The late Betty White was a tireless advocate for animals throughout her life, from caring for the homeless to launching her own weekly television show, “The Pet Set,” dedicated to her celebrity friends and their pets.
Her most far-reaching contribution may yet be yet to come, however: On Monday, White fans will be ready to donate to charities and animal welfare shelters as part of what has been dubbed the #BettyWhiteChallenge. And animal welfare nonprofits are preparing to capitalize on the viral tribute to the star of “The Golden Girls” and “Hot in Cleveland” on what would have been her 100th birthday.
“I have had many conversations with Betty about animal welfare, and I know she is looking down from heaven and really smiling,” said Robin Ganzert, who runs American Humane, an animal welfare organization with which White was involved for more than 60 years.
“She will be smiling on her birthday”, He said. “And he will be smiling at the lives he has changed.”
It’s not exactly clear who started the #BettyWhiteChallenge on social media shortly after the death White’s on December 31. However it started, the idea of donating $5 to a local animal rescue organization in White’s name on her birthday quickly took off, gaining support from celebrities like actors Mark Hamill and George Takei on Twitter.
Traffic to the American Humane website skyrocketed after White’s passing. Ganzert said donations have also increased. The nonprofit is waiting to reveal how much until more gifts arrive, including sizable donations it expects from some donors.
During the decades that White was involved with the organization, she did fundraising appeals and served on its board and as a host and judge on its televised dog show “heroes.” During the recordings of “The Pet Set” in the early 1970s, Ganzert said, White had representatives from American Humane on set to ensure the animals were safe. In 2012, the nonprofit organization honored her with its highest award, the National Humanitarian Medal.
Ganzert would also give White a photo book each year of the animals the organization helped.
“He kept them on his coffee table,” Ganzert said. “And (always) moved me every time we visited.”
Best Friends Animal Society, a Utah-based animal welfare organization, has raised $25,000 in donations made in White’s name, according to the group’s director of missions, Holly Sizemore. The group has promoted the #BettyWhiteChallenge extensively on their social media channels to garner support for both their work and other organizations.
“That’s the beauty of animal welfare,” dijo Sizemore. “There is something that everyone can support. There is a lot of good work and a lot of opportunities, especially right now, to make the world a better place for people and animals.”
Sizemore hopes Monday will bring lots of donations and attention to animal welfare.
“What an incredible opportunity to honor Betty White’s legacy – to come together as a nation and celebrate something she was so passionate about, her love of animals.” He said.
Maintaining that connection with #BettyWhiteChallenge donors is the main test for animal welfare nonprofits after Monday. Viral fundraising efforts can bring in a lot of money, but experts say donations tend to dwindle fast.
Sarah Newhall, director of strategy at fundraising firm MissionWired, says charities can better capitalize on these moments if they already have a solid foundation for engaging new donors, whether that’s through emails, a website, networking social or other methods.
“What it allows them to do is really use that peak moment to get in front of an audience that they otherwise wouldn’t have had,” Newhall said. But, he added, retaining these donors can be an uphill battle because the drive to give is tied to one day and the motivation to one person. Animal groups may also be overshadowed by other organizations soliciting donations during Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which also falls on Monday.
North Shore Animal League America, a no-kill animal rescue and adoption organization, plans to engage new #BettyWhiteChallenge donors through a combination of social media appeals and invitations to visit its adoption center in Port Washington, N.Y. York, said Joanne Yohannan, director of the organization. senior vice president of operations. He is also dedicating his next 100 animal rescues to White in honor of his 100th birthday.
The organization received a donation from the Hallmark Channel in White’s honor, part of a tribute that also includes a “Golden Girls” marathon and her Hallmark movie “The Lost Valentine” on Jan. 17.
“It’s about raising awareness about the plight of homeless animals and what can be done to help them, including volunteering and adoption,” Yohanna said.