The Foundation Screening List

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 11.24.46 AMI want to talk briefly about an important but underutilized development tool: the foundation screening list.  When we are first beginning our development careers everything we learn about foundations implies that they are pure meritocracies.  Have a good organization with a good project, write a good proposal and you’ll have as good a shot at getting funding as anyone else.  And to some extent this is true.  If you aren’t a well run organization and you don’t have a good project you probably won’t get funding.  But the reality is that you will be competing against many other meritorious organizations and not everyone one will get funded.  So, how do you stand out from the crowd?

The reality is the business of successful foundation funding is very much a “who you know” business.  I’m not saying that there is any sort of cronyism involved.  But I am saying that your ideas are more likely to be heard if you know the decision makers involved and have had a chance to talk over your work in detail.  I am saying that knowing trustees counts for a lot more than knowing program officers.  And I am saying that trustees and program officers knowing you and believing in your leadership and your ability to deliver on the promises of your proposal is critical.

So, a really valuable exercise for any organization is to know who you know on foundation boards and staffs.  How do we find this out?  The foundation screening list.

The foundation screening list is a packet of foundations (up to 25) likely to fund your organization based on their stated mission and its relevance to yours.  Each foundation gets it own page and on each page, triple or quadruple spaced, you’ll list every trustee and program officer.  If it is a large foundation then just list the relevant program officer.  You can see a sample layout here.

Now, what do we do with foundation screening list once we have one?  Sit down with your staff, your board and other volunteers, friends and anyone else willing to listen to you.  Ask them to flip through the list and see if they know anyone.  Ask them to write in the margins who they know and any important information about them.  Ask them if there is any foundation or anyone not on the list that they would be willing to contact.

Ask them if they’d be willing to help set up a meeting with anyone they know.

Over time you should get a pretty good catalog of who knows who and hopefully have people setting up meetings on your behalf.  Record everything in your database.

Giving USA 2014 Spreecast

 

 

In this Spreecast, Laurel and Bob break down their first impressions of the new Giving USA statistics.  Giving levels are nearly back at pre-recession levels but what does it all mean?  Give Bob and Laurel a listen to find out!

It’s Not Too Late to End the Year Strong

It’s not too late to end the year strong with an increased surge in philanthropic investments. Kevin Daum, author of “Roar! Get Heard in the Sales and Marketing Jungle,” recommends tips that translate nicely for fundraisers.

“Go Lean and Mean,” is his first recommendation. Focus on the top three goals you can actually achieve in the next month. Frontline fundraiser might consider (1) Closing the gifts of loyal friends, especially those donors from whom you are seeking an upgrade. Call, pop by, email or write a personal note and then follow-up. Start at the top in terms of giving capacity and requested amount. Make it as personal as you are able. Quality matters with these top potential donors. (2) Maybe the next tier down and (3) everyone else who hasn’t been asked receiving a warm invitation to make a difference now!

For non-frontline fundraisers, Daum’s advice still works. “With only a little time left, every minute is valuable, so don’t waste them. Decide on two or three major goals that are important and achievable. Stretching is fine, but make sure the motivation is strong. The rest can be eliminated or go on the schedule for 2014. Then you’ll be mentally free and ready to focus hard and attack these important few goals.”

“Take Stock,” is his second recommendation. I don’t think that works well for December in the fundraising world no matter your position on the team. For example, donor relations professionals are buys getting thank you notes, holiday cards, and impact reports out the door, helping donors feel great about their investments and thinking about making another. Researchers are polishing lists and briefs for fundraisers trying to close, close, close. January, however, is the perfect month for taking stock and adjusting your plan for the remainder of your fiscal year if not on a calendar year or making a new plan for 2014.

“Much of what you anticipated would happen this year probably turned out to be different than you originally thought. Don’t try and execute an aggressive approach based upon information and expectations that are months old. Take a day or two to disconnect from the day-to-day craziness to assess, think and plan the coming months. You might consider a consultant to help you find your weaknesses.” The Osborne Group offers many diagnostic tools and services to help you maximize strategically taking stock.

His next recommendation is also excellent for January. “Add Structure,” – a path to success. You need a plan with clear metrics and accountability. Use January to assess what worked, what didn’t, why, and what shall we do differently going forward.

“Make a Deal,” number four suggestion and I like it a lot. What motives you to excel, to pick up the phone, to get out the door, to exceed your own and your supervisor’s expectations, to make your donors say, “Wow?” Identify that motivator, promise to reward your excellent behavior, and then go do amazing work these last few weeks always keeping in mind it is not too late to end the year strong!

His last recommendation is essential. “Enlist Partners.” We know that volunteers can and should be force multipliers. Here’s a quick piece that may inspire your volunteers this holiday season.  Enrolling and engaging your best volunteers to help you with both stewardship (calling, visiting to thank, share impact, and wish the best for the New Year) and to ask and close (Please join me) is a winning formula.

As you focus on what to do during these last few weeks, keep in mind the good advice of Jess Lee, “Keep things as simple as possible, edit out the extraneous, and focus on polishing the details.”

The Value Proposition of Cause Marketing

Picture 3Guest Blogger Cal Zarin discusses the value proposition of cause marketing and suggests some different ways for nonprofits to approach cause marketing.  Cal is Founder and CEO of Shared Value Media.

My background is in media buying and planning and then later in nonprofit development. I spent years being pitched the value proposition of cause marketing and spent almost as many years trying to convince others of its merit. Being on both ends, I have grown an appreciation for the nuances and challenges of this ‘ask’. In this post, we’ll break down how we, as Development Professionals, often present the marketing value of our nonprofit assets. We’ll offer our perspective on the inherent strengths and weaknesses of each position. And, then we’ll offer Shared Value Media’s somewhat different take on it.

THE STRONG:
Consumer Engagement

First the good: I am a big believer in the engagement proposition of nonprofits. Compared to other platforms, I think nonprofits offer a strong opportunity to drive action among a targeted consumer group.

According to the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer, nonprofits are more trusted than business or media institutions by a margin of over 5%. According to Nielson 2011 Trends, 76% of people trust advertising from people they know, versus the next highest platform, which is opt-in email at 40%. In other words, when nonprofits communicate with our constituency base, they often listen and trust what we tell them.

As a result, when asked, these constituents are often willing to act on our behalf. As a nonprofit, we can confidently say we have the ability to drive traffic, promotion, attendance, click-throughs, content, etc. This is powerful stuff! If your corporate client will share what they are paying for each engagement (i.e., a click-through, a new fan on Facebook, a content submission) try to create a pricing structure that challenges those rates. If you can produce a stronger engagement ROI than some of your partner’s other marketing platforms, watch out! You could be in for a very different conversation in Round Two! And, you would be surprised through our celebrity partnerships, pro bono media, alumni groups, social platforms, etc. how successful we can be in driving engagement.

THE NOT-AS-STRONG:
Media Reach

I believe too often we, as nonprofits, try to sell our reach: We serve this many children. Our newsletter list is this big. Our Facebook page has this many fans. When competing against other more traditional media/marketing investments (TV, online, print, etc.), our reach proposition will often fall short. Unless we represent a large national or global nonprofit, we just can’t compete with the number of eyeballs that a marketer can reach through a more traditional platform. So, I recommend we do our best to represent our total numbers, but understand this isn’t our strongest ace in the hole.

Brand Association

Another value proposition that we often emphasize is that a cause association can help drive the business of our partner. On one hand, according to the 2010 Cone Cause Evolution Study, 79% of consumers claim they would likely switch brands, if price and quality were equal, if the other brand is associated with a cause. In addition, according to the 2010 Edelman Good Purpose Report, nearly half of Americans cite social purpose as the number one deciding factor in making a purchase. However, these studies represent consumer attitude, not necessarily consumer behavior, as do the majority of other studies on this topic.

I have only seen two studies that offer quantitative evidence that brand association can impact purchase intent: Cone Inc. and Duke U. Behavioral Study (2008) and Hiscox and Smyth (2005). Until we can reference the study/studies that demonstrate conclusively that purchase is driven by cause association, all we can do is put a fairly meaningless asterisk at the end of our presentations –

**And you have the benefit of being associated with a cause that is important to your consumer… for whatever that is worth**

Measurement

Probably the weakest part of our value proposition is measurement. We, as an industry, have no excuse for this one. Probably a separate topic for a different article, but unless we can offer an apples-to-apples measurement framework with other marketing platforms, we are severely handicapping our sell. Our pitch is dependent on our ability to say the quantitative impact we will have on our partner’s business and then explain how we will measure and benchmark against that impact. If we can’t do that, how can we ask their marketing department to re-allocate dollars to our platform?

In addition, we need to better understanding the demographics of our constituents and our donors. It is not enough to present the age, location, and ethnicity of the people we serve. We need to be able to provide information on the household income of our newsletter list and event attendees, the psychographics and consumer trends of our donors, etc. There is technology out there that helps with this. But, without it, we are going to the negotiating table with one arm tied behind our back.

The SHARED VALUE MEDIA APPROACH
The Cost Proposition:

The value proposition that Shared Value Media often leads with is that nonprofits can help our marketing counter-parts reduce costs. We can do this not necessarily by replacing our partner’s existing marketing efforts, but instead integrating into them.

Let me explain what we mean by applying this approach to a few different event-marketing examples. Why event marketing? Nonprofits can integrate seamlessly into an event marketing campaign and reduce costs consistently.

Trial / Sampling

For the sake of illustration, let us examine Brand Granola. Brand Granola wants to drive trial of their new granola bars. To accomplish this, they hire brand ambassadors to stand at busy intersections and hand out a granola bar to every person who walks by. For this service, Brand Granola will pay for every hour it takes their hired guns to hand out their sampling goal. In addition, Brand Granola may need to pay a permit fee to sample at their target destinations.

What would happen if Brand Granola took a different approach towards sampling? And, instead of hiring an event-marketing agency, Brand Granola forged a partnership (or numerous partnerships) with afterschool nonprofits who provide snacks every day to their constituents. These nonprofit will gladly agree to hand out Brand Granola’s granola bars (if they meet the nonprofit’s health criteria) to an extremely targeted demographic at no cost, since it will reduce the nonprofit’s costs. In addition, by agreeing to partner with Brand Granola, a trusted resource in the community will implicitly be endorsing the brand as a healthy snack option for the kids they serve.

A partnership structured in this way has a very clear, measurable ROI for Brand Granola. If they took even a portion of their trial/sampling budget and donated that product to the right nonprofit(s), Brand Granola would still reduce their marketing costs, meet their trial/sampling objectives, and launch a potentially more effective sampling strategy.

Mobile Tours

In addition, Brand Granola decides to launch a national mobile tour, where they hand out granola samples to parents and their children, ask the families to record a jingle in their traveling recording studio, and offer a number of on-site activities that bring the brand to life.  Again, traditionally Brand Granola would hire an event-marketing agency to build the experience, secure the venue permits, hire staff, and promote the event locally. The costs would be well over $10,000 / week to keep this campaign on the road.

So, what is the sell for a nonprofit? Its simple: we can help you launch the exact same campaign for a third of the cost.

If Brand A also partnered with a national nonprofit focused on youth health, that nonprofit could do the following to support the tour:

  • Reduce venue costs, by leveraging their 501c3 status and relationships to secure venues across the country at a free or reduced cost
  • Reduce staffing costs, by replacing in-market staff with volunteers
  • Reduce local marketing, by promoting the event to their constituents in each market and help to reach an engaged audience vs. random bystanders
  • Strengthen the campaign message by making the tour not only about the product, but also about the product’s values

For a fraction of the cost, Brand Granola could increase the effectiveness, impact, and attendance of their mobile tour.

Content-Gathering

Finally, Brand Granola wants to engage consumers around the country in a promotion that asks consumers to post jingles about their new product. Brand Granola’s goal is to drive traffic to their site, social engagement, and eventually produce content for their new ad campaign. Through numerous online buys and leveraging their event marketing tour, they intend to drive participation in the promotion.

Again, Brand Granola could dramatically reduce costs (and legwork) by finding a nonprofit partner that had an incentive in driving consumers to upload a jingle. There are thousands of nonprofits across the country teaching after-school music. Without any semblance of mission drift, these nonprofits could work with their children and families to record and submit jingles that brought the values of their nonprofit and programming to life. Finding alignment between the values of a nonprofit and the brand of a granola bar should not be difficult and would only enhance the positioning of a promotion like this.

Again, if Brand Granola even put a fraction of their promotional media spend towards a donation to one or more targeted nonprofit(s), Brand Granola would reduce costs and increase impact.

At the End of the Day…

There is no magic formula to selling in the cause marketing value proposition. However, the better we understand the business needs of the brands we are pitching and the strengths and weaknesses of the value we provide, the more likely we are to convince our marketing counter-part that we fill a need.

Good luck – I’ll be rooting for you! And, if you have any tidbits to share with us, we’re always anxious to hear.

About Shared Value Media

Shared Value Media (SVM) helps facilitate corporate partnerships through a network of national or geo-targeted nonprofit partners. Our partnerships are customized, and launched through numerous nonprofits, with a clear set of quantifiable outcomes. This allows us to craft corporate partnerships with reach, measurable deliverables, and clear campaign goals. If you’d like to know more about Shared Value Media you can watch our video here.

Raising More Money Before, After and During Your Special Events

Since special events take a lot of time and resources, let’s make them COUNT!  The Wall Street Journal reported that “Retention is the new acquisition and customer service is the new marketing.”  In other words, the keys to raising more money before, during Eventsand after special events, especially at leadership annual giving levels ($1,000+), are holding onto to past leadership event donors and sprinkling those donors with outstanding customer service.

The added benefit of this approach is that your message of high-touch, “WOW” customer service and great stewardship becomes contagious – word gets around your community and more people want to come to your events, learn about your cause, give and get involved. In a brand new book by Jonah Berger, the author tells us that “excitement is an activating emotion” that “increases sharing.”  The author points out that only 7% of word of mouth sharing happens online.  Most happens face-to-face.  The more we “WOW” our special event donors, the more they are going to share our story with others.  The result will be raising more money than ever before!Contagious

Here are six steps for maximizing every event, raising more leadership annual gifts and setting the stage for more major and planned gifts.

  1. Fundraising for an annual event begins the minute the event is OVER.  Make sure your “thank-you-for-attending-and-giving” note and/or phone call is sent immediately after the gift or pledge is made and then again within 24 to 72 hours after the event is over.  Reiterate in the thank you the “promise” of what the leadership annual gift level will accomplish.  If the donor sponsored a $25,000 table, for example, tell the donor and all of the folks involved with securing and giving that gift what $25,000 will help you accomplish programmatically.  Be sure to include a story and let the donors know they will be hearing from you again once you’ve put the money to use. Thank you doesn’t equal stewardship.  It is only the first step.  Sharing impact and outcomes later in the year is the heart of great stewardship.
  2. Build a name-by-name realized and projected table of gifts for each eventPicture 3
  3. Wow and Engage. For the events you held last Fall, now is a great time to provide stewardship for their gifts and engage the top donors in planning for the upcoming event later this year.  For your spring events underway or about to come about, it is not too late to provide stewardship from last year. Start with your table of gifts and list of your best fundraisers. Make appointments and go see them. This is not a phone call.  It is an in-person visit.  It’s hard to wow someone on the phone.  Remember, “Customer service is the new marketing.” Bring pictures, an under two minute video on your tablet or smartphone, a story you can share, a card drawn or signed by a beneficiary, a letter from a program staff member.
  4. At the event, have impact messaging everywhere.  Loop a video. Dot the setting with posters and videos that speak to what the leadership annual giving levels accomplish. Have board members circulate at the event and personally thank donors and fundraisers.  Check out our “Hard Working Special Events” podcast for more ideas.
  5. End where we began.  Debrief immediately after the event.  Who needs a special phone call in addition to the thank you note?  Handwritten thank you notes stand out.  Make sure your best donors and your best fundraisers receive a personal, legible, handwritten thank you note that speaks to the “promise” as discussed in item number 1.  Plan how you will make your event donors say, “WOW.”
      • Exceed expectations
      • Do so in a timely manner
      • Make it personal
      • Add emotion
      • Surprise
      • Let the donors know they are valued and appreciation

by Karen Osborne

Everything You Know About Foundation Fundraising Is Wrong

Everything you know about foundation fundraising is wrong.  Well, maybe not everything.  But possibly quite a lot.  Too often we view Picture 3foundation funding as largely an exercise in research and proposal writing when I would argue that these are the two areas that have the least to do with successful foundation work.  Here are a few myths and misunderstandings that that I’d like to debunk.

Myth #1: Guidelines are set in stone

The way we are all taught to approach foundation fundraising is that guidelines are paramount and are rarely, if ever, violated.  In reality, the opposite is often true.  I know foundations that swear they only give to organizations with national reach, but give regularly to grassroots efforts.  I know foundations who say they never give to endowments or to capital campaigns but repeatedly give to both.

Just like you and your organization, foundations have a vision of the world they are trying to achieve.  Their guidelines reflect their best thinking on how to achieve their vision.  But what is most important to them is their vision, not their guidelines.  If you can get in front of them explain how your vision and your programs may be an equally or even more effective way of achieving their aims, there is a good chance they’ll listen to you.  And if they say “our guidelines really are our guidelines” they will often direct you towards a foundation that more closely reflects your priorities.  You should acknowledge guidelines but not be a slave to them.

Myth 2:  Foundation fundraising equals grant writing

I’m always surprised how many organizations, if they can only hire one foundation position, will opt for a grant writer over a front-line development officer.  Make no mistake, a well-written proposal that can stand on its own is an important part of fundraising.  But foundation work is no different than any other kind of development work.  All of the hard work comes before the ask or, in this case, the proposal.  We should be focused conveying our work through engagement with our programs, engagement with our mission staff, engagement with our Executive Director, etc.  A foundation needs to know you can do everything you are promising.  And that means they need to know your organization and the people in it.  If it’s just a pretty piece of writing it’s likely to be overlooked.  Not because it wasn’t compelling but because there is no way to know if what you are saying to true.  People believe their own experiences not necessarily what you or I tell them in a proposal.  Be sure to give them those positive experiences and the proposal almost becomes a formality.

Myth #3:  Foundation fundraising is a meritocracy

If we have a worthy program that best achieves our own aims and that of the foundation we’ll get the grant, right?  Well, no.  Or at least, maybe.  I’m not accusing foundations of anything nefarious.  What I am saying however is that merit is necessary but insufficient.  There are many, many, many nonprofits doing meritorious work.  Given that, which nonprofit is most likely to get a grant?  The organization that is a known quantity is.  The organization that knows three trustees is more likely to get the grant then the one who doesn’t.  Not because of croneyism but because each of those trustees votes and they can say to themselves “Hey, I know the Executive Director that applied.  I know that she does what she says she will do.  I know that she will report back to us.  I know she will spend the money the way she said she would.  These other applicants, they have some great ideas but I don’t know them well enough so I don’t know if they’ll come through.”

Foundation fundraising is a “who you know” kind of business.  If you can, know trustees.  Failing that, know program officers and other program staff.  Bottom line:  know as many of the decision makers as you can.

These are just three myths but there are others and perhaps in a subsequent post I’ll go through them.  My parting advice is this: when it comes to foundations, don’t see yourself as an applicant, and especially not as a supplicant.  See yourself as a partner with foundations in trying to make the world a better place.  Partnership implies equality and proactivity.  Don’t be passive about your foundation fundraising; get in there and engage with them.

Working in the New Normal: Annual Fund Strategies for Today

As you read this I have probably already sat down to meet with my very first boss, who is hiring me for the second time: first as her annual fund assistant, and this time as her consultant for her school’s annual fund.  As I prepared for our visit, I have been reflecting on how the annual fund that she and I built back in 199…whatever…  has changed from the practices we see our clients implementing today.

thenAndNowFrontHere is my running list of Annual Fund Strategies:  Then and Now (Add a big, booming voice as you say “Then and Now” in your head for added effect… Nice, right?)   What would you add to your list?  How has your annual fund approach changed in the last ten years?  Or the last five?  What happened before 2008 that is just not coming back?  Post comments here or leave your ideas on our Facebook page.  We’ll collect them all and post in a future blog entry.

Then…  Segmenting your mailing was enough.  I will admit to having a 32-segment mailing once, each with their own slightly parsed difference between one letter text and another.  Everyone got fundamentally the same message and everyone was just asked to “give, give, give… trust us and we’ll do the rest.”  Unrestricted dollars that could slop around to every corner of the budget were the only thing to do.

NOW:  There are few programs today who don’t see a higher level of engagement and more inspired giving when donors are given the ability to be activists.  CFOs (and I) still need unrestricted dollars: that will always be the heart of a strong annual fund, but making tangible the impact of giving to the annual is mandatory.   No more “margin of excellence”; annual fund dollars help provide things like the manipulatives underpinning the mathematics program in the after-school experience.  Gone is “bridge the gap” talk about other revenue sources and the annual fund; the annual fund helps ensure that mission staff have the iPads and tech training they need to collect and evaluate data on the efficacy of your program in the field.  These dollars all need to hit your budget directly, but need specifics around them that make it clear and concrete what they accomplish.

An extra idea, building on this one?  Look for three to five “big buckets” within your budget toward which your annual fund gifts can be designated (not restricted!  This makes your CFO happy!).  For schools these categories are often:  financial aid, faculty salaries, library and technology, spaces for learning, athletics, etc…  What would those big budget areas be for your organization?  Allowing your donors to vote with their dollars for the things that most resonate for them not only provides one more good reason to step up giving, but also gives you a clear road map for how to steward these donors.

…which leads to “Then and Now” #2…

Then… Stewardship was something you did for endowment donors, donors of Chairs, building naming, scholarships when they became fully funded and probably only did once:  put the plaque up, name the new Chair holder, have a dinner, and wash your hands of it.

NOW:  That pig isn’t going to fly for even one second.  Not only must stewardship be a year-on-year institutional value that is woven throughout your relationship building with your donors, it is a universal.  All annual fund donors deserve WORLD CLASS stewardship.  Getting used to talking about the annual fund in tangible, specific ways is the first step.  Understanding your donors’ motivation through their gift designation is a second step.  Getting people to help you take on this project – even with its enormous value add – is the third.

Try this:  rather than just asking volunteers to “please make 10 (or 20 or 30) calls” to past donors, thank-a-thon style, let your volunteers know that you have $75,000 (or $500,000 or $5M) worth of thank you calls to make and would they be willing to take $12,000 of that.  Then keep reporting back:  “Your thank you calls valued at $75,000 last year turned into repeat gifts of $83,000 this year.”  Who wouldn’t feel great and motivated to do more?

Finally, a NOW and NOW:

Maybe you saw these two incredible stories about focused giving contests – one at Columbia that raised $7M in one day (ONE DAY!  CloEve Demmer, who spearheaded this is a friend of ours and, no kidding, one smart lady!) and the other that may have helped inspire and guide Columbia’s efforts:  Giving Days.

Among the reason these two focused campaigns worked is that they borrowed the “vocabulary” of gaming to bring fun into the annual fund.  (C’mon.  I had to.  Put the FUN back in the annual fund? A classic knee slapper.  To development officers only.)

  • These initiatives had a near-term, reachable goal for which everyone was responsible.
  • They had a clear beginning, middle and end to their quest.  A 365 day campaign is the AF Director’s reality but soooooo long for a volunteer.
  • They had rules of engagement:  certain volunteers could use any of a variety of outreach tools, but had to do it themselves and accounted back to “home base” with their results.
  • They knew what winning was going to mean:  dollars, new donors, repeat donors.

We play games because we love taking on tasks that are exactly hard enough.  How can you use today’s tools – email, social media, video, podcasting, blogging, etc… to make your annual fund volunteers’ job more fun and more of a game?  And, how about using this to jump start a monthly giving program?  Europeans envy our culture of giving in many ways, but are befogged by why we don’t embrace monthly giving programs more fully.  Deploy your volunteers on a quest for new monthly donors!

Another Now:  these campaigns were terrific, engaging, generated great excitement and energy.  But what do we do the other 364 days a year?  Once upon a time, we mailed a lot of letters, made slightly fewer phone calls and almost never left the office.  Today a robust annual fund program must be anchored with personal visits to top donors in conjunction with the major gift staff (we have a great resource on boosting annual giving in a campaign here.), to leadership donors to explore their passion and focus for their giving, to new potential leadership donors, to lapsed donors and to volunteers.  If there were one more position everyone could add right now, I would vote for a solid individual giving officer who LOVES being on the road, closing $1,000, $10,000, $50,000 annual gifts three days out of five.

Are the fundamentals of annual giving the same?  Yes.  I agree that they are.  Are there so many more ways to be creative and innovative in reaching your community of supporters?  Absolutely.  The annual fund is more fun.

Crowdfunding: When and How to Use It

Picture 3One of the hot new topics around fundraising in 2012 was the idea of crowdfunding.  Over a billion dollars was raised worldwide through crowdfunding in 2011 and those numbers were expected to nearly double in 2012, with nearly half the total going to nonprofits.  That’s a huge amount of money, making it hard to deny the fact that crowdfunding has become an important fundraising channel.

So, should your nonprofit use crowdfunding?  Well, maybe.  Don’t get me wrong; I’m pretty excited about the possibilities of crowdfunding.  Its online and viral nature make it a potentially very effective way to fundraise raise in our social media driven world.  But it’s no silver bullet as I’ve discovered myself through crowdfunding campaigns that I personally have been involved with and those of people I know and work with.  Below are some quick tips on how and when to use crowdfunding effectively.

  1. If you build it they will NOT come –  I find that there is always the temptation and belief in the online world that if you start a blog, a website, podcast, etc. that subscribers will appear all on their own.  I think most of us realize by now that this is not the case and the same holds true for a crowdfunding campaign.  Simply starting a campaign and hoping it will magically go viral is the recipe for failure.  Like everything in fundraising, you must get the campaign in front of the right people.
  2. The normal rules apply –  It feels like every year in fundraising there is a “new” way of doing things.  But I find that fundraising is based on some firm rules that rarely change.  As in all fundraising, crowdfunding is most effective when your volunteers have active involvement and ownership of your campaign.  The most successful crowdfunding campaigns start with friends, family and colleagues donating and spreading the word; it goes viral from there.
  3. Clear impact and outcomes matter – The most effective campaigns pick a clear project and clearly express the difference it will make.  Campaigns that focus on general support have a much harder time of being successful.  Many campaigns have giveaways based on a donation level; it’s more important to communicate the impact that donations will have.
  4. Big money is hard to raise – Yes, there are many stories out there of very successful crowdfunding campaigns that raise into six figures, the most famous of which is probably Mathew Inman’s (of the Oatmeal fame) campaign for a Tesla Museum.  But this the exception.  A quick scan of charitable projects will show you that $25,000 or less is far more common and realistic.

So, given the above facts, when should you use crowdfunding?

  • When you have a clear and specific project
  • When you have volunteers that are willing to support it through email, social media, etc.
  • When you have the time and resources to regularly post progress updates, video, etc.
  • When you only need a modest amount of money

OK, lets say you meet the above criteria.  Which platform should you use for your campaign.  Here are a few to consider:

  • Kickstarter – The most famous; more geared toward tech and project start ups than nonprofits but certainly charitable causes can be done.  You must reach your goal or the money is returned to investors.
  • Indiegogo – My personal favorite, this site is well set up for charitable causes and well integrated into social media.  You have an option of whether to make the project “all or nothing” or if you can keep the money even if you don’t hit your goal.
  • StartSomeGood – uses a “tipping point” model where your project can be partially funded if it reaches a threshold where you can minimally proceed.
  • Crowdrise – Volunteers can fundraising on their own for any charity already registered on the site.
  • GlobalGiving – worldwide crowdfunding.

Once you’ve selected a site, here are some tips to make your campaign successful:

  1.  Get volunteers – Before you launch, make sure that you have a number of volunteers that are willing to personally give and promote the campaign via face to face and their own social media.  Volunteers will get your campaign out there and give it some momentum.
  2. Pick a clear project and a realistic goal – Pick a project that is concrete with easy to understand outcomes and pick a goal that is realistic.  Remember, people aren’t going to give you $1,000 (probably) because of an email request.  Crowdfunding is mostly “small ball” with two and three figure donations, so plan accordingly.
  3. Give Personally – I always check to see if the campaign sponsors have personally given.  If you haven’t, why should I?
  4. Communicate – Communicate to your donors and potential donors on a regular basis.  Update them on the progress of the campaign and demonstrate impact through words, pictures and videos.

We are sure to see a lot about crowdfunding in the coming year.  Experiment and see how your nonprofit might use this new channel for fundraising effectively.

You can follow me on twitter @bobosborne17