Crowdfunding Your Campaign

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As always, you are looking for ways to raise funds—and someone on your team has just suggested using crowdfunding. So what is it—and more importantly, is it appropriate for you?

Crowdfunding is the digital age version of a "barn-raising"—the pooling of a bunch of small efforts to achieve a short-term goal. The idea is to use a campaign that focuses on low or no-cost social media, content marketing and PR to drive donors to a landing page and entice them through a good, specific story and special incentives to make a donation towards your project goal. In the NPO world, it is similar to running a mini-capital campaign only using digital media.

In addition to being an approach, it is also an industry of web-based businesses that each provides an online platform hosting those landing pages which enable funds to be solicited, collected, processed and distributed. Out of the money you collect, a fee is imposed by the site. That fee depends on the crowdfunding site, ranging from a few percentage points all the way up to 100% of your collections.

Why the wide range? Each site was built with a different audience in mind and has different rules around how much you receive of the donations depending on achievement of the final goal. Some of the names you might have heard are: "Kickstarter," "Indieagogo," or "Causes". One size does not fit all—and reading the fine print is more important than ever.

So what types of nonprofit projects could be funded through crowdfunding? The best fit tends to be small to mid-size, finite campaigns.

Some examples could include:
• $1000 for new waiting room furniture and carpeting
• $3000 to fund the travel costs to send staff, volunteers or constituents to a specific conference or training
• $7500 to implement a new technology system

If you are thinking you have a need (or ten) that could be addressed through this style of campaign, and are wondering "Why can't we host our own page?"

You can!

You've got a couple of options:

• If you are planning to do this style of campaign only once, and you've already got a website in place that allows you to take online donations and track results, you can leverage your current technology investment. Create a dedicated donation page; put together the messages and social media plan—and use your existing systems to process the donations. Upside: You can save money, know exactly what to expect for costs per dollar collected, and, focus your efforts on creating a successful campaign. Downside: Creating the supporting pages—campaign page(s) and related donation page—may require some help from your web support team and take their efforts away from other projects they are working on. Additionally, if you need to "put it in the project queue" for that team, you may delay or miss the opportunity to meet this small, short-term goal.

• If you see the possibilities in using this style of campaign regularly, the better option could be to use your own version of crowdfunding technology. Using a "white label" system that is easily branded to match your website's look and feel, you get the best of both worlds—the ease of use of creating quick, short-term online campaigns (ones that don't require your web team's assistance) and get the message out quickly—while controlling costs. Making a small investment now to add this functionality to your Development Team's toolbox could help them become more efficient and effective at meeting your goals.

And next time that large, capital campaign need arises, you won't have to spend a lot of time, energy and funds to build a dedicated website. You'll have the tools in hand ready to create a special online campaign home--and drive those dollars in the door!

Kevin graduated from Miami University studying information systems and piano performance. After graduating, Kevin worked at General Electric working on banking systems in Thailand, India, U.K., Singapore and Denmark. After spending a few years overseas, Kevin spent four years leading technology projects at Merrill Lynch in Chicago. After this, Kevin spent two years at Roundarch consulting for Nystrom, United States Air Force and Northern Trust.

Kevin's first product was Duple Meter, which is a platform for music and arts organizations. In the summer of 2010, SocialRaise emerged, which concentrates on ways to combine social media with ways to increase revenue (online fundraising, e-commerce, event ticket sales, and advertising). This past summer, a new product called GroupHelix launched, which is a social intranet and workflow management web application. In his spare time, Kevin enjoys keeping active with triathlons, playing piano, and enjoying the great city of Chicago.

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