3 Actions You Must Take to Run a Successful Crowdfunding Campaign

I was at a seminar last week where Kirsty Burnham of crowdfunding new kids on the block, SoLoCo, gave a presentation on running a successful crowdfunding campaign and it struck me how the actions you need to take are remarkably similar to those that you need to carry out for any fundraising campaign to be successful.

For the uninitiated, crowdfunding is the new online fundraising platform that organisations are getting excited about in terms of giving them new opportunities and access to new potential donors online.  It is a fantastic way of encouraging local investment and ‘buy-in’ among new audiences, as well as providing organisations with matched or challenge funding that really inspires donors to get on board.  Without going into a huge detailed explanation about what crowdfunding is (and I have written about it before if you want some background), among the benefits are:

  • the fact that a successful crowdfunding campaign will provide access to and profile among new audiences;

  • crowdfunding allows you to create interest and excitement about new projects among these audiences:

  • you can help to create a ‘buzz’ around your organisation and encourage people to think differently about you – e.g. more creative/innovative/ cutting edge than people previously thought.

Starting out in the US with Kickstarter, there are a number of new platforms each with a different take on crowdfunding, so it’s worth researching a few before deciding on the one that’s best for you.  They also have different ways of raising funds with some looking at straight 100% philanthropic funding for projects, while others raise funding to provide organisations with loans or to give ‘donors’ equity in the organisation they’ve supported.  However, the fact that crowdfunding sites are already set up ready for you to launch your project fundraising project onto, doesn’t mean that you don’t have to work as hard (if not harder) than you do with your other fundraising to ensure that your campaign is a success.  So what do you need to do to give your crowdfunding campaign the best chance of success?

1. Plan Your Campaign – so you have a project that you want to fundraise for and have decided that crowdfunding is the way forward.  That doesn’t mean you just log into a site you like and start running your campaign.  Think about what you want to achieve; which audiences/potential donors you want to reach; what methods you might use to reach them; what your target is for your crowdfunding campaign – and, if it’s ambitious, what are your chances of success?  All successful fundraising starts with a plan that takes into account the target, the timescales, the potential donors, the challenges and the opportunities, and methods of communication and crowdfunding isn’t any different – so sit down and really think through what you want to achieve and how you will use crowdfunding to do that.  Once you’ve worked all of that out, you can go on to look at which of the many platforms best suits your aims and objectives but campaign planning has got to be your absolute starting point.

2. Start with Your Existing Networks and Contacts – so you want to raise £10,000 for your arts centre on WeDidThis.  How are you going to reach those potential donors and encourage them to give?  WARNING: if your response to this is “I’ll put the project information on the site and then tweet, blog and post on Facebook to my heart’s content” I suggest that you need to think again.  Crowdfunding, like fundraising in general, is about building, developing and maintaining relationships – and this is a mistake that many organisations fail to recognise.  They think because crowdfunding is online that it is all about accessing completely new audiences – and, of course, a crowdfunding campaign can do this – but ultimately, as with all fundraising, your existing networks and contacts should be your starting point.  Begin by approaching these networks; asking them to support your campaign; and using your relationship with them to build a strong base for your campaign from which you can grow and develop out to reach new audiences.  So, think about who you have in your network who could help, perhaps by pledging their support; making a donation or even making approaches to their own networks on your behalf.  You might approach these individuals by sending out tailored emails or you may even use the old fashioned face to face method – don’t assume that, because crowdfunding is online, you can’t do anything offline to generate support for your campaign.  Segmenting your database at this point to ensure that the communications you send are targeted and driven by the information you have on these networks (e.g. you may not follow existing donors on Twitter but you might have their email addresses) might be a good idea and will help to make sure that you are making the most of all the information you have on your existing contacts (and therefore, have the most chance of success).

3. Raise Most of Your Target BEFORE Your Campaign Goes Live – oh yes, and I should have said that, while you’re raising awareness and making approaches to your existing contacts (and to their contacts through introductions made by them) your crowdfunding campaign shouldn’t have been launched.  This is probably the most crucial aspect to any fundraising campaign – and I could tell that Kirsty surprised a few in the audience with this.  Ideally, when you launch any campaign you want to have money in the bank – either physically or in pledges – as this encourages others to support you AND will help you get to your target quicker.  Think about it, if you’ve never heard of an organisation  before and they’re trying to raise £1,000 and currently have raised £0, you’re unlikely to be their first donor, are you?  A more likely starting point is an existing contact who knows the organisation well and knows what they are capable of.  Alternately, if you see an organisation that you don’t know well but which has a project that appeals to you and only a £100 gap between the amount raised and their target, you just might help them to get one step closer.  And then, as a new donor you could become someone that particular organisation can continue to develop a relationship with in the future.  Similarly, your organisation is most likely to raise larger amounts from people who know your work – or who have been given a personal recommendation from someone they trust.  These gifts are the ones that you need to concentrate on initially only opening out your public appeal when your campaign goes live.  Ideally when you have raised around 70% of your target – or at least 50%.  Once you have this level of support, you can launch your campaign and start to make approaches to a wider audience.  You might think “well, what’s the point of a crowdfunding campaign then?” but, as with all mass fundraising appeals, there is an element to them that is about raising awareness and starting new relationships with potential donors who could go on to become larger, more committed donors in the future – and that’s why it’s worth it because you have the potential to reach so many people and to create interest and engagement around your organisation that will continue beyond the life of the campaign.  When you’re considering your online networks research bloggers, tweeters and Facebookers who are discussing topics or are involved in projects similar to yours and try to engage with them.  Use minor celebrities who use Twitter to help really boost your fundraising – but only use them if they are genuinely interested in the work you are doing – because if they are, chances are some of their followers are too.  Research forums that are discussing topics relevant to your work but also think OFFLINE and think locally too.  A big mistake with crowdfunding is to think that you have to fundraise nationally or internationally – but local social media users are more likely to support your work and to blog, tweet or post onto Facebook among their followers too.  Keep your messages consistent and KEEP COMMUNICATING UNTIL YOUR TARGET IS RAISED.

Hopefully, by putting these 3 actions in place your crowdfunding campaign will be successful!

Some crowdfunding platforms will provide you with support when setting up your campaign and will advise you on making approaches to donors and potential donors – and again, this is something you should factor in when deciding on your preferred platform, particularly if this is your first crowdfunding campaign.  Or it might be an idea to contact an organisation who has run a campaign before and ask them what worked well for them and what didn’t – as you’re donor base won’t necessarily be the same, they may be happy to provide you with some general pointers.

Crowdfunding is an exciting, engaging and creative way of reaching new audiences and well worth the investment in time and resources – just don’t go into it thinking that it will run itself because, unless you already have a huge online support base, it won’t.  You need to plan, commit your resources and continually communicate with your audiences – just like any other fundraising campaign.  And that’s the key.  Crowdfunding is a valuable new addition to the fundraising mix but to be successful you need to commit to it.


Fundraising is Not a Cash Cow
How to Crowdfund Your Film (Like The Age of Stupid)

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