AutumnLeaf Fundraisers

We Fundraise for CHANGE

Photo of Sierra RyanWallick
6 4

Written by

Website or social media url(s) (optional):

Project: Facebook: @AutumnLeafFundraisers Personal: Facebook: Sierra RyanWallick Instagram: @pawsitive_3 P.S. I'm not sure where to put this, but Kelly L. has helped me in pitch competitions and is my partner on this competition.

Date Started

July / 26 / 2008

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Established (successfully passed early phases, have a plan for the future)

1. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project? NOTE: All applications must include a 1 minute video that answers: “I am stepping up to make change because..."

I have always been a person with many passions. Since I was young, I have been a huge animal lover, I learned how to knit when I was 7 and have been making hand made items for as long as I can remember, and I am also passionate about taking care of our elders and teaching skills to youth so that they can learn my favorite motto: One person can make a different, no matter how young or old. When I was 10 years old, I read a school article on the Save the Manatee Club, and I knew I wanted to make a difference. I created a new project, AutumnLeaf Fundraisers, combining all of my passions. I raised $100 that first summer, but when I donated the money to a national organization and they didn't seem to appreciate all the work I had done, I decided to focus on supporting local charities that would fully appreciate my efforts and where I could see my impact.

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

There are two problems AutumnLeaf Fundraisers helps to solve: 1. Charities are a catalyst for change, but they constantly need funding no matter their size or their mission. 2. Teens are unsure how to make a difference in their community and support causes they are passionate about, and senior citizens feel their time and skills are underutilized and that they don't have a purpose once they retire.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

I founded a not-for-profit organization when I was 10 years old called AutumnLeaf Fundraisers that hand makes and sells items at local community events, donating 100% of the sales to charity. We have raised over $70,000 during the past 10 years. Our volunteers who make items are primarily youth (who are just learning their passions and new skills and need direction and purpose in their life) and senior citizens (who have the time and skills to make items). We attend community events like growers markets and craft fairs where community members can support local charities and youth trying to make a difference. Some of the handmade items we sell include shea butter soap, photo cards, wooden ornaments, catnip toys, crocheted, knit, and sewn items, jewelry, cat mats, wooden card books, scarves, and beveled glass ornaments. In the past, we have partnered with local knitting and sewing groups at libraries and senior communities, as well as, Girl Scouts and individuals to make items. So far, I have mostly raised money for Forgotten Cats, but this fundraising method could be used to fundraise for any charity or group that someone is passionate about.

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

One of our volunteers is a 93 year old cat lover named Sophie. She started making crocheted catnip toys for us, and over the past few years, we have raised hundreds of dollars with the items she has donated. We always thank Sophie profusely and tell her how much of an impact she is making since Sophie's items are always a hit when we tell supporters her story. Sophie's daughter told us that their family is grateful that Sophie has found an outlet for her items because the family has enough scarves and blankets to last them a lifetime. By providing a place where people like Sophie can make a difference, we are helping not one, but four groups: the makers of our items, the people who buy our high quality items, the charity where the money is donated, and the charity's recipients.

5. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

AutumnLeaf Fundraisers is a completely new approach to fundraising. Yes, there are other programs out there that fundraise, but our three pronged approach is very unique in that no one else is doing quite what we are. 1. We teach creative and business skills to our volunteers. 2. We interact with the community at events where we raise money and awareness for our chosen charity. 3. We donate the funds to a local nonprofit so that we can see the impact and have our efforts really appreciated.

6. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

AutumnLeaf Fundraisers has raised over $70,000 for charity, impacted over 50,000 lives, volunteered 21,000 hours, and engaged 200 volunteers. With the funds we have provided, over 20,000 cats have been spayed or neutered through Forgotten Cats. We have attended nearly 250 community events, raising awareness about the organization we are supporting. We have given a voice to youth who are just finding their purpose as well as some youth who struggle with anxiety and social situations. By encouraging them to talk to people about our mission, it gives them an easy conversation starter to build skills and overcome social anxiety. Personally, this project has given me a purpose through depression and anxiety. I was diagnosed with Lyme Disease 6 years ago, and AutumnLeaf Fundraisers helped me to find goals and a personal mission, even through health challenges.

7. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

The next step for AutumnLeaf Fundraisers is to continue raising money on a local level for local organizations, but to also create a toolkit that will provide the necessary steps to spread our fundraising method on a national level. Our fundraising method teaches skills to youth who are finding their passion and interests and provides funding to organizations in need. For example, if a young person had a passion for helping the homeless, the youth could partner with a group in a senior living community to make items and then the young person sells the items to raise money for their passion. That way, we impact four or five different groups: the changemaker, the creator, the customer, the charity, and the charity's beneficiary.

8. Future Support: What are the resources needed to make your vision a reality?

The support I need to take the next steps are: 1. Financial and legal help to make my nonprofit an official 501(c)(3) so we can receive tax deductible donations. 2. Mentorship to help create the toolkits to spread my idea. 3. Support or a network to spread my toolkits. 4. A website as a landing page for the toolkits and new participants. 5. More team members. I have had volunteers come and go over the years, but I have yet to find someone who is as passionate about this project as I am. Aside from making the items which are done by many volunteers, I attend every event and coordinate our items, events, inventory, etc. My parents have been really supportive, but I can't help but imagine how much more I could do with more team members.

9. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Friend support
  • Family support
  • Donations less than $100
  • Donations between $100-$1k

10. Ripple Effect: Please share some ideas of how you could partner with other changemakers or involve other young people as leaders in making a difference.

My parents have been my biggest supporters and partners since founding AutumnLeaf Fundraisers. They attend events with me, make items to sell, and help when I am feeling overwhelmed. Once I showed them that I was serious about continuing raising money after the first summer, they got behind me to help me attend more events and recruit more volunteers. With the ripple effect, I have also inspired three other youth that I know of to start making a difference in a similar way. One girl decided to host a walk raising money for diabetes after hearing my story and has raised thousands of dollars since then. Another girl started playing music at local farmers markets to raise money and also sells her drawings in the form of cards to raise money for a bird charity that she is very passionate about. A third girl made and sold items for a dolphin charity. Once I complete a toolkit for my fundraising concept, I can partner with changemakers and involve young people in fundraising for their favorite charity or community group to spread my mission. A way I could spread my toolkit quickly is to partner with youth groups to adopt my fundraising method and learn new skills.

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others


Join the conversation:

Photo of Ozzy Simpson

The success you've already had with this is amazing, Sierra! While it's not the most creative solution to a problem, it is one that seems to be working super well for you and is unique enough that it provides something new. If there's anything you need help with, especially on the tech side, feel free to reach out!

Photo of Sierra RyanWallick

Thank you, Ozzy! At some point, we will need a website, so I will need some advice on that!

View all comments