Crowdfunding Overkill? Is It Too Late for Your Organization?

Crowdfunding Overkill?

There’s a Jewish family in need of our help over here. We have the opportunity to grassroots fund a full page NYTimes ad in support of Israel over here. A friend or family member is running a marathon to raise money for a good cause here. Some meet their goals and others don’t. Is crowdfunding overkill one of the factors?

By now, if you’re in the non-profit world, you’ve heard of crowdfunding, you’ve been asked by someone to donate to a worthy or not-so-worthy cause, and someone has likely offered you the eureka – bet you never thought of this advice, “Hey, why doesn’t your organization do a ‘crowdfund’?”

But has that ship already sailed? Are your donors and community members over-saturated with asks and your organization will suffer with a campaign that is lackluster or enter into a scene that is already tapped out?

Those are questions you should be asking, but they’re actually quite distracting from whether you’ll actually succeed in meeting your goals. All organizations, from traditional, brick and mortar, in-person program style operations to new, more online-based, social-media savvy style organizations grapple with these questions and doubts. But they are not the driving factors in the success of crowdfunding – they are just the environmental factors you need to take into consideration when deciding what type of crowdfunding you can tap into.

To answer our title: Is there crowdfunding overkill? Yes and no. There is traditional crowdfunding overkill. By that I mean, there is overkill in using crowdfunding as an online “shnurring” tool – a purely collection-based tool that views their online audience as a bunch of paypals. There is NOT overkill in creative use of crowdfunding to harness online supporters and empower them through their donations or shares to bring their message and work to a broader audience.

If you can’t get beyond looking at crowdfunding as a way to collect more online – then yes, you’re joining an overcrowded pool that will quickly fatigue your audience and eventually – they’ll close their wallets to you. And you will wonder, why in the world did that no-name individual with an office in her closet run a successful multi-thousand dollar campaign?

Connection. Creativity. Collaboration/Community. Ownership.

Please don’t hesitate to be in touch if you’re looking to discern how you can join the successful crowdfunding world. It could be a gateway to increased revenue and engagement for most organizations in our world.

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The Best Approach to Giving Days: Leading by Example: Give, Don’t Beg.

The Executive Director of the Union Settlement Assoc. in East Harlem, David Nocenti, has discovered the ultimate approach to online giving days: Charities Should Give, Not Beg, On Giving Tuesday.

I’ve been saying it for years. He’s published it in an opinion piece on Chronicle of Philanthropy, “Giving Tuesday” is beginning to feel like “Begging Tuesday,” which risks alienating those we are trying to reach, and potentially harming the entire nonprofit sector.”

Short-term gains, long-term losses. By using massive online, collaborative power to increase focus on fundraising for non-profits, causes, and philanthropies, we risk creating a massive day of online begging. Not motivating. In fact, in person – most people avoid beggers. Online – it’s even easier to ignore and avoid. In a recent CP article: “Giving Tuesday Growth Slows Sharply for Large Nonprofits, Study Says.”

Experts can jockey hypotheses all they like, but my money’s on good old traditional donor fatigue. And Nocenti has it right: Give. It’s what non-profits do best: Giving. I find that contributes to why many Executives who got into their roles as givers and service providers find it hard to cross the line and perform fundraising duties: asking others for charity. If on Giving Days, these organizations would do the unthinkable: and not just ask, but incorporate their own giving – and ask others to get involved via action – I bet you would find that in the crowd, many would turn naturally toward giving back to the charity. We’d feel inspired instead of pressured.

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.

Hesitation

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 Charidy.com, 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.

A Crowdfunder’s Response to Gwyneth Paltrow’s Failed Food Stamp Challenge:

Today, Gwyneth Paltrow ended her week-long “Food Stamp Challenge” on Day 4. Writers across the blogosphere (including the Jewish media) have focused their attention on her authenticity or the appropriateness of this ‘poverty tourism.’ Where was the focus on: “We get it. It’s hard. Here’s what we can really do to make an impact.” Where was the simple call to action to actually do something about poverty?

gwyn

We used to be able to think: ‘What can I do?’ That answer doesn’t fly anymore in the age of the internet. Exponential impact is possible thanks to the disruptive technology used originally to back for-profit product development and business and now being used to fund non-profit projects. I’ve crowdfunded rent money for friends in hard times twice – in under two weeks each time (before I knew what I was doing). I would never have thought of doing that before razoo / tilt / etc. That’s how I got hooked on this field. Meanwhile, I’m helping Jewish anti-poverty organizations team up to create a joint worldwide Giving Day: MillionsforChesed to raise $3M – all or nothing – in 24 hours this May – with a laptop from my dining room. This model (organized with Charidy.com and AJOP from my dining room table) raised $1.36M for Jewish outreach organizations this past February in 24 hours. Our ability to impact these problems is so accessible – how can we turn ‘action’ into the obvious reaction? We master these skills and empower our community with them.

I just finished reading Alexis Ohanian’s book: Without Their Permission. Mr. Ohanian is the co-founder of Reddit.com, Hipmunk, Breadpig… G-d knows what else. He had a chapter entitled “Using the Internet’s Power to Make the World Suck Less.” First: that’s an awesome title. Second: His subsequent line summed it up: “We can use the Internet to leverage human and financial capital –in philanthropy, …. even politics and mass culture– more directly and efficiently than we can anywhere else.” (p.155) And he did. He and thousands of other non-political types took down SOPA & PIPA legislation via the internet in a way unthinkable before.

The tools and accessibility to an audience now available to non-profits is just as vast as those available to the exponential organizations that become billion dollar businesses in two years. It is our RESPONSIBILITY to listen and learn about and master these tools, as they will exponentially improve our reach, impact, and efficiency – as organizations and as individuals. Just slapping up a crowdfunding campaign on indiegogo or gofundme won’t cut it – worse – it’ll keep everyone kvetching that these things just don’t work. But, boy are they wrong.

Making “Impact” available to answer our “kvetches” for the community is the job of our non-profits and anyone who cares to DO something. The more often GOOD empowering opportunities proliferate, the more often we can react with action instead of useless kvetching.

I got off the phone today with an organization I have nothing but admiration for in their operations, efficiency, and vision. Their stated goal is to eradicate poverty in their community – not just provide a temporary salve (also a good thing!). They are forward-thinking and looking to do something similar to what one of THE most talked-about and celebrity-backed charities is doing to cultivate active supporters: by developing a crowdfunding platform unique to their organization.

Take a look at what charity: water has done at www.mycharitywater.org: They have created an internal platform that allows inspired folks to set up their own fundraiser – their own style! Not including any other channel of donations, charity: water has raised $36,000,000+ via this platform, signing up 200,000+ members. They did one step beyond what traditional organizational thinking does (solicit donations): they empowered supporters to become peer-to-peer fundraisers – via great online technology.

Note: they still have to pay their white label platform provider, but this way, they keep these supporters in their network, not on another platform.

We are living in fast times of exponential growth and opportunity. To keep pace with our times, we – the non-profit community, MUST provide exponential ways for individuals to impact their world through our channels. According to Prof. Richard Foster (Yale) – today’s S&P 500 companies will have an average lifespan of 15 years. That lifespan was 67 years in 1920. Our old stalwart institutions and methods will not meet today’s zeitgeist. That means our channels must keep pace and even exceed those around us. We can’t sit back and not take risks. We only have what to gain beyond our wildest expectations. And we can do it as individuals with a laptop and an internet connection.

So, blogosphere – please stop harping on Ms. Paltrow and do something yourselves. Promote an anti-poverty crowdfunding campaign and watch it meet its goal. And to all of you non-profits out there: LEARN HOW TO CROWDFUND PROPERLY.

I will be giving a webinar on Project Sinai this month. I’ll post the deets soon.

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 charidy.com 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.

Ice Bucket Challenge vs. Do It in a Dress

We’ve all heard about the ALS Bucket Challenge. THAT, my friends, is successful crowdfunding. It didn’t start with a meeting or a fundraising page. It was fueled by human nature and It became viral. It took several iterations and it probably developed from existing wacky challenges (polar bear clubs, cold water challenge) and months to hit it big. My take away: embrace something that already exists, make it yours, simplify, and harness human nature. Irony – it didn’t start as an ALS Foundation idea. Nothing along the way had to keep it specifically for that cause, yet it remained.

One Girl Crowdfunding Campaign

One Girl Crowdfunding Campaign

If you want to create a long-term crowdfund: Think outside the box. Do it in a dress is a lesser-known example of crowdfunding with a very quick interface that signs folks up on the spot, with their own fundraising page for the cause. It feels a little contrived as a fundraiser, which is an imperfection, but it’s still done with flair and an easy online interface. This is what organizations set up. The Ice Bucket Challenge is something regular people set up. Food for thought.

On the Crowdfunding Pro Scale of Long-Term fundraisers , I’d give the Ice Bucket Challenge: 10, Do It in a Dress: 7.

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?