Betty White

#BettyWhiteChallenge Raising Money and Awareness for Animals

The virtual tribute asks fans to donate $5 to a local animal rescue organization in White’s name on her birthday on Jan. 17

Amanda Edwards / Getty Images FILE - Actress Betty White

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, fans of White 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.

“She’ll be smiling on her birthday,” she said. “And she’ll be smiling about the lives she’s changed.”

It isn't exactly clear who started the #BettyWhiteChallenge on social media shortly after White’s death on Dec. 31. However it began, 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 like actors Mark Hamill and George Takei on Twitter.

Traffic to American Humane’s website spiked after White’s passing. Ganzert said donations, too, have increased. The nonprofit is waiting to reveal by how much until more gifts flood in, including sizable donations it’s expecting from some donors.

During the decades in which White was involved with the organization, she made fundraising appeals and served on its board and as a presenter and judge on its televised show featuring “hero” dogs. During tapings of “The Pet Set” in the early 1970s, Ganzert said, White would have American Humane representatives on set to ensure that animals were safe. In 2012, the nonprofit honored her with its highest award, the National Humanitarian Medal.

Ganzert would also give White a photo book each year of the animals the organization helped.

“She kept those out on her coffee table,” Ganzert said. “And (it) always touched me whenever we would visit.”

The “Hot in Cleveland” and “The Golden Girls” star died weeks shy of her 100th birthday, according to her agent.

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

“That’s the beauty of animal welfare,” Sizemore said. “There’s something for everyone to support. There’s so much good work happening and so much opportunity, particularly right now, to make the world a better place for people and animals.”

Sizemore hopes that Monday will bring plenty of donations and attention for animal welfare.

“What an incredible opportunity to honor Betty White’s legacy — to come together as a nation and celebrate something that she was so passionate about, her love for animals,” she said.

Maintaining that 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 — whether through emails, a website, social media or other methods.

“What it allows them to do is really use that tent-pole moment to get in front of an audience they might not otherwise have gotten,” Newhall said. But, she added, retaining these donors can be an uphill battle because the push to give is tied to one day, and the motivation to one person. Animal groups might also become overshadowed by other organizations soliciting donations during Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which also falls on Monday.

ABC Photo Archives via Getty Images
Betty White smiles in a 1958 promotional photo. White, a beloved actor whose small screen career spanned well over eight decades, died 17 days before her 100th birthday.
Herb Ball/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank
Betty White holds her dog Bandy at their home in this 1954 snap. White is a well known animal lover, having based much of her free time fundraising for animal causes and declining roles that features animal cruelty.
ABC Photo Archives via Getty Images
Betty White jokes around in a May 5, 1957, promotional photoshoot for ABC’s “Date with the Angels.” Her quirky and saucy personality endeared her to the American public early into her career.
ABC Photo Archives via Getty Images
Actor Betty White visits with the Los Angeles Angels as part of a promotion for ABC’s “Date with the Angels,” July 2, 1957, in which she starred alongside Bill Williams.
NBCU Photo Bank
Betty White smiles with her husband, game show host and actor Allen Ludden, in a 1960 photo. The pair were married from 1963 until Ludden’s death to cancer in 1981.
ABC Photo Archives via Getty Images
Betty White smiles with her husband, game show host and actor Allen Ludden, in their home on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, 1972. The pair were married from 1963 until Ludden’s death to cancer in 1981.
Bob Wands/AP
Betty White and her husband Allen Ludden continue a two-year gin rummy battle in which she’s ahead by a cumulative 6,000 points, Westchester, New York, April 29, 1965. They do it professionally on TV. He’s the master of ceremonies on “Password,” and she makes frequent guest appearances on game shows. The couple plays games to relax at home.
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From left: Edward Asner, Betty White, Mary Tyler Moore and Ted Knight hold their Emmy Awards at the 28th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards on May 17, 1976, Los Angeles, California. The four played Lou Grant, Sue Ann Nivens, Mary Richards and Ted Baxter for “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” respectively.
Paul Drinkwater/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank
Actor Betty White on the Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, with then guest-host David Letterman, March 26, 1979.
Getty Images
Betty White walks towards the grave of her late husband Allen Ludden, in the company of Ludden’s mother. The 63-year-old died of cancer in Los Angeles on Tuesday and was buried in Mineral Point, Wisconsin – the town where he was born.
NBCU Photo Bank
From left: Betty White as Ellen Harper Jackson, Vicki Lawrence as Thelma “Mama” Crowley Harper, and Rue McClanahan as Aunt Fran Crowley for “Mama’s Family,” July 1983.
Herb Ball/NBCU Photo Bank
From left: Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan, Estelle Getty and Betty White pose for a promotional poster for the first season of “Golden Girls,” April 22, 1985. The four would play the iconic quartet Dorothy Petrillo Zbornak, Blanche Devereaux, Sophia Petrillo and Rose Nylund from 1985 until the series’ end in 1992.
Chris Polk/FilmMagic
Betty White, Bea Arthur and Rue McClanahan during the The 6th Annual “TV Land Awards” in Santa Monica, California, June 8, 2008.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Actors Betty White and Mary Tyler Moore present Tina Fey the Outstanding Comedy Series award for “30 Rock” onstage during the 60th Primetime Emmy Awards held at Nokia Theatre on Sept. 21, 2008 in Los Angeles, California.
Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Betty White seen in a May 31, 2009, photo. She still keeps an active career at 87, with her latest project playing an aging, truth telling, off–the–wall grandmother for “The Proposal.”
Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Sandra Bullock and Betty White goof off onstage during the 2010 Teen Choice Awards at Gibson Amphitheatre on Aug. 8, 2010 in Universal City, California.
Paul Drinkwater/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank
Ryan Reynolds and Betty White appear as guests on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Sept. 22, 2010. The two actors, known for their off-beat, saucy personalities on and off the screen, amused themselves by referring to each other as “a past relationship” for the benefits of celebrity entertainment.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Betty White arrives at the premiere of Touchstone Pictures’ “You Again,” Sept. 22, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. She remained a “national treasure” for her roles in “Golden Girls” and her off-beat, quirky personality with fans of all ages.
Paul Morigi/WireImage
Thomas Tidwell, left, and Hank Kashdan of the U.S. Forest Service pose for a photo with Betty White who was named an honorary Forest Ranger at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Nov. 9, 2010 in Washington, D.C.
Gregg DeGuire/FilmMagic
Betty White arrives at “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax” Los Angeles Premiere at Universal Studios Hollywood on Feb. 19, 2012, in Universal City, California. She plays Grammy Norma on the animated film at the age of 90.
Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Anderson Live
Betty White, next to Lisa Vanderpump and Anderson Cooper, looks on as a man jumps out of a birthday cake at CBS Studios, Jan. 8, 2013 ,in New York City.
Christopher Polk/Getty Images for The People's Choice Awards
Betty White accepts the award for Favorite TV Icon during The 41st Annual People’s Choice Awards at Nokia Theatre LA Live on Jan. 7, 2015, in Los Angeles, California.
Allen Berezovsky/WireImage
Betty White accepts Daytime Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award onstage during the 42nd Annual Daytime Emmy Awards at Warner Bros. Studios on April 26, 2015 in Burbank, California.
Raymond Boyd/Getty Images
Betty White’s star along the Hollywood Stars Walk of Fame in Hollywood, California, seen on Sept. 10, 2017.

North Shore Animal League America, a no-kill animal rescue and adoption organization, plans to engage new #BettyWhiteChallenge donors through a mix of social media appeals and invitations to visit its adoption center in Port Washington, New York, said Joanne Yohannan, the organization’s senior vice president of operations. It is also dedicating its next 100 animal rescues to White in honor of her 100th birthday.

The organization 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 Jan. 17.

“It’s about raising awareness for the plight of homeless animals and what can be done to help them, including volunteering and adopting,” Yohannan said.

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