Crowdfunding for non-profits

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Non-profits are the original crowdfunders. The first time someone went door-to-door asking for contributions, or collected donations on a street corner, they were essentially crowdfunding, by collecting numerous smaller contributions to fund social impact projects that couldn’t otherwise get off the ground.

So non-profits should be naturals at using the new generation of fundraising platforms which have been given the crowdfunding label. But many are hesitant about giving it a go, put off by a fear of failure or a lack of understanding about what’s involved. Hopefully this blog post can help encourage more to make use of this great opportunity!

At StartSomeGood, we’ve hosted scores of successful non-profit crowdfunding campaigns and are passionate about helping non-profits (and for-profit social enterprises) take advantage of crowdfunding to raise the funds and rally the community you need to make a difference.

We wanted to share some advice and answer some common questions from non-profits looking to take the leap.

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How is crowdfunding different to other fundraising activities?

Non-profits were crowdfunding before it was cool – before the term was even coined. The underlying dynamic of many people pooling their contributions to make impact on a social problem they care about still remains. What today’s version of crowdfunding offers you is improved game dynamics, greater transparency and the additional momentum of social media.

Crowdfunding projects are:

  • Shareable: just one click and your cause is in front of a community you’ve never connected with before, as your current supporters reach out to their family and friends
  • Tangible: the project page gives you the opportunity to set a concrete goal and give backers the sense that they can really make it happen.
  • Personal: your project video enables you to talk one-on-one with your backers, to share your emotional connection with the work you’re doing.
  • Rewarding: crowdfunding gives you the opportunity to overcome ‘donor fatigue’ by offering genuinely exciting, covetable rewards that make your campaign more fun than guilt-inducing.
  • Transparent: by making your progress towards your goal completely transparent you inspire greater attention and participation from your supporters. By making the tipping point goal all-or-nothing you leverage game dynamics which make people more likely to give.

Pro-tip: It’s easy to define your crowdfunding campaign when you’re engaged in discreet projects such as pilot programs or once-off infrastructure creation. But non-profits are often doing long-term, ongoing work, so it can seem difficult to create a tangible project to crowdfund. Consider how you could reframe ongoing activities as discreet “chunks”. For example, you could aim to fund your operations for a particular time period, expand to an additional location or hire a new much-needed member of staff. Then try to quantify the impact of the changes you can make with the additional funds you’re seeking.

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How does offering rewards help?

Crowdfunding gives you the opportunity to combine a social change story (inspiration) with a great product/reward (acquisitiveness) plus personal networks (relationships) to make contribution uniquely compelling.

Pro-tip:

Don’t dial it in when it comes to rewards. Apply your experience and skills from traditional fundraising to the crowdfunding setting. If you’ve ever tracked down prizes for a raffle, you’ll know how willing local businesses can be to sponsor prizes. If you often have a keynote speaker at gala events, consider offering tickets to a talk as rewards. Here are some more ideas on choosing rewards.

Question: We’ve never crowdfunded before – how can I inspire confidence within our organization and amongst our supporters?

Look to the track record of the crowdfunding platform you’re using, and ask them to point you to similar organisations to yours who have succeeded. At StartSomeGood, we can connect you with success stories from similar non-profits and give our view on what helped them connect.

For supporters, trust is particularly important when non-profits turn to crowdfunding. If I’m buying a Pebble Watch and it arrives late, I might be a little miffed. But if I’m funding an organization that claims to be making the world a better place but leaves me wondering where my money went, then bigger things are at stake.

Pro-tip:

Be explicit and accountable. Set out on your project page exactly how you will use funds, and then update your contributors after the campaign to let them know how their support has made a difference. Think credibility when choosing a crowdfunding platform. We vet all projects on StartSomeGood according to a transparent set of values and criteria, so your project won’t be featured next to a Romanian Viagra scam.

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Question: What happens after the project is funded – how can I harness that momentum when we need ongoing support?

The excitement and personal interaction around a crowdfunding campaign make supporters feel more engaged with your organisation than a typical once-off donation. If you’re starting something new, backers will feel like co-founders of your new venture, they’ll want to join you on that journey. This is an opportunity to expand your community that you can’t afford to miss.

Pro-tips:

  • Use every means possible to connect with your supporters both during and after the campaign. On StartSomeGood, use the Updates feature, and give regular reports on your progress over social media.
  • Ask your supporters to sign-up to your newsletter and social media channels after the campaign, and offer them opportunities to volunteer.
  • Having said that, respect their privacy – include opt-out links in further communications.
  • Ask questions – what would your backers like to see you do next? Fulfil your rewards as efficiently as possible to express your gratitude for their support.

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    Hope to present and use these tips with Big Brothers Big Sisters @Iowa. We could really build our fundraising with an...
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