Crowdfunding might seem like a tech-driven fundraising trend, but the concept has actually been around for quite a long time. In 1884, The New York World raised over $100,000 from 160,000 people in order to fund the base for the Statue of Liberty. In his appeal to his mass readership, publisher Joseph Pulitzer wrote on the front page of the paper “Let us not wait for the millionaires to give us money.”
If you are considering turning to crowdfunding as a strategy to support your organization, then that philosophy probably resonates with you even today. Unlike the work of a Major Gifts Officer, which requires the intensive cultivation of millionaires (and even not-quite-millionaires) over a long period of time, crowdfunding has the potential to be a clever and creative way to tap into a group of individual donors who are more likely to make small gifts quickly.
There is some great potential in running a crowdfunding campaign—whether it is through a straightforward ask on a platform like Kickstarter or Indiegogo, or a peer-to-peer campaign using a more complex, or perhaps even a bespoke system. Just because crowdfunding campaigns move quickly, however, that doesn’t mean that anything about them is easy.
With that in mind, here are five questions we recommend you ask yourself when you’re deciding whether a crowdfunding campaign is right for your organization:
Are you on social media?
A big piece of what makes a crowdfunding campaign successful in the current century is the ability for word about the campaign to spread quickly. While you might contact some of your potential donors to the campaign via email, most of the platforms out there are designed to encourage donors to share their charitable giving via social media channels in order to exponentially increase the visibility of the campaign. You as the nonprofit need to be able to follow the chatter about your campaign on social media channels, and then use them to engage, interact, make immediate “Thank Yous,” and share additional content about your work.
Do you have the staff and time?
In order to manage this kind of campaign on such a truncated timeline (often 30 days or less), you need to have the staff capacity to constantly monitor the campaign, participate in social media (as described above), create new content as needed, process gifts, and send personal thanks to donors as those gifts are coming in. This kind of work, and the need to be responsive and agile in the moment in order to get the most out of the campaign, cannot be underestimated!
Do you have the donor network?
Unfortunately, setting up a crowdfunding campaign is not a case of “if you build it, they will come.” In order to be successful, you have to already have people in your network who are willing to donate to you online in this way. In order to build momentum and start the ball rolling for your campaign quickly, it will be helpful to go as far as having a few “plants” assigned—guaranteed donors who will give on day one and demonstrate to your broader audience that there is an interest out there in supporting your work.
Do you have a clever idea?
“Support our great work” can be a wonderful and very useful message in a solicitation letter or conversation with a mid-level or major donor prospect, but for the fast-paced, highly-social-and-shareable world of crowdfunding campaigns, you need something that’s going to jump out at people, and going to stick. One notable example is The ALS Association’s Ice Bucket Challenge, which raised $117 million in 8 weeks back in 2014 by asking people to share videos of themselves dumping buckets of ice over their heads—but even something a little tamer will work, too. A more traditional example is that of the Power of 10 campaign, run by a local New York-based nonprofit called Opening Act. Every year, the organization uses the hashtag #Powerof10 and a specific theme (such as #INCLUDINGYOU or #DREAMBIG #DOBIG) to build a series of events and videos that tell the story of the organization and the people it serves. Last year, they raised over $100,000 in 10 days.
Do you have a follow up plan?
In an ideal world, how would you want to continue cultivating your campaign donors once the campaign has ended, and can you achieve that with the information you’ll have from your crowdfunding platform? Before you even begin, make sure that you know the answer to these questions, or you’ll miss the opportunity to leverage the excitement around your campaign, and possibly even turn some low-level donors into mid-level donors
If done the right way, with adequate time and resources behind it, a crowdfunding campaign can be a great way to generate buzz, excitement, and donations for your organization! Make sure you take the time to thoughtfully consider these five questions before you jump in head first, and you will be well on your way to crowdfunding success.