Should I Crowdfund?

boss

You’ve got a great cause. You’re doing great work. You can show traction over the past year or two or more- that you’re making a difference, but you need either more start up funds or support from the community to offset the financial cost of the great value you provide. You even have a facebook page!

But.

You have a paltry email list with a lot of bounces. Or you have thousands on your list, but your open rate means that 600 people regularly read your emails. You have little visual content about the work you do. You are the only person plus your volunteer staff posting in your facebook group.

Can you crowdfund?

I made you sound awesome, right? But the answer is actually, “Probably” :). But the first question is SHOULD you crowdfund for your cause right away?

  1. Direct Solicitation? See that image up there? More and more younger professionals / millennials / Gen Xers are getting involved in causes and wanting to make a difference while/after they’ve made lots of money doing something for-profit. They want their money to do something good. If you can come up with (with your board, volunteers, & staff! not on your own) a list of people who are one degree of separation away from you who have a few thousand to invest in good work – you should explore that avenue. You can even pitch them on a matching gift to further leverage their money in accomplishing even more good. Direct solicitation is controlled, less time-consuming, larger individual gifts, – partners in building. Do NOT use crowdfunding as a way to replace / avoid that most important partner in your development of cause work. Don’t leave mid- to high-level donors to community-directed crowdfunding pitches. With sites like Causematch and Charidy, you can even pitch these donors to become partners in an exciting crowdfunding campaign. But crowdfunding for causes and engaging your community takes time and thought – with a lot of moving parts, to be done well. If you haven’t worked on direct solicitation yet – then you must determine whether you should move on that first, before or concurrently with a crowdfund. Let’s approach this ‘smartly’ (not just desperately).

  2. Existing events? But you’ve always run a dinner, concert or a raffle, should those be replaced? Um, if people do them out of obligation, you don’t collect on pledges, they take a lot of time and don’t really further your mission, the expenses are high reducing your true profits… these are good reasons to think about replacement. If people look forward to these events (like very little arm-twisting needed) and they turn the desired level of profit- then keep them. If they do not – then think about restructuring them for the benefits they do provide (ie: social, connecting), but creating an alternative channel for the benefits they don’t (ie: revenue). Some organizations do incredibly well with these and rally great support, others’ events are truly mediocre. Be honest with yourself and look at your bottom line.

  3. Part of a bigger plan, or because everyone else is doing it? Yes, it does seem like everyone else is running a successful crowdfund every day. But, I’d just like to testify that there are way more folks running crowdfunds that don’t reach their goals every day too. (Wait, aren’t I supposed to be encouraging you to do this??? I truly believe most causes should incorporate crowdfunding, but smartly!) Cause-based crowdfunds that don’t reach their goal don’t look good for organizations – publicly. So, just because everyone else is doing it – sorry, no dice. Crowdfunding should serve your mission, community outreach, and funding goals. Using it as a one-off fundraising tactic – like an online charity box – is lacklustre, high-fatigue crowdfunding that will damage your online fundraising efforts in the long run if you don’t learn to incorporate the mission / community-outreach aspects with your crowdfunding campaigns.

    BUT. “I haven’t got any major- to mid-level donors, events, or a plan, but there are people in the community who support my work (even just a small group). Now what? NOW WILL YOU TELL ME I CAN CROWDFUND (OR DIE)???” Yes, you should! And let’s set it up to try to aim toward your second-level funding (larger money or deeper engagement)! Stay tuned….

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