For 66 years, the International Association of Fire Fighters has raised money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association by collecting donations in a fire boot. With COVID-19 still prevalent, the group has moved the campaign online with some creative twists to entice donors.
Like so many other groups, the International Association of Fire Fighters realized the ongoing pandemic would make its 66-year tradition of the Fill the Boot campaign impossible to carry out in the traditional way. Because the collected funds support the Muscular Dystrophy Association, IAFF knew it still wanted to hold the fundraiser. So the group decided to transform the campaign into a virtual effort.
“It’s not an easy task to do,” Roger Lopez, IAFF-MDA national coordinator, said of the transition. “Just giving our members a link to share to Facebook or social media wasn’t going to have the impact we were hoping for.”
The traditional Fill the Boot program saw IAFF members outside in their communities holding a fire boot that people dropped donations into. To help members move their campaign online, IAFF created a toolkit that encourages creative virtual efforts tailored to the community. “We’ve packaged tools for our locals to get creative with it,” Lopez said. “A department can decide, for—and I’m just guessing at a number—a $100 donation, they will do a drive by of the house [in the fire truck] and honk the horn for the kids.”
Boot campaigns can also include livestreams, virtual events, and other activities. For example, Lopez said one local unit told him they planned to rappel off a building and hang on the side of it for a set time period in exchange for donations.
Continuing this campaign is important for MDA as well. “This fundraising effort is pivotal amid the pandemic, as people living with muscular dystrophy, SMA, Duchenne, ALS, and over 40 neuromuscular diseases are among the highest-risk populations for COVID-19,” said Lynn O’Connor Vos, president and CEO of MDA. “We are all grateful the fire fighters recognize the need to continue this effort when in-person fundraising is not an option.”
Whatever creative incentives local departments choose to host for their virtual Fill the Boot drives, Lopez hopes to bring in a good amount of donations for MDA, which uses the money for research and family services. Boot campaigns in the past have raised as much as $20 million, Lopez said, but he worries it will be hard to get the same engagement online.
“Our virtual campaigns have never done great, but we think we have put in quite a few different mechanisms to get people’s attention,” Lopez said. “We’re hopeful that the community and people who are struggling though this pandemic with us will take the time to hear our message and what a big deal even a small donation would mean to our program to maintain some level of service for our MDA families.”