Want to raise money on a platform like Indiegogo or Kickstarter? If so, you’re in good company. Successful crowdfunding campaigns gain traction when they are unique, individualized and the power of individual storytelling to evoke an emotional reaction.
One example of such a campaign began after James Robertson told the Detroit Free Press that he walked 21 miles to get to and from work. A college student started a small campaign to raise money to enable Robertson to buy a car. The resulting media attention led to even more donations. In all, the campaign raised $360,000, drastically changing Robertson’s life and his plans for the future.
Another example of a successful crowdfunding campaign began as a joke. Zack “Danger” Brown started a $10 Kickstarter campaign to make potato salad. Individual donors pummeled him with $55,492 in one month, making it the fourth-most viewed project page in Kickstarter’s history — largely because of widespread press coverage and social media exposure on mainstream sites like CNN, humor sites like The Onion’s AV Club and more obscure sites like Reddit. Because Kickstarter doesn’t allow campaigners to turn the money they raise directly over to charity, Brown got creative, organizing a concert bash to benefit non-profit organizations fighting hunger in Central Ohio.
These types of campaigns are every fundraiser’s dream, yet they only see success in certain circumstances. Brown, for instance, knew to use humor. His campaign started as a joke before generating more interest. That can be frustrating to non-profits who work to raise money on more consistently serious campaigns. “Don’t let this one-off potato salad success dash your enthusiasm about crowdfunding, online fundraising, the Internet or the human race,” Terri Harel wrote here. “Causes are incredible because they are some of the most meaningful experiences we can be involved in — as organizations, teams or individuals.” Additionally, not every fundraising campaign will become a household name like the Ice Bucket Challenge. Non-profits can learn many lessons from these successful campaigns on how to generate positive change. One of those lessons is to be clear about your message.
The beauty of crowdfunding is that, through small donations, large groups of people are able to make a substantial difference. Given the stories of the incredible impact that non-profits witness daily, they should be killing it on crowdfunding. In 2014, crowdfunders in North America raised $9.46 billion, a 145% increase from 2013 — but that amount mostly went to businesses and individuals, not charities. A different website said global crowdfunding platforms raised $16.2 billion in 2014 and that donation-based crowdfunding grew 45 percent in 2014.
Empower Brand Ambassadors on Social Media
Identifying brand ambassadors, like non-profit board members, active volunteers or event staff, who help spread the word on social media (or even initiate and lead) crowdfunding campaigns can make a big difference. These brand ambassadors need to be prepared to make statements about the event and its purpose at specific times on multiple social media platforms. Tools like Thunderclap can help advance planning to get a topic trending, and traditional “get out the vote” methods like phone banks (projects that reach 30% of their funding goal in the first 24 hours have a much greater chance of success) and using keywords in the description, should not be underestimated.
Successful crowdfunding campaigns start well before their launch. I recommend anyone interested in starting a campaign begin building their social media community at least 3-6 months prior to launch. Crowdfunding campaigns have time limits and it is key for non-profits to grow their giving community, and not just rely on the current donor base.
Additionally, different crowdfunding sites have different rules regarding profits. If you don’t hit your Kickstarter goal, you don’t keep any of the profits. Indiegogo lets you keep the money you raise even if you don’t meet your goal, but it charges different fees based on whether or not you meet that goal (it has lowered, specific fees for non-profit campaigns). Other sites like Razoo, Crowdrise, Fundraise, and Fundlyallow direct donations to non-profits. And don’t underestimate the power of Internet traffic in generating donations. Here is a ranking of the Top 10 crowdfunding sites. For more information on crowdfunding for non-profits, read this story.
Finally, continuous communication with your prospective audience is key. Post regular updates on your crowdfunding page, and keep the process going after the campaign has ended. Ultimately, any successful social media campaign — including crowdfunding — is a conversation, not a billboard, and engaging individually with your audience could be the difference between success and failure.