Below is the first of a series of posts on crowd funding. I am currently running a crowd funding campaign with a friend using the principles outlined in these posts. You can follow its success (or failure!) here.
Over the next few posts, I am going to walk through all the basics of running a successful crowd funding campaign as well as provide you with useful tools. A while back, I wrote on post on the basics of when you should crowd fund. You might want to read it and decide if crowd funding is the right thing for your nonprofit. If it you think it might be, please read on and learn about crowd funding!
OK, so you’ve decided to go ahead with your crowd funding campaign. You’ve picked a good project and a realistic goal. So what’s next? Well, before you launch your campaign you need to do some preparation. There are two main areas that we need to prepare: our materials which consist of videos, pictures, updates, etc. and preparing our volunteers and our social media. This post will concentrate on the latter.
The first rule of crowd funding: If you build it, they will NOT come. This means if you simply slap up a campaign on IndieGoGo or some other platform, nobody will donate to you. Why? because they have no idea that your campaign exists. We have to drive people to the campaign. How do we do this? Well, through people and their social media. So where do we start?
Take an inventory of your friends, family, colleagues, etc. – We need to determine who within your own network has the biggest social media networks and would be willing to help with the campaign. Luckily social media makes this research pretty easy. Start quantifying who has the most connections/followers on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. If you have a lot of time on your hands or free and/or cheap labor you can see who has the most secondary connections, meaning whose connections have the most connections. Stick them all into a spread sheet and rank them. We’ve included this tool for your use. Then divide them into the following categories:
- People who you might want to be part of the campaign itself – these are people you trust, who have a lot social reach, and would be willing to serve on the main team. These are people who would be committed to help you during the life of the campaign and people whom you might want to make an administrator to the campaign.
- People who are willing to push your campaign heavily during the life of the campaign – These are people who support your cause and who will be willing to post, tweet, etc. your campaign at regular intervals
- People who are willing to support the campaign – This is everyone else who is willing to post, tweet, etc. your campaign.
For now, just keep this information for yourself. Later we’ll talk about how to use all those connections before and during your campaign but for now we just want to have a list of people we’ll eventually want to approach.
Take an inventory of relevant of blogs on other media – Who cares about your nonprofit’s cause? Do some research via google to see who might be willing to post an article about your campaign and cause. You can use compete.com to get a rough sense of the traffic each of these sites gets monthly. Look at the blog and blogger’s Facebook pages to see how many friends they have, check out their twitter accounts and see how many followers they have, etc. Again, put all the information into a spreadsheet so you see which blogs and other media you might later approach. We’ve included this tool for your use.
Cross reference your two lists – Do any of your connections have connections to the blogs and other media you have identified? These will be your best bets. Rank your media for future use.
OK, so now you have a pretty good list people and blogs that you will eventually contact. But don’t contact them yet! We still have a little work to do.
You’re now ready for the next step in your crowd funding preparation, getting your materials ready. Here is the basic inventory of the materials that you’ll want to have created in advance:
While the exact nature of the materials listed above will differ from campaign to campaign, your primary materials should follow one basic principle: you want to talk about future impact. Far too often as nonprofits we want to talk about our track record and/or our methodology. For instance, let’s say you want to get funding for a new arts festival your arts organization. The temptation is talk about how you want to bring people together through the arts which you have successfully done for the past few years by having a concert, a play, and providing free entrance to school age children. A far more powerful way of talking about your work is to discuss your future impact, which to say, which artitsts and plays are you hoping to bring to the festival with the help of crowd funding supporters? How many children do you hope to expose to your festival and what impact will it have on them, their education, their schools, their community? The basic message is “we are trying to achieve these wonderful, societal results but we can only succeed with your help”. The past has already been funded; the future awaits.
Video and Photography: I am no video and photography expert. Suffice it to say in crowd funding, a short video or series of pictures can be worth far more than a written explanation of your campaign. Many, many articles have been written on this subject so I would suggest a quick google search. Keep in mind that thanks to Youtube our tolerance for less than professional quality video has greatly increased and that some video is better than none. So, even if it means sitting in front of your smart phone or your computer’s webcam, make sure you create something!
Perks: If you check out your average Kickstarter campaign or some of the for profit projects on Indiegogo, you’ll notice that they offer material perks for donations, often a first chance to receive the new product that the campaign is trying to launch. Nonprofit crowd funding is very different. While it is certainly fine to recognize your contributors by providing them with some sort of material benefit, they are funding your campaign not because they want something material in return but because they want to make a difference! So, your perks should be reflective of that and talk about impact. $50 lets us send one children to our arts festival for free. $500 allows us to give a free music lesson to an entire elementary school class. You get the idea. If you want to throw in a free tee shirt or something, that’s fine too.
Despite the lack of a material return, your perks are one of the most important parts of your campaign and they need to be well though out. Perks tell me the difference I am making as a donor. They tell me why is should give $500 and not just $50. They need to be compelling. If the difference I make by giving $500 sounds more or less like the difference I am going to make at $50, then I’ll likely give $50.
Email – Don’t forget about email. It’s still a far more effective way of reach people than social media, particularly for those that you already have a relationship to. Email will be a cornerstone of your campaign. You’ll need it to reach out to friends, family, colleagues, bloggers, to get them all on board with your campaign. You’ll need to to update them all and you’ll need it again when you close your campaign. We’ll talk more about the specifics of these emails in later posts but like all other communications, create as many of them in advance as possible and remind people that whatever you are asking them to do will result in social good.
OK, so we’ve done our research, we know who our best volunteers might be, which blogs we’d like to be on; we’ve shot our video, designed our perks, taken our photos, etc. We’re getting pretty close to being able to launch. But we still need to do a few things…
The next thing I need you to understand is how these crowd funding sites generally work. While I mentioned before that if you build it they will not come and that we’ll have to drive our own traffic, this not 100% true. If you build it they may come, but only if you launch with a splash. Most crowd funding sites want to have the most dynamic campaigns on their home page, dynamic being defined as having the most social media, the most frequent updates, the most money raised, and the greatest percentage of their goal raised. So, we don’t want the first day of our campaign to be the first day people hear about the campaign. We want to have people ready to give, tweet, post, etc. on the day of launch. And to get that critical mass we need to do some work first.
Ask your connections for connections to the relevant blogs and media you identified – Remember when we cross referenced our connections to our best blog and media bets? Well, its time to reach out to those connections to ask them to make an introduction. This step should be taken fairly far out from launch so you have time to get a response and then follow up with the bloggers and media. You can use this email template to reach out. You may wish to share some materials with them so that they are motivated and know that they are helping a project that is professional and well thought-out. Let them know why your project is important and ask for their help.
Write to blogs and media – Now its time to reach out to the blogs and media. Start with the ones where you have been introduced and work your way out from there. Be ready to supply them with information about your project and link to the page (if you’ve already launched). Let them know when your launch is and ask them to post at launch or within the first day or two. Here is a quick email you can use to introduce yourself.
Get your volunteers organized for a coordinated launch – Remember when we inventoried our best volunteers? Well, now is the time to approach them. Here is a quick email or letter you can use as a template to send them. Let them know why your project is important, when your launch is, and what you’d like them to do on that day. Your launch day shouldn’t be too far away so that your volunteers remain excited and ready. You may also wish to ask the people with the biggest connections to reach out to their best connections and make a special appeal.
Make a personal appeal to those closest to you – It really helps to have some donations on the first day. Make a call or send a personal appeal to the people that are closest to you and ask them to be ready to make a donation on the first day of the campaign. This will give you a little momentum and will lend credibility when others discover your project. If people see $0 raised they will wonder if your project is legitimate and they will be less likely to give. On the other hand, if they see a project having a strong first few days, they will be more likely to make a donation.
Create an editorial/publishing calendar – One way that crowd funding campaigns don’t succeed is that the organizers fail to make regular updates on the project. One way that we can avoid this is to create a publishing calendar of our updates in advance. This includes any video, emails, and pictures you want to use (as described in the last post) but it should also include any social media that you want to use. Using something like Hootsuite can help you automate this work. Here’s a link to an editorial calendar. It was designed for a year-long social media cycle but you can adapt it or create your own.
Think about using Thunderclap – One cool site that you can use in advance of your launch is Thunderclap. Thunderclap is a crowd funding platform but instead of collecting money for a project it collects social media posts. People pledge a tweet or a post for your project and if your project reaches its goal in social media reach (people who will potentially see the post) then at a specified time everyone who pledged will post, tweet, etc. simultaneously and automatically. Obviously this can be a powerful tool that can be used at launch and it’s an easy thing for people to do because they are pledging social media not money. But, the really great thing about this is that those same people now have a stake in your campaign and are more likely to give, provide additional social media resources, etc.
OK! Now we are really getting somewhere. You have your social media, traditional media, and early supports all lined up. You’re now ready to make a big splash at launch, the topic of our next post.