Blogger raises $30K in 18 hours for good cause

Jonathan Acuff stunned himself silly by raising $30,000 in 18 hours to do a good deed.

He had hoped to raise that much in a month using his satirical blog, stuffchristianslike.net, to build a six-room kindergarten in Vietnam. But the money came in so fast he decided to double down and go for $60,000 to build an additional structure.

"This thing just took a life of its own" the 33-year-old Acuff said. "It just went viral."

Using his blog, Facebook and Twitter, Acuff and his readers got the word out and the money poured into Samaritan's Purse, the faith-based development organization in North Carolina run by the Rev. Billy Graham's son, Franklin Graham. It will build the kindergartens.

Ted Hart, a Washington consultant and expert on fund-raising by using social networks, said Acuff is an example of how new technology, coupled with the right idea and an empathetic audience, can create amazing results.

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"There is an emotional connection there, so that when he finds something he says is important, people want to be part of that," Hart said.

Acuff, of Alpharetta, is a copy writer for AutoTrader.com, one of the nation's largest online classified auto Web sites. It is a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises, whose holdings include The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. When not at work, he writes for his blog, which he started 20 months ago. The gentle, tongue-in-cheek look at evangelical Christian subculture has become popular. Acuff said it has had 5 million page views since his first online post.

He was inspired to do something more than create chuckles when he was looking at a book with his then 6-year-old daughter Laura Elizabeth earlier this year. She saw a picture of a starving child and turned to her dad with a heart-rending question, "That's not real, is it?"

He and his family typically make a donation to Samaritan's Purse to help the poor during the Christmas season, so the idea of helping others and responding to his daughter's observation bled into his alternative identity as a blogger. He wanted to use the power of the blog to magnify his efforts. He contacted Samaritan's Purse to ask about school-building projects that would serve children near the ages of his two kids. He has a younger daughter, McRae, 4.

"I said, ‘I've got 75,000 to 90,000 readers a month. I bet we can do something,'" Acuff said.

Darren Mullenix, the director of operations for donor ministries at Samaritan's Purse, made several recommendations, including building the kindergarten. Mullenix said they let Acuff set up an online giving site through the organization, and then sat back with mouths open when they saw the response.

Acuff posted his idea at 5 a.m. Monday. By 11 p.m., the money was in.

"It was astounding. I have heard of people who have done similar things, and stories have floated around about organizations that have raised quick dollars through Twitter, but this was the first we've ever seen," Mullenix said.

Acuff said only about 7,000 readers came to his site that day, so he wanted to see if he could raise money for a second kindergarten. Another $6,000 had poured in by Wednesday morning. Acuff said he was humbled by the response.

"It's not my talent. It is just the crazy things God does," he said.

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