? Take donations for dares and film yourself doing them, then post the videos online.

Online auction

Do you know people who would donate goods or services for free, which you can then auction off online? Collect these items, or promises, then create a website or Facebook page on which to auction them off.

Get outside

Consider going out in the street and handing out flyers. Check the local bylaws, because apparently, some places won’t let you do this. And don’t ask for money -- panhandling may be against the law. But you can hand out flyers with a web address and talk up your cause with passersby.

(I’m writing this during the COVID-19 outbreak, so maybe don’t do this or host an event right now. But, maybe by the time you read this it will have calmed down. I hope….)

Other tips

1. We’re not a charity and can’t offer tax receipts. Getting a charity designation is actually quite difficult and can take years. Even Not For Profits can’t offer tax receipts. You’ll probably be asked about this at some point, so be prepared to answer these questions.

2. Be sure to record contact information of all your donors. People will want to be kept apprised of what is happening with the campaigns and where the money is going. Take their contact information and we can send them regular updates. To that end, please invite friends and donors to like the Facebook pages for Walk Like a Refugee and Northern Lights, because we also post updates there.

3. Talk about this a lot. Talk about it to anyone who will listen. If you are at a party, talk about your fundraiser. If you are at a karaoke night, ask the DJ if you can make an announcement. Tell your colleagues at work. Start conversations with random strangers on the bus or in restaurants. Talk about it! Tell everyone what you are doing and make sure they are aware of their options for donating. Then change the subject and talk about something else. You don’t want to annoy people.

4. Thank people even when they don’t donate. Thank people for listening to you, for asking for more information, and for sharing your fundraising pages on their social media. It’s disappointing when people don’t donate but thank them anyway. This creates goodwill and maybe they will donate later.

Good luck! And thank you.

The Mission: Raise $50,000

Like what you've heard so far? We invite you to join our mission to raise $50,000 to sponsor refugees to Canada. Together we can do it, one thousand dollars at a time. The money you raise will go directly towards private refugee sponsorship and the cost of settling these newcomers in Canada for the first 12 months after their arrival.

We appreciate your commitment to helping some of the world’s most vulnerable people. Together, we can make this happen. (Alone, we can’t.)

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to turn everyone you speak to into someone who cares deeply about the refugee cause…

How Do You Raise $1,000?

You need...

  • 1 person to donate $1,000

  • 2 people to donate $500

  • 5 people to donate $200

  • 10 people to donate $1000

  • 20 people to donate $50

  • 40 people to donate $25

  • 50 people to donate $20


About Walk Like a Refugee

Every day, people in countries ravaged by war and disaster leave their homes, and never go back. Many of these people walk for days or weeks in search of safety.

Walk Like a Refugee recreates that experience on a small scale. Each year, Elizabeth Bromstein, David Jager, and their daughter Kismet Jager walk out of our house in downtown Toronto, and continues 135 km to Niagara Falls. We do it to show solidarity with, and to raise awareness about, the world’s approximately 71 million displaced individuals and 26 million refugees.

During the walk we encourage donations that we put towards supporting these refugees through private sponsorship.

The last walk raised $25,000, the bulk of which went towards the sponsorship of two men on Manus Island. Their sponsor groups are currently awaiting their arrival.