Anyone can run a successful crowdfunding campaign — even us! The trick is to not assume anything happens automatically because it’s online. It’s not going to magically go viral, it’s not going to hit goals by itself, people aren’t going to just read between the lines and know what you want.
Crowdfunding is like traditional fundraising but with a lot more marketing built in. While the campaign has to be visible online, most of the work of the campaign has to happen offline. It’s important that donors see the progress but your most successful asks will happen in real life… then make sure they make the donation online, where everyone can see it. (Are you getting the feeling that if everyone can’t see a donation, it didn’t happen? That’s what I mean.)
Whether you’re participating in Amplify Austin, Giving Tuesday, or running your own campaign, planning and strategy are key. We’ve run several crowdfunding campaigns that have beat their goal, and here are the highlights of the strategy we’ve used.
Determine if crowdfunding is right for you:
1. Do you have an emotional story to tell? Try telling it to someone you’ve just met. If they have a strong reaction, there’s a chance you can grab others’ attention. Hook into something timely or newsy to capture emotion that might already be out there.
2. Have people you know asked how they can support you? Do you think they are capable of donating $20 – $100 if given the opportunity?
3. Do you have 1-2 people who are likely to make large donations to your campaign? You’ll need a few “plants” in order to keep your campaign humming.
4. Do you have time to put in the work from the initial planning to the campaign itself and the follow-up stages? You can’t “set it and forget it”. Staying on top of a crowdfunding campaign – even to the point of almost annoying people – is the way to meet your goal.
Choose the right platform:
1. Is your story compelling enough to get donations from people who happen upon your campaign? Are people giving because of you or can your story stand alone? If you need it to spread on its own, choose a platform with powerful sharing tools.
2. Does the platform have all the elements that make a campaign successful? It should show donors how close you are to your goal, allow you to post video and make updates, offer highly functional sharing tools, collect donor contact information and more. Be picky.
3. Most platforms charge a service fee in addition to the credit card fee, but does it offer donors a chance to pay those fees? In my experience, most donors do.
4. This is an extremely crowded market with all kinds of bells and whistles to consider. Remember, though, that the most important thing is that it’s super-easy for your donors — even if it’s less easy for you. If supporting local is important, you might consider the Austin-based crowdfunding platform HelloFund, a versatile platform that also offers tickets, recurring donations, a platform for an online store.
Calendar your campaign:
1. Make sure your launch date doesn’t clash with other important dates. You don’t want to launch your campaign on a holiday or when you anticipate that social media will be busy discussing other things.
2. Put a deadline on your campaign that’s no more than one month from launch. Any longer and it can lose steam.
3. Add check-in dates, dates by when you want to have met certain goals. These will help keep you on track.
4. In your calendaring, include all the messaging you’ll be doing. You can use a simple spreadsheet pre-populated with messages to send on those dates so that you just have to copy-paste and schedule.
Create your messaging in advance:
1. One word: Video. Want to raise $500, don’t get too fancy. You can make it on your phone. Want to raise $25,000, get fancy and hire someone with a crew. That’s your range.
2. Create key phrases to use over and over again. When you get tired of writing them, that’s when you know they’re starting to work.
3. Consistency is important. Stick with a theme, the same quality of photos, the same look and feel. Donors giving later in the campaign will need to see the same ask a few times before giving.
4. Be sincere and authentic, but always be asking. It’s great to get excited about hitting milestones, but celebrating them too much can make donors complacent. Mark them but make sure they know the next goal you want to reach.
Do the offline work before you launch:
1. Reach out to those donors you think will give and ask them if they’d be willing to contribute at certain times during the campaign: before launch, right at launch, when you’re close to a goal, when donations start to slow down, and toward the end to pick up steam again.
2. Set a goal that you are almost positive you can beat. Then, plan on raising at least half that money offline with phone calls, emails, and in-person asks. You’ll ask those donors to make their donations on your crowdfunding page. You might even ask one of them to serve as a “matching” donor to encourage others.
3. Tease the campaign before you make it live. Make sure your audience, and especially your board, knows it’s coming so it’s not out of the blue when it’s live.
4. Decide how you will publicly thank each donor. Thanking individuals can lead to more donations from others, so include that messaging in your plan.
5. Decide if you’re going to launch or close with an event. I’ve seen lots of launch events but I wonder if a closing event would be more powerful. If you’re near the goal, an event with your closest allies could be the way to seal the deal. Make sure they can give online during the event so others can see it.
When you launch your campaign online:
1. Never publicly launch with $0. Your campaign should have been live a couple of weeks so that your plants could make their gift, allowing you to work out any bugs in your system. When you launch it with a big email or on your site, you should be about 10 percent toward your goal.
2. Some of your messaging will be shotgun, some of it will be more targeted. Identify your audiences and know the difference.
3. Be relentlessly optimistic and remind them why you’re asking.
4. Mark goals but make the next goal the highlight of the message.
5. Be disciplined about your plan but be flexible enough to take advantage of things that come up that can help you raise more money.
Celebrate beating your goal:
1. Every single one of your donors should know how they helped you beat your goal.
2. Everyone in your audience should know you beat your goal. People love giving to a winner.
3. Tag crowdfunding donors differently so you can message them differently the rest of the year. Remember, these are generous people who wanted to see you win. Try to message them carefully, mostly reminding them throughout the year of how you are fulfilling your mission. Give them a new “win” to go after with you next time.
And a few things you should just get over now:
1. Your board is not going to participate the way you expect them to. Yes, it seems like a no-brainer and a really easy way to give them the tools to raise money for you. But most board members are not comfortable raising money, and if they are they’d rather do it privately. Ask them first before assuming they’ll help.
2. Your campaign is not going to run itself. You are not putting stew meat in a crockpot and coming home to a delicious dinner. You are putting your cleats in the starting blocks and busting your ass the second the gun goes off, all the way through the finish line.
3. Crowdfunding is not going to replace your other fundraising. It’s a great way to capture those small donors who want to support you with a small donation one time, but it’s rare that you’ll find a donor you’ve never met who ends your fundraising problems for the year. Crowdfunding is more like shaking the trees. Have fun with it and let friends who love you feel gratified to have been a part of your mission. But keep scheduling those coffees with big donors.
What did I miss? What do you do differently?