+$7.8K in Two Months for Cardiac Patients and their Families

At Rooney Ink, there’s nothing quite as satisfying to us as seeing, in action, our words creating transformative outcomes for our clients. The only thing that can surpass that? Using that same power to give back to those who save lives and bring smiles and comfort to those who desperately need them.

So when our daughter, Josie, was hospitalized at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford with an ultra-rare heart condition, we decided to pay it forward by creating, pro bono, a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for both cardiac research at Stanford University School of Medicine and patient family resources at Ronald McDonald House at Stanford.

The Campaign’s Beginnings

We got the idea for the crowdfunding campaign from a random act of kindness from one of Josie’s nurses. Josie had just had open-heart surgery, was eating and breathing through tubes, and had blood thinners and painkillers piped into her veins around the clock. Her overnight nurse decided to paint her toenails with a sharpie, to add a little light and levity to Josie’s recovery. Little did he know what that kind gesture would soon blossom into.

We created the fundraising campaign on Generosity, a platform for “cause-oriented” crowdfunding. Drawing on Josie’s impromptu spa day, and previous viral fundraisers like the ALS “Ice Bucket Challenge,” we called on people to paint their toenails red and donate money to the campaign.

Messaging Principles at Work

Each campaign needs its own unique messaging to succeed, and this was no exception. While crafting the story and pitch for “Josie’s Toesies,” we drew on many of the same fundraising messaging principles I learned in my years working for nonprofits, modified for our particular situation. Some takeaways:

* Convey hope and optimism, in spite of the circumstances. Being a downer will drive donors away. Being that only 1% of babies are born with a congenital heart defect (and 10% of that 1% are born with Josie’s particular affliction), it would’ve been easy to fall into anger and self-pity, or even resort to begging—a fatal mistake in fundraising.
* Focus on the big picture. At the end of the day, this wasn’t about us. It was about the many more families who would stand to benefit from the campaign. Our story was great for getting people in the door, but connecting it to the greater cause is what nudged people to donate.
* Tell a good story. Although you need to keep your eyes on the cause, it’s also important to tell your story (or the stories of your campaign’s beneficiaries). Stories are one of the most powerful ways to connect with people. People found Josie’s story, with its theme of perseverance in the face of an unfathomably challenging situation, inspirational. We also connected her story to that of Jimmy Kimmel’s son, also born with Josie’s condition, to deepen her relatability by connecting her to a similar story from a much more public figure.
* Visuals and copy need to work together. While we are a copywriting firm, we understand the important role of visual elements (pictures, illustrations, multimedia, and layout) in driving action. We posted pictures of both Josie herself and us as a family — taking care to only choose pictures that would humanize our story and the cause, without making the audience feel sorry (or at least not too sorry) for us; any picture with piles of tangled tubes or other jarring imagery was a no-go.

A Windfall for Heart Kids


The campaign was successful beyond our expectations.

We originally expected only our close family and friends to contribute. But thanks to the way we constructed the campaign (see analysis above), word spread far and wide. Local media outlets, including Berkeleyside, wrote articles about us. People from as far away as Europe and Latin America contributed — even complete strangers from Wisconsin to Florida.


In the two months we ran the campaign, we raised a total of $7,812.40, which we split evenly between a general cardiac research fund at Stanford University School of Medicine, and Ronald McDonald House at Stanford (which took great care of us during the three months that Josie was hospitalized).

This money might someday save a child’s life — after all, the life-saving procedures used on Josie once started as research. The generosity we tapped into is already helping to advance research, and possibly discover breakthroughs, in pediatric cardiac research — while allowing families in our situation to enjoy some of the creature comforts of home, even at a hospital that often feels like the farthest thing away from home.

Success stories like this remind us of the power that written words, deployed strategically in the service of a cause, can have to uplift the word.

And we are forever grateful that we can wield that power for our clients and causes alike.