free agent community fundraising, fundraising, storytelling

An Unexpected Nonprofit Fundraising Story

2 Comments 27 August 2014

A few weeks ago, my friend Courtney brought the Amazon Wish List of the Center for Great Apes to my attention. She wrote: “My brother is quite passionate about saving endangered orangutans and, as a fellow animal-lover, I’m motivated to support this cause of his. The other day, he shared an Amazon “wish list” from the Center for Great Apes. It’s the kind of thing you could easily overlook, but he called the list “humble” and I was compelled to take a look – I mean, who isn’t able to purchase a “humble” gift for a nonprofit? Not only was my brother right about it being humble – many of the requests were in the $10-15 range – but for nearly every item, they wrote a small excerpt about how and why the product would be used.”

Intrigued, I checked out the wish list. I was drawn in immediately, and before long, I’d read the entire list. It left me wanting to know more: about the Center for Great Apes, the individual great apes specifically mentioned in the wish list, and what great apes need and desire in captivity.

The Center for Great Apes has hit on a brilliant merge of fundraising and storytelling. The surprise is that it is so darn simple, yet unexpected.

Great Apes Amazon Wishlist brown paper

Spend some time with the wish list, and you’ll see that it has all the elements of a great fundraising appeal:

  • A specific ask (Quantity needed: 10. Has: 1.)
  • Clear statement of benefit (“The orangutans are partial to Fruit Punch Gatorade. It helps keep them cool in the summer, especially when it is frozen in a boomer ball.”)
  • Connection to the organization (Center for Great Apes intro is at the top of the wish list.)
  • Sharing a personal story (“Murray and his group love ‘blue​’ Gatorade, especially in the hot summer months.“)

This is storytelling at its greatest, and possibly shortest. It is small moment storytelling, with a whiff of whimsy…and personal appeal.

Check out the Center for Great Apes’ Facebook Page and you’ll read more small moment stories, see how the organization thanks its wish list donors, and learn how the apes use their gifts. I love that the organization continues to personally connect donors with the organization after a gift has been made

Wishlist thank you Center for Great Apes

I’ve seen one other use of Amazon Wish Lists, and that was during Hurricane Sandy. Occupy Sandy set up a Wedding Registry on Amazon to give people who wanted to help out something concrete to do (and buy). You can read the story behind it here. That was such an interesting use of a gift registry, and I’m surprised I haven’t seen more of it.

My friend Courtney offers the final word on the effectiveness of the Center for Great Apes’ Amazon Wish List:

“I was particularly taken by the products that would be used by a particular ape. It made me feel as though I was buying something personal for some(one?) I could connect with these creatures by buying one of them a simple gift. Near the top of the list were several puzzles and block toys, which noted, ‘Mari loves the stimulation of puzzles!’ I, too, like puzzles and this made me curious about Mari, so I visited the Center for Great Apes’ website and read Mari’s bio. Mari, it turns out, had a tough beginning – she lost both her arms as an infant. Instead, she’s become quite nimble getting around with her chin and her feet. She likes to do puzzles with her feet! I immediately navigated back to Amazon to buy several for her. I was so impressed with how she’d overcome the odds. I might not have ever even completed my original transaction, if I’d not known that the puzzles were for Mari and what an amazing being she is.”



Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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