Crowdfunding is a way to fundraise for a specific cause, expanding your reach to excite and motivate a broad base of typically smaller donors. Running a successful crowdfunding campaign takes calculated effort and attention, and after working in fundraising for five years with the largest arts-based fiscal sponsor in the country, I picked up a few things.
Be specific about your funding needs
Detail the circumstances of your chosen cause, the people involved, and what it takes to achieve your goals. Your donors are, in a sense, connecting themselves as part of that cause—even if their involvement is a monetary one—so they need to understand the details of your needs.
Let site visitors know exactly how the funds will be used. For example, if you were fundraising for college, include the costs of books, room and board, and tuition fees in the campaign details so funders know exactly how they are contributing to your success. This not only allows them to be a part of your journey, but also informs the amount they choose to give.
Include a campaign video to illustrate your need in a personal way. “A video can also enhance your appeal by addressing the donor directly, using plenty of second-person statements like, ‘your donation will help us…,’ and ‘you can help by…’ to engage your donors and make them feel a part of the work,” says Lauren Lattimore, a Program Associate at Fractured Atlas. Lattimore suggests limiting the video to about three minutes, considering that busy viewers with limited attention are more likely to stick through shorter videos.
Ask for the right amount
Your goal amount should be based on a few factors: your budget, constituents, and your outreach capacity. It’s said that the average donation from an individual is $66, and about one in three people who take the time to visit your campaign will give during its run.
Courtney Harge, having worked for the New York Foundation for the Arts and who is currently an Associate Director of Inbound Marketing at Fractured Atlas, suggests the following guideline:
[Your goal amount is] the amount you need to make the project happen, plus 15% contingency. If this is your first time fundraising and you’re a team of 1, stay below $10,000 unless you have some guaranteed pledges before your campaign starts.
The rule of seven offers some guidance on how much communication it takes to reach that goal: you can expect to reach out to someone about seven times before they will actually take action on a request. For example, if your goal is $5,000, and one out of three people contacted will give $66, you would need to reach out to about 228 people at least seven times to reach that goal. Consider your capacity of outreach, what you need to cover costs, and who your constituents are before setting your goal amount.
Pinpoint your target audience
There’s a common misconception that crowdfunding is a set-it-and-forget-it approach to fundraising; unfortunately, though, people aren’t scouring crowdfunding sites looking for places to give, and most of your funds will come from friends, family, and networking. Start by reaching out within your personal and professional circles, and ask that those individuals reach out to their extended circles as well.
This is where social media plays a big part: You want to connect with a wide range of connected individuals in your life, and yes, even if they are only acquaintances. “A tip I learned is to group your audience into like interests or connections: high school friends, coworkers, poker buddies, your knitting circle, etc. Talk to all of these groups, but target each message to their interest and/or connection to you,” says Harge.
Keep a tight timeframe
Crowdfunding is time-based to create a sense of urgency for donors, and crowdfunding statistics show that the most successful campaigns to date have lasted about 113 days. Deciding your campaign length depends on similar factors to setting your goal: Consider your community, personal time commitments, and when you will need the funds. Harge states 30 to 45 days is recommended: “It can be pushed to 60. You want people to feel the urgency while also having time to include a gift to you in their budget,” she says.
Campaigns generally have the most traffic at the beginning and the end of the campaign. “Plan breaks during the middle of the campaign,” says Harge. “It will likely die down and that’s where you can recharge for a big finish.”
Give something back to donors
Rewards are a great way to show appreciation to donors. Set reward tiers based on different donation amounts to incentivize donors and help them decide what amount they are willing to give. Receiving something in return for their donation—even if it’s a small reward—will help make donors feel more connected to your journey.
Lattimore suggests simple rewards, such as a donor’s name listed on a website or promotional materials, listing donors as “Producers” in film credits, offering discount codes for future merchandise purchases, social media shoutouts, video tributes, or even behind-the-scenes access to a show or creative process.
But be careful: Rewards offers should be based on your capacity to deliver them. If you promise t-shirts, but it costs more print and deliver the shirts than the donation, it may not be the best reward for the cause.
Choose a platform that benefits you the most
Not all crowdfunding sites are created equal, as each site has separate rules, fees, and processes to take into consideration. Due diligence should go into choosing the one that’s right for you.
Kickstarter is an “all or nothing” platform, meaning that if you don’t reach your goal, you don’t receive any of the funds that were pledged. Donors’ payments aren’t charged until the campaign ends, and only if the goal is reached. It’s based on the idea that every dollar of the funds you raise is crucial, and if you don’t make it to the finish line then the project can’t happen. “All or nothing” is great for projects that have a minimum baseline they need to get off the ground—things like inventions, book orders, and clothing lines are typically manufactured in bulk and the creators can’t start the manufacturing process unless the bulk is ordered.
Sites like GoFundMe and Indiegogo, on the other hand, are keep-what-you-raise platforms, meaning you receive the donated funds whether you reach your goal or not. Make sure to note what fees a platform charges on the funds raised—for example, Indiegogo charges 5% of all funds raised, plus the credit card processing fees, which are 2.9% of the donation, plus 30 cents. Fractured Atlas’s platform charges an 8% fee, but is only available for artists who are a part of their fiscal sponsorship program.
“A good crowdfunding campaign is only a piece of the fundraising pie,” Harge says. “There should be a ‘silent’ portion before it goes live, where you’re building relationships with potential funders and audiences. Don’t skimp on the early work.” Make strong connections that go beyond the days of your campaign, and build long-lasting relationships.