Are you looking for a new strategy to add your non-profit’s yearly fundraising mix? Something different than holding another event or sending out another appeal letter?
What if I told you there’s a strategy out there that can help you bring in new donors, boost your donor engagement levels, and encourage current donors to give an extra gift this year… all without costing an arm and leg to implement? That’s the power of non-profit crowdfunding.
Crowdfunding is a great way to not only raise more money this year, but also to permanently boost your fundraising. In my experience, organizations that launch crowdfunding campaigns – and run them the right way – build enough excitement and bring in enough new donors that their fundraising gains go beyond just one new source of revenue. Instead, they help strengthen the foundation of their individual and online giving programs in such a way that the increase lasts for years to come.
And… the vast majority of organizations can successfully run one non-profit crowdfunding campaign per year without hurting their annual or other giving programs.
What is Non-Profit Crowdfunding?
First things first… what do we mean when we say crowdfunding? Simply put, crowdfunding is raising money from dozens, or hundreds, or thousands of donors online using an online crowdfunding page. There are hundreds of online crowdfunding page providers, all with various pros and cons, but the majority of them have a lot of similarities to their for-profit equivalents, like Kickstarter:
- They provide a place for you to make a fundraising appeal and tell why you need the money
- They offer different giving levels, often with benefits provided at each level
- They allow donors to click a Donate Now button to give immediately by credit card
- They allow visitors to the page to see how close you are to reaching your fundraising goal
My general rule of thumb is that every non-profit that has received gifts from at least 100 different individual donors over the past year can run a successful crowdfunding campaign. Most organizations that run crowdfunding campaigns should run one every year in order to reap maximum benefits from their non-profit crowdfunding efforts.
Why Crowdfunding is So Effective for Non-Profits
Over the past several years, we’ve had the opportunity to run a number of very successful crowdfunding campaigns on behalf of clients. We’ve seen firsthand how effective crowdfunding can be for schools, social service agencies, performing arts centers, and other non-profit organizations.
Non-profit crowdfunding is so effective because:
– It is new and exciting: Every non-profit runs events and sends out direct mail. Relatively few are using crowdfunding – the right way – to raise money. Even after more non-profits start using crowdfunding, it will still be valuable as an added fundraising tool above and beyond your standard fundraising arsenal.
– It helps bring in new donors: Because crowdfunding campaigns are so easily shareable, they are a great way to bring in new donors. Part of your strategy for these campaigns should be to get your current donors and supporters to share them with their own networks, thus helping you reach brand new donor universes.
– It provides an extra opportunity to cast your non-profit’s vision for your donors: Non-profit crowdfunding campaigns allow you to communicate with your donors a number of times in an exciting and fun way. This provides you with additional touch points for your current donors, volunteers, social media followers, and other supporters.
How to Be Successful with Crowdfunding
There are several key considerations to keep in mind in order to be successful with your organization’s crowdfunding efforts:
#1 – Treat it Like a Campaign
It’s important to understand that non-profit crowdfunding efforts aren’t one-and-done affairs. Many organizations think they can just stick up a crowdfunding page, link to it from their website (or send it out by e-mail one time) and wait for the money to roll in. Nothing could be further from the truth.
If you want to be successful with crowdfunding, you need to treat it like a campaign (or like a successful giving day). This means putting together a committee of supporters to help spread the word. It means building up excitement for the launch of the campaign, and asking a number of your donors to commit to not only give on the first day of the campaign but also to e-mail the campaign out to their own networks.
Many organizations offer short mini-promotions during the course of their crowdfunding efforts, including things like one-day matching pledges, contests between different groups of supporters, and special marketing videos with clients, board members, and even local celebrities. No matter what you do, build your crowdfunding strategy similar to the way you would build a short annual, campaign, or endowment campaign.
#2 – Use it to Fund One Specific Need
The most compelling kind of crowdfunding campaigns are those that are used to fund a particular need. It’s hard to crowdfund for annual funds and general operating expenses… those needs are important, but are best left for your traditional annual fund development activities. Great crowdfunding campaigns need to generate some excitement from your donor base… the best way to do that is to use the campaign to fund a specific need that moves the ball forward for your organization.
Some examples of specific needs that would work for a crowdfunding campaign include:
- Adding five more scholarships for needy students
- Serving an additional 3,000 hot meals to the homeless
- Hiring a new staff member at your clinic
- Launching a new program at your church
- Renting four billboards to announce your new healthy living program
Crowdfunding is easier when your donors and supporters can clearly and easily understand what you will do with the money and why it is important for your non-profit. That way, as your fundraising thermometer gets closer and closer to your goal, they know that you are getting closer and closer to being able to do that one thing that is the basis of your campaign. This encourages donors to give more and to spread the word to their friends and colleagues.
#3 – Keep Your Non-Profit Crowdfunding Campaign Short but Active
Most crowdfunding sites allow you to choose different lengths for your campaign. Some non-profit fundraisers assume that longer campaigns are better, because they give you more time to reach your goals… and thus, they run campaigns for two, three, or even four months. In my experience, this is way too long. If you want to run a successful crowdfunding campaign each and every year at your non-profit, you need to make sure that it is short and sweet… and that it doesn’t run into your other fundraising activities.
My suggestion is that you run your non-profit crowdfunding campaigns for no more than 30 days. This is an ample amount of time to spread the word and reach your fundraising goal. In fact, some organizations I have worked with have run two-week campaigns that were extremely successful.
No matter how long or short your campaign is, remember that you need to keep the activity level high for the entire campaign. This means that for the length of your crowdfunding effort, you need to be making calls to donors and to your campaign committee asking them to give and to spread the word. You need to be sending out e-mails (at least one per week, if not more) asking people to give. You need to be active on social media, constantly pointing people to your campaign page. When it comes to online crowdfunding, the general rule of thumb is the more activity, the better.
#4 – Follow-Up with New Donors!
Remember what we said earlier – good non-profit crowdfunding campaigns are a great way find new donors for your organization. And like all new donors, it is imperative that your non-profit thanks them, recognizes them for their gift, and then works hard to steward them towards making a 2nd gift to your organization. Be sure to follow-up with all of the new donors you generate through your crowdfunding efforts to build stronger relationships with them and turn them into regular givers to your non-profit!
Ready to Get Started?
If you'd like to launch a crowdfunding campaign for your organization, here's a list of some of our favorite non-profit crowdfunding platforms (listed in alphabetical order):
Photo Credit: Hsing Wei