Thursday, February 28, 2013

Crowdfunding 3.0



It's definitely not news that social media have democratized philanthropy, enabling people not previously part of the nation's wealthy "giving class" to start participating at multiple levels.

The digital mass philanthropy movement is definitely making a mark: in the past several years, nearly $1 billion has been raised for good causes via crowdfunding—on platforms ranging from the iconic Kickstarter to somewhat newer players with names like Hope Mob, Start Some Good, Crowdrise and Indiegogo. Micro-donations coming in last year for arts projects via Kickstarter, for example, exceeded the total given in 2012 by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

But many social cause organizations and nonprofits are still very new to these platforms, with some still trying to figure out how best to tackle a crowdfunding campaign of their own.

As part of this past week's Social Media Week NYC 2013 events roster, CauseGlobal assembled a panel of crowdfunding pioneers last week during Social Media Week to talk about what works and what doesn't. Among the panelists were: Crowdrise Co-Founder and CEO Robert Wolfe; Hope Mob Founder and CEO Shaun King; Kickstarter's Arts Projects Coordinator Stephanie Pereira; social media consultant and author Geoff Livingston, and Mary Ann Wincorkowski, the coordinator and chief strategist of an Indiegogo campaign staged successfully last fall to raise more than $64,000 and reopen the struggling Word Up Books community bookshop in Manhattan's Washington Heights neighborhood.

Contemplating a crowdfunding campaign of your own? For those of you who had to miss last week's event, here are the panelists' Top 20 bits of advice:

1. Create a sense of urgency. Says Crowdrise CEO Robert Wolfe: "Tell people they have a short amount of time to act on your campaign, and spell out what will not happen or be missing if they fail to act quickly."

2. Tell a shareable story. Most causes are inherently urgent in nature, but without creating a story to convey a sense of urgency, your campaign might fall short of the mark. Instead, tell and share a gripping story of a local individual or group. "Find new ways to clarify the stakes for the people from which you are asking support," Wolfe said. "Make it about the 'here' and the 'now in their sphere of experience" so that sharing it is about sharing the familiar, or that which is knowable and verifiable.

3. Don't wait to build your social network; engage your core influencers early. This is basic, but worth repeating. Says Wolfe: "Treat your crowdfunding campaign like a community acquisition and activation exercise, and measure engagement from the start." Says consultant Livingston: "Keep watering the garden to build your community by sharing with them way before, during, and long after your first crowdfunding campaign. Share what other people are doing in the sector and congratulate them for what they are doing to achieve the causes you're helping. Celebrate their work for the cause, and they will celebrate yours. Share your work and everyone else's like crazy. Make it about the cause and the business of being involved, not about an organization."

4. Get training on the crowdfunding platform you've chosen to use. "Don't assume you know it or can simply pick up on your own what the platform can do," says Livingston. "Get deep training on it so you can maximize measurement and capture community as well as engage in to the max." Training also helps fundraisers understand better how to shape their campaign to the types of supporters they have, and the social media platforms they're already using.

5. Plan to invest 10-30 hours of staff time. All panelists said it takes a core team of volunteers and staff people to pull off a successful crowdfunding campaign. Says Word Up's Wincorkowski: "You can't run a campaign run by three people in a corner. You want to engage everyone in the organization in some way, and you want to work with people who already have a connection and a stake in the outcome."

6. Build trust early and often. Don't promise what you cannot deliver. Set realistic crowdfunding targets low enough so it's a pretty sure thing you will exceed them, and find other ways to reassure people that you and your campaign is trustworthy and "for real." Hope Mob, for example, offers to verify the stories it tells about the fundraising targets on its platform. "We're pretty rigorous that way," says CEO King. "If you don't have a verified story on our platform, you cannot receive a check." King tells of a campaign on Hope Mob that had sought to raise money for a child's hearing aid, but instead of sending a check to the organization after the successful end to the campaign, Hope Mob bought a hearing aid for the child with the money collected and reported that it did this to build trust among donors. "Everyone who donated gave a percentage of the cost of that hearing aid," King says. "This is about trust. For donors who don't have the covering of a charity they know and can trust, we offer them our ability as an organization to deliver and to report back."

7. Don't wait too long to get started. Says King: "People often wait too long to start something that is in their minds and hearts to do. Trust that you probably have everything you need to start right now. It doesn't matter what stage of life you are in, people always feel they're missing something. You never have enough time, right? You never have enough money. But the truth is this: you never will have more time than what you have now. Go get started!"

8. Don't just offer incentives, offer the right kind of incentives. "What you're offering in exchange for people's buy-in should be relevant to your project," says Kickstarter's Pereira. "Think about commissioning a community of local visual artists for some original artwork, or instead of sending donors a movie poster, think of an experience you can offer them, instead—like an invitation to a local premiere, or the opportunity to help sponsor a special showing."

9. Measure. Use your campaign to build your community—not just for one crowdfunding project, but for future support over time. Use an analytical tool and set up a dashboard to monitor the levels and nature of the online community you're attracting to the campaign. If you don't have one, get one. Watch it. Use it to drive future decisions about the kinds of stories you tell and the social media platforms you're choosing to get the word out and build support.

10. Set realistic goals. Says King: "We see people, all the time—because their dreams and hearts are so big—set impossible goals and they often never hit them and then get discouraged. I always tell people to set the goal much much lower than what you think you will need. That builds credibility and encourages internal discipline and serious budgeting." Adds Livingston: "Underestimate rather than shoot too high. You want to blow past your target, not fall short of your goal."

11. Make your content excellent. "Identify a group of strong writers and content creators on your team or among your volunteer base," King advises. "A well-written story and photographs go very far; a really phenomenal video or two makes your likelihood of crowdfunding success even higher. Find a graphic designer to help you. Find a volunteer. There are amazing people who are just waiting for someone to ask them for a meaningful way to use their skills." Also critical, says King:  "Don't post mediocrity. It's better to delay publication of a crowdfunding site or a video until it is amazing. Don't be cheap. Have a budget for producing professional content and take a percent of what you're raising to pay for it." And lastly? Offers Wolfe: "Make it less about words and more about the visuals. Let strong images make the sale."

12. Don't just think of your $25 donors as one-offs. Convert them into $200 donors by getting them to bring their friends to the table, as additional crowdfunders around your project. And then, after the campaign is over, continue to engage them and invite them to give more of themselves, their time, or their dollars to the goals you're next trying to achieve.

13. Make it a group experience. "The biggest thing," says Wincorkowski, "is to form a great team to expose your cause and make it a community endeavor. We were all fired up having to shut down this bookstore, so we were all enthusiastic about the chance to get it going again." Word Up was able to engage the writer Junot Diaz, who helped volunteers put together a video about the bookstore. "That helped us to turn the tide," Wincorkowski said. But don't forget to also go offline with your appeals. "We did a lot of our community building in person, as well. We showed our faces and we ended up raising a lot of money offline, as well, convincing supporters to give a portion of their services to this campaign. We made it clear from the start that this wasn't about us but about all of us."

14. Make it a shareable story.  Says Pereira: "Take off your fundraiser hat. Don't run a crowdfunding campaign as a fundraiser but as a creative team that is engaging personally with people around the passion you share for the cause. If you're having fun and pushing a positive message, it comes across as a positive attitude that is powerful. Such attitudes are infectious, and sharing is all about inspiring others to say, 'Hey, I saw this great video, check it out.'" Attitude also can be contagious.

15. Make sure the message of your campaign is crystal-clear. "On most crowdfunding platforms, there are at least 10,000 donors, but if your message isn't clear, they will move on—especially when the next campaign is just one click away," Wolfe says. "Nobody wants to read a long document to learn what it is you're up to, so be clear.  Make it short, like '$25 feeds 30 hungry New Yorkers.' And keep it focused on getting someone to buy something.  No matter how great your message is, if you don't have it matched to a good, short story with a clear message, it's not going to go anywhere."

16. Don't work with inexperienced fundraisers. Says Wincorkowski: "You need people who are aware of what it takes to inspire people to give and to keep track of those efforts."

17. Don't set up a conflict with other initiatives, says Livingston. Don't steal the buzz from another project or dilute the amount of staffing you have to support the projects already under way.

18. Don't assume people know you do amazing work. Prove it to them with links, says King.

19. Choose the right platform for your effort, not the most popular one, says Livingston. Make sure—before you start your campaign—that you know exactly what the fee structure is all about and what is required of them and of you.

20. Link to previous success stories. "Show them that you've done this before and that it is within your capacity and networks to achieve impact," says King.

Got any lessons to add? Share them with us!

-- Marcia Stepanek

(Illustration: istock.com)

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