You Can’t Crowdfund if You Don’t Have a Crowd.

This is a crowd. Do you have one of these?

This is a crowd. Do you have one? Photo by Clay Myers-Bowman.

Let’s get this out there from the start: I don’t claim to be a crowd funding guru or expert. While I have over 25 years of experience in more traditional fundraising methods (annual giving, major gifts, grant writing, events, etc.) I’ve run just one (1) crowd funding campaign. We learned a lot though and raised enough to do what we wanted to do. (Click HERE to see our campaign page.) Coupled with research, contributions to other projects, and my own general experience, I have a sense of what works and what doesn’t.

This came up because I was asked to review and critique a couple of crowd funding campaigns over the past few weeks. Both were ideas that I can imagine resonating with someone (somewhere) and given the right circumstances COULD be successful. But each had made the same (probably) fatal mistake: Each of them was reaching out for help AFTER the campaign was launched. (One is active on Rocket Hub and the other is on Indiegogo.) In both cases, after a couple of weeks of campaigning, each had raised less than 1 percent of the goal and had fewer than 10 donors. Not good. Not good at all.

I know, I know. You’re thinking about the tiny, unknown project with no followers that went viral and raised 10 times their goal. But those campaigns are the exception, not the rule. And chances are the project you’re considering will NOT go viral. Maybe, but not likely or probable.

The good news is that a crowd funding campaign doesn’t have to go viral to be successful. Especially if you take the opportunity to build closer relationships with your best prospects and donors. You’ll have daily opportunities to send updates and requests, all in the context of an urgent campaign over several weeks.

In both of the campaigns I’ve mentioned, I had to come up with a way to explain my recommendations. So here’s what I shared with them (with a few additional thoughts).

  1. You have to start with a compelling idea (or story) and a compelling reason for people to donate. Get feedback from someone who will be brutally honest with you. As hard as it is to believe (I know this from personal experience) not every idea is a good idea. Nor will every idea resonate with everyone.
  2. Plan. Plan. Plan Everything. Don’t leave anything to chance. But also don’t hesitate to take advantage of coincidences or nice surprises. That can add fun and energy to your effort.
  3. Develop a content plan: what are you going to post (or tweet) each day (or hour) and how are you going to communicate your successes? What other materials might a prospect ask to see (brochures, prospectus, budge, etc.)?
  4. You have to have a video and it should be short and well-done. But it doesn’t have to be professional, just authentic and believable.
  5. You have to have a list of potential donors. This is your network. No network = slow (or no) contributions = campaign failure.
  6. You have to be willing to ask each and every person in your network (friends, colleagues, family, third cousins twice-removed) to make a contribution. If you’re uneasy about this, find another way to raise the money.
  7. Have some large gifts (equal to 10 percent or more of your campaign) lined up ahead of time and schedule them to post at important times in the campaign.
  8. Deliver on your Perks as promised. Integrity here is REALLY important.
  9. I learned during our Indiegogo campaign that projects with more than one team member raise more money. I don’t recall the exact percentage, but it was something like 25% or more. Why? More people = more connections = bigger networks.
  10. Research successful campaigns that are similar in scope to yours and try to figure out how they got people to share. Unless you can get people to share your campaign with their networks, you’ll struggle.
  11. Ask for help BEFORE you launch the campaign. Good advice costs money and can be invaluable. But don’t get fooled: I see lots of people claiming to be social media gurus with little or no real experience or success. Ask to see the campaigns they’ve managed or advised. Check them out.
  12. Don’t wing it.
  13. Follow best practices, but be original and unique.

Bottom line: Unless you already have a following, creating one with a crowd funding campaign can be challenging. It can be done, but not unless you have or engage some serious talent. You can start with researching the resources available on crowd funding sites (Indiegogo has some great resources), but get some help. It’ll save you time and give you a better chance to succeed.

What are your ideas?