The music competition that ushered in a new era of virtual fundraising

Joe Martin
4 min readAug 25, 2020
Open Mic Challenge promo featuring Rakido

The Open Mic Challenge created a digital platform, in a COVID-19 world, that gives communities the chance to celebrate their local musicians.

This elimination-style competition was built for Chicago musicians and promoted over Instagram. During its run, viewers were able to watch and vote for their favorite musician every Wednesday night while also enjoying surprise messages from television host Ryan Seacrest and Lina Gaudenzi of NBC’s the Voice.

Created by Joe Martin and Ashley Havertine, the event raised money for breast cancer research and awareness through the American Cancer Society. A cause very close to them after Joe’s mom was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer in May 2020.

The successful event helped raise over $2,300, generated over 300 votes and brought hundreds of people together to listen to Chicago musicians playing live — but the concept is much more significant.

It raised funds by providing personalized value through a digital medium.

To generate revenue, the event offered three ways to donate:

  • $5 donation to register as a musician
  • $3 per vote, per musician, per week
  • Open donations through GoFundMe

Because the creators wanted to create an experience, voting was only allowed during the live show between 8pm-9pm. This encouraged viewers to be present for the competition, watching the broadcast live on the website.

Throughout the 6-week event, voting increased by an average of 8% per week.

A Groupon style approach to voting

Slide from the Open Mic Challenge live broadcast announcing the sponsorship

With the Top 4 episode being sponsored by Chicago Pizza Tours, two tickets were donated to the grand prize pool and a 10% off coupon to anybody voting that night. This same formula was used for other sponsored nights that included Chicago Beer Experience and the Magic Penthouse.

It utilized an empowerment marketing approach.

Instagram posts were created to make it easy for the musicians to share with their community.

A newer approach to marketing, it is about equipping others with the tools they need to promote their experience with your brand —the first thing we needed to help others promote — time.

The 6-week long event was intended to give ample time for repeat messaging. This allows each person’s network to see the fundraising initiative multiple times and tune in for at least one of the weeks. During the weeks leading up to the championship, the organizers would:

Have videos from the broadcast available the next day

The timeliness of everything felt like a significant component that was crucial to the success of the events. The creators hoped that being able to announce, “you missed something” would encourage more people to join the live broadcast the following week.

Use the Instagram account to create content the musicians could easily share with their community

This was masterfully executed by Ashley Havertine, who led all efforts on the Instagram account. Creating content that was meant to be shared by the musicians, judges, and sponsors. She focused on making it easy for those involved to hit “share” on a post, quickly making that content available to their immediate network.

Send people emails they care about

Emails sent out for the championship round

Someone who voted for Nicholas would receive an email about watching Wednesday night again to help him advance in the competition. This process was repeated for other musicians while also having a generalized version that would go to people who voted for eliminated musicians or signed up for reminders.

It had heart

Video from Ryan Seacrest, for Joe’s mom that played during the final episode — with Anna’s reaction.

This wasn’t about creating a giant fundraiser for 100s of people — it was about doing something special for one woman going through cancer treatment right now. Something Joe’s mom could look forward to every week.

Behind that mission, the creators received help from the team at the American Cancer Society, Leo Manzione, David Holland, Aaron Ranger, Barbie S, family, musicians, voters, donors, Lina Gaudenzi of NBC’s The Voice, Belinda at The Seacrest Foundation, and Ryan Seacrest himself.

And we succeeded in giving her something to get excited about. She would call to give her thoughts on the performers, hear the stats, and randomly assign the order of the musicians every week.

It’s bigger than a single fundraiser.

It’s not about having another person redo this same fundraiser, it’s about having 100s of communities running this same type of fundraiser. With that, the creators have donated the website, emails, voting forms, and overall structure to the American Cancer Society. Their hope is that it helps others run this same type of fundraiser to celebrate their local community.

You can email Ashley at ACS to learn more about creating your own Open Mic event. No one can promise Ryan Seacrest will show up, but something incredible happens when you bring people together to celebrate their local community. Promise.

You can still donate through Wed, Sept 30th at the event’s GoFundMe page to help reach the goal of $20,000.

Open Mic Challenge was a 6-week elimination-style competition for Chicago musicians. Created by Joe Martin and Ashley Havertine, the event raised money for the American Cancer Society in honor of Joe’s mom, who is currently battling stage 4 metastatic breast cancer.



Joe Martin

Entrepreneur, author, and TEDx Speaker who believes real world interactions are more valuable than digital ones.