If you work at a nonprofit, I can guarantee that at some point, someone has suggested you do a crowdfunding campaign. Maybe he knows someone who raised an obscene amount of money on Kickstarter for a creative project, or perhaps she’s heard about another charity’s success with Indiegogo.
From an outside perspective, crowdfunding looks pretty easy—enter some information on a website, send out some emails or social media posts, and boom! The money rolls in.
As with most things, however, the devil is in the details.
I just finished a successful crowdfunding campaign, and my organization is now $17,663 richer. I am extremely proud of the results of the campaign, but until I was in the thick of it, I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know about this kind of fundraising. Here is what I’ve learned—and what a few experts recommend, as well—about crowdfunding.
1. Know Your Audience
Who is the target of your campaign? Are you trying to widen your pool of donors, or are you trying to reactivate some lapsed relationships? Do you want to appeal to college students or an older demographic? Knowing your audience makes some big decisions a lot easier.
If you’re trying to reach a broad audience that isn’t familiar with your organization, a site like Indiegogo can work well—it attracts a lot of hits, and you aren’t required to raise a minimum to get paid. However, if you’re focusing on a more narrow audience, try checking out sites that focus on particular issues, like Catapult (women and girls) or Barnraiser (sustainable food and farming).
In addition, you have to know what your audience would appreciate as rewards for donating. My organization, for example, wanted to appeal to people who were already familiar with our work, so most of our rewards were branded merchandise and tickets to popular events we host every year. If we were reaching out to new donors, I would try to find rewards that a wider range of people would enjoy, like a cookbook, artwork, or gift basket of goodies.
2. Have a Story
As with any type of fundraising, you need to give your potential donors a compelling reason to give. The Girl Scouts of Western Washington, for example, provided a very compelling reason after they returned a $100,000 donation because it conflicted with their mission. Rather than stay quiet about the situation, they started a campaign to fill that gap. Their story was picked up across the internet and other media outlets, and they’ve now raised more than $300,000 (and still have two weeks to go!).
Crowfunding also requires you to tell your story in different forms, to different venues. You start, of course, with the main campaign page, which usually features a video and text describing your campaign. But don’t forget about emails and social media posts to promote the campaign, as well as an updated front page of your website, which should also direct folks to the campaign page. I even added a pitch for my campaign to my email signature.
Altogether, this means that you have to be able to convey your story in a few words, but you also need to be able to expand it to several paragraphs. To do it right, you have to be willing to invest the necessary time and resources.
3. Communicate With Your Donors—a Lot
If I could redo my campaign, I would set up a schedule or prompts to send my donors updates throughout the campaign. Instead, I waited 12 days to update donors—and because of that, the campaign got off to a bit of a rough start.
Do what I didn’t do, and let your donors know what’s happening on a regular basis. Did you just land your 10th donor? Give him or her a shout out! Did your program staff just announce a new project that relates to the campaign? Let your supporters know about it!
Crowdfunders like to feel like they’re part of something. If donating is no more exciting than ordering something on Amazon (and then waiting a really long time for shipping), you are not going to build long-term support for your mission.
Farra Trompeter, VP at Big Duck, a communications firm that works with nonprofits, suggests sending regular updates, even months after the campaign ends. After all, your donors are helping you start a project. Remind them that their money went to a good cause—and that you always need more funding. (I am totally stealing this idea and emailing my supporters at the end of the season to let them know how we used their money!)
I found that running a crowdfunding campaign was stressful, but that was mostly because I didn’t know what to expect. But, through my experience and the expertise of others, now you know what to expect—and that can help you better determine if crowdfunding is right for your organization.