Great Causes Don’t Compel Gifts. Great Asks Do.


Saving lives. Nothing more compelling or worthy a cause. And the video they made – about the true story of a father missing his son’s birthday to save the life of a young girl in a car accident – I’m welling up. Really. Oh man, this is a home run video! I can’t keep making these $18 donations! Then comes the ask. How could I not give???

Then comes the build up to the ask at 2:50 on the video. “They volunteer their time for you!” … “Thousands of heroes save lives everyday…” “Support United Hatzalah Today!”

And, I close it out, feeling fine to go on with the rest of my day. How’s that?

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Push me, and I pull the other way. “They” – have cast themselves and then the donor as the other. United Hatzalah became “They” NOT “us.” I can close my window thinking about them and how much wonderful good they do. Keep up the great work, heroes! They can do anything, and for sure all those people they’ve helped will step up and donate.

Whoops. The narrator missed the opportunity to turn this into a ‘We’ – “We can’t do it without YOU.” Bring the audience into the picture as an active player: without the audience  no amazing story would ever be heard. Invite them in, show them how important their active role is. Any tries to redraft how that last segment could have been reframed to move the audience into the story?





Crowdfunding Ignorance Is Not Bliss. It’s Wasteful.

This May, I am trying to help launch the second Jewish crowdfunded Giving Day to the Jewish community: MillionsforChesed. I would like to invite eligible Jewish organizations to participate – and hope they will take up the call. But I am not sure they will, despite the $1.36M success of the pilot in February, MillionforOutreach with the unheard of 100% success rate of all organizations meeting their individual goals.

Behind the Times

The largest national giving day in the US is planned for this May. Give Local America has grossed well beyond Giving Tuesday due to a major difference in structure. They’re planning $100M in 1 day.

Our community, a leader in philanthropy nationwide, has lagged behind this exponential joint funding model for non-profits – that is time and cost-saving to the organizations providing services. The first US state-wide crowdfund was launched in 2009 in MN and raised $14M ($6M more than its goal!). Why has there been no Jewish Giving Day? Can we not work together? Are there obstacles to its adoption from within our philanthropic model?

Recently, one crowdfunding platform shared with me that a Jewish organization that had been able to raise $100,000 in one day and garnered secular media coverage, put out the word that they were going to do a follow-up campaign. They were contacted by a local large Jewish organization to please cease and desist. The constructive response from the interloper organization, in my perspective, would have been to connect, learn, and collaborate.


When I approached one leader I was advised would be capable of swallowing this innovation in 2010 – he did not see that our community was ready. We do walkathons, phoneathons, dinners, and Chinese auctions. Looking back, I believe he was right. I gave up until I started helping organizations in Baltimore crowdfund and my children’s school last year as a school administrator with a $40K deficit looming in June. After the crowdfunding success these organizations experienced – they understood the benefits. And I understood that our community cannot afford to keep waiting for the ‘big guys’ to do this – especially, when in my community, there’s still a phone-a-thon organized annually for our Federation. Newsflash: Give Local’s national crowdfunding day analytics uncovered these donor demographics: Under 45 (28%) Boomers (46%) Seniors (25%). Not just the younguns donate online.

I approached several of my city’s organizations before I approached AJOP (Association for Jewish Outreach Professionals) at the end of 2014 with the concept of a joint Jewish Crowdfunded Giving Day. Even after they’d witnessed others’ success, no organizations in my city agreed to it. Their reluctance is understandable. These are technology-based tools – but their output is exponential. It’s a challenge to conceive of- but easy to understand and master – especially with the innovative crowdfunding tools available.

I have been pulling people on board against their will – with AJOP’s participants as well – because our community benefits from these specific individuals from their ability to deliver their service –not fundraising. These tools save hundreds of hours of labor and stress, and most definitely expense – netting the organizations the same or more money than traditional fundraising events do.

The Need

Spotlighting the use of crowdfunding – its proper use and innovations – is of major importance to the ability of our community to fund its services in a fiscally and administratively responsible way in today’s economy. While it may be uncomfortable – we can’t afford to not learn, adopt, and improve – and sometimes push our communal organizations into the future.

The platform I’m using for these giving days is, an innovative model that has an unheard of 100% success rate in this industry – and it nets organizations 10X more than other platforms in the same market. Developed by a group of Jewish guys in Brooklyn! Its cost: 5 cents on the $1. Time from beginning to end: for $20K-$1M goal: 6 weeks, with 1-2 staff/lay people, approximately 2 hours/day, and 2-3 days full-time. No advertising costs needed. Plus, it brings in new donors, increases average gifts, and generates widespread community awareness of the organization beyond the traditional community.

Then – add the Giving Day: increasing the spotlight from local to nationwide on a cause. You’ve now brought the cause and its organizations thousands of new potential donors.

While in its infancy, charitable crowdfunding will change VERY rapidly, and the spectre of donor fatigue, especially with poorly-crafted or unsuccessful crowdfunding campaigns is already setting in. How are we ignoring it? The benefits and loss to our community are too great.

The Secret to Successful Crowdfunding for Nonprofits

Successful crowdfunding campaigns contain all or most of these elements. Finding the right mix and idea will depend on your organization, your donor base, and your development plan. Once the ideas are on the table (as well as your goal and timeline) – then it’s time to go shopping for a platform, not vice versa. Starting with a platform will limit your vision to the capabilities of one platform – limiting your ability to maximize your crowdfunding capabilities.

(Again: successful crowdfunding raises more money in less time and generates more support!) There are five elements that propel success in a crowdfunding campaign:

1. Compelling
2. Urgency
3. Connection/Crowd
4. Communication
5. Platform

If you can pack them all into one campaign – you’ve got a winner.

1. Compelling: Something has to compel your audience to give. For example, contributing to a fund for recently orphaned terror victims is compelling. However, contrary to popular belief, your cause doesn’t have to be the compelling piece. Funding the annual campaign at a religious organization isn’t compelling. But, offer to quadruple your community’s donations in your crowdfunding campaign, like the way a crowdfunding campaign is structured – and your crowd will come much faster. Quadrupling their impact is compelling. Or, like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: the action was compelling – it was fun. Often people think in terms of a specific project when they try to make their campaign compelling. Think outside the box to ensure you’ve added true ‘compelling’ to your campaign. This is the element that cuts through the static.

2. Urgency: Urgency helps break through the inertia barrier and inbox pileup. Emergencies = natural urgency. Without a natural urgency, setting a deadline helps donors know there will be an end to your communications and a time by which they have to act or risk missing the boat.

3. Connection/Crowd: Your organization’s and your supporters’ connections will generate the bulk of your donations. First – engage your immediate community in giving. Second: Your community’s friends. People will even give to a cause they’ve never heard of or don’t believe in, for example: if their friend is running a marathon and asks them for support to reach their personal goal and contribute to their cause. Enabling your supporters to reach out to their connections properly can help you access outside money beyond your existing donor base. If you do not have a crowd or community you’re connected to, you cannot crowdfund successfully – you will crawl.

4. Communication: There needs to be a crowd you can reach via direct communication channels. Announcements on social media channels help create awareness – addressing people individually, emailing them, calling them, engaging them in an in-person or live-streaming event, etc. generates action (donations). Acknowledging gifts as they come in, addressing potential donors with personal or heartfelt emails, respecting their inbox and time by not inundating them with repeat solicitations – these are key to respectful, constructive communication. It also = effort on your part. Lazy crowdfunding communication = lackluster crowdfunding support.

5. Platform: Price is the WRONG parameter by which to judge a platform. There are so many different features to each platform that can help create or impede success – that I will save that for another post. How to judge each one will depend on the form of crowdfunding campaign you’re designing. But EASE of USE is a huge, often overlooked element. If you’re going to be engaging individuals outside of your organization to set up their own pages to fundraise for you- then, start there. Don’t take the word of the platform. Test with your own people: engage three likely volunteers to set up a page of their own.

To review. Ask yourself:
1. Is my campaign compelling and create a sense of urgency?
2. Do I have a crowd that feels connected to me and/or my cause?
3. Do I have a communication strategy to engage them?
4. Have I found a user-friendly platform with the best features for my campaign?
PS: Is my goal and timeline realistic yet ambitious?

Designing a campaign with these elements will hit you a home run beyond your wildest expectations. You will be able to set an ambitious fundraising goal, meet it within the time allotted, and rev up your crowd’s support for your cause creating a desire to engage with you beyond the campaign. If you would like help in reviewing your development plan and designing compatible crowdfunding campaigns, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Is a Crowdfunding Campaign Right for My Nonprofit?

Likely the answer is yes. BUT: Here is the honest answer: There are three rules to ensure your crowdfunding campaign will actually be a good (efficient) idea overall for your organization.

  1. Make more money: Your campaign must be designed to meet or exceed your fundraising goal.
  2. Spend less resources: Your campaign must raise that goal using significantly less time and/or money than a traditional fundraiser. An exception can be made if the campaign is also raising awareness.
  3. Generate more support: Your campaign must not bore or bother your donors; instead, it should generate more support and energy for your organization.
Cheder charidy page

Cheder Chabad $40K in 1 Day Raises $60K

If you are about to embark on crowdfunding and anticipate a multi-month timeline with many emails sent to your crowd, even if your goal is $1 Million, you are violating rules #2 & #3 in setting up your campaign – and your campaign will likely drag, raise less than your dream goal, and create donor fatigue. Worse than not raising your funds, that could make your organization look bad and discourage YOU.

Crowdfunding, while tempting, should ONLY be used when all three rules are followed. If you are not raising more money in less time and generating more support, find another way to raise your money OR restructure your crowdfunding campaign. Crowdfunding is visible to everyone. If you fail or drag, it looks bad for your organization, and it will make it harder for you to go back and crowdfund again – when you do have the makings of a successful crowdfunding campaign.

In an upcoming post, I will share with you the elements of a successful crowdfunding campaign. What makes a crowdfunding campaign succeed?