The Journal Gazette
Saturday, January 15, 2022 1:00 am

Challenge lets late actress' animal charity efforts live on


The late Betty White was a tireless lifetime advocate for animals, from caring for those without homes to launching her own weekly TV show, “The Pet Set,” dedicated to her celebrity friends and their pets.

Her most far-reaching contribution, though, may be yet to come: On Monday, White's fans will be poised to donate to animal welfare charities and shelters as part of what's been dubbed the #BettyWhiteChallenge.

And animal welfare nonprofits are gearing up 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've had many conversations with Betty about animal welfare, and I know she's looking down from heaven and really smiling,” said Robin Ganzert, who leads American Humane, an animal welfare organization that White was involved with for more than 60 years.

It isn't clear who started the #BettyWhiteChallenge on social media shortly after White's death on Dec. 31. The idea – to donate $5 to a local animal rescue organization in White's name on her birthday – quickly took off and drew support from celebrities such as actors Mark Hamill and George Takei on Twitter.

Best Friends Animal Society, a Utah-based animal welfare organization, has raised $25,000 in donations made in White's name, according to Holly Sizemore, the group's chief mission officer. It has promoted the #BettyWhiteChallenge across its social media channels to drum up support for its work and for other groups.

North Shore Animal League America, a no-kill animal rescue and adoption organization, said it has received a donation from the Hallmark Channel in honor of White, part of a tribute that also includes a “Golden Girls” marathon and her Hallmark movie “The Lost Valentine” on Monday.

Maintaining a connection with #BettyWhiteChallenge donors is the main test for animal welfare nonprofits after Monday. Viral fundraising efforts can bring in a stream of money, but experts say donations tend to drop off quickly.

Sarah Newhall, the chief strategy officer of the fundraising firm MissionWired, says charities can best capitalize on these moments if they already have a strong foundation in place to engage new donors.

But, she said, retaining these donors can be an uphill battle because the push to give is tied to one day, and the motivation to one person. Groups might also become overshadowed by other organizations soliciting donations.

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