10 Best Practices for Planning Successful Crowd Funding or Giving Day Campaigns | Beth's Blog

10 Best Practices for Planning Successful Crowd Funding or Giving Day Campaigns


Last week, I was honored to deliver the lunch keynote at the 2014 TechNow Conference in Pittsburgh, PA organized by The Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management at Robert Morris University. (My trick for helping participants avoid a food coma is to get the audience moving). The next day, I facilitated a workshop on Best Practices for Crowd Funding that blended traditional instruction with innovation lab facilitation techniques. This post shares the content and I’ll share a post about the instructional design in a second post.

Giving Day Campaigns and Crowd Funding Campaigns Are Than Dollars Raised

When nonprofits marry tried-and-true fundraising techniques with social media and online networks, they are able to tap into the power of crowd funding.

Craig Newark published this infographic describing the potential of crowdfunding for nonprofits. The infographic summarizes crowdfunding data from different platforms:

$88 is the average donation size
$534 is the average total amount raised by an individual
$9237 is the average amount raised when groups are working on a team to fundraise
28% of donors are repeat donors

Beyond the dollars raised, there is also value in growing your organization’s network.  It encompasses more than just the transactional act of making a donation, it includes asking for the help of influential stakeholders to create online social fundraisers and reach out to their networks.   In a social media world, anyone can become a philanthropist for a charity, whether they have been in the organization’s database for years or whether they’ve just connected with the organization for the first time.   Social channels are also used to continue to cultivate and engage with the donor to retain them.

Maybe crowd funding caught your attention as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge swept the world this past summer, raising over $100 million for disease research and raising awareness about ALS with the millions of videos shared on Facebook.    There are some things about the Ice Bucket Challenge can’t replicated, but there are practices that you can incorporate for your crowd funding or giving day campaign.

To reap all benefits of crowd funding for your organization, you need a strategy.  There is no better way to structure your thinking that the  POST which stands for People, Objective, Strategy, and Tools.

Click to download worksheet

What follows below is a synthesis of the many excellent nonprofit crowd funding best practices resources.


1: Identify the Audience You Want Reach and Know What Motivates Their Giving

Who are the people you want to reach?   How would you describe them?  Are you reaching out to younger donors, including Philanthrokids or Millennials or another target?  Maybe your crowd funding or giving day campaign is an experiment to reach and cultivate a new donor segment like Gen Z.   For example, the Giving Tuesday Toolkit offers some excellent curriculum to involve kids in Giving Day activities.

Perhaps your nonprofit has been growing its network on social media platforms and you have the opportunity to activate new supporters through your Facebook, Twitter, and social channels.  You can also reach out to people on your email list, your database, your aligned partners, and others.

Most nonprofits typically have a number of diverse audiences that hold the keys to their success. You need to understand how a good relationship with each group can benefit your organization, and how a bad relationship can hurt it.  Make a list of all your constituencies and next to each one list the benefits that a great relationship with that group would bring to your organization. Resources are never unlimited, so be sure to prioritize your target audiences as well.

Don’t forget that crowd funding campaigns require you to “rally the base” so be sure to start thinking about who is part of your inner circle or who could be your champions to help you fundraise.   Take a look at the NTEN Crowd Funding Campaign to raise money for scholarships to its annual conference.  They spend several weeks before the official campaign launch rallying their base of champions.


2:   Identify results, metrics, and mini goals for your campaign

What do you want to accomplish with your crowdfunding campaign?   Keep in mind that crowdfunding is particularly useful to raise money for a specific project, need,  or campaign.  The more specific, the better.    Also, crowdfunding works when it is time-based and you can create a sense of urgency.   It also works well with matching incentives, so your goal could be to help leverage a larger donation from an existing donor.

What metrics will you use to measure success?

One exercise you might want to go through to define success is to gather a diverse group of staff and have them answer the following questions:

  • How do you define success for our organization or program?
  • How do you define failure for our organization or program?

Then get specific and ask them the same questions about your crowdfunding initiative.   If the answer to all those questions starts with a dollar sign, then you have your measurable metric. But chances are it’s a lot more complicated than that.  If you are new to crowdfunding, this might be just be a great opportunity for learning what works.    If you are on your 3 or 4th campaign, you might be looking to increase awareness, engagement, or donations from a particular donor segment.

CauseVox’s How To Plan a Crowdfunding Campaign, they recommend looking at your organization’s mission and programs and what you specifically need to be successful.  Then breaking it down into a micro campaign goal one of the following ways:

Item Specific:   We need x items to see this specific outcome
Dollar Specific:  We need to raise $ to see this specific outcome
Time Specific:  We need to raise $ to get item by this deadline to see this specific outcome

Most crowdfunding sites have the ability to customize donation levels to provide options for giving.   It helps the donor make a decision about to give your organization and it gives you an opportunity to tie to your mini-goals so donors can see the tangible impact of their gift.    For example, when I was raised money for a beach/ocean conservation project for Surfrider Foundation in memory of my father.  I named the donations levels after different types of waves, using surfer’s lingo.  Don’t set the minimum gift level too low.     If people can’t afford to give the minimum, they will still give.   Consider setting the minimum donation $25.

PhilanthroGeek has a campaign calculator (while geared for Kickstarter) it can help you do the math of your campaign.

Social Strategies

3:  Socialize your content with compelling stories that inspire people to donate

Successful crowd funding depends on great storytelling. What’s the story you’re telling about how you will use the money raised to reach your outcomes?   How do you talk about your organization’s work, place it in a broader context and inspire people to contribute?

The StartSomeGood Blog, a crowd-funding platform, organizes crowdfunding stories into different types:

  • The Issue Story: This story talks about the field or fields within which you work and how your project solves a larger social issue
  • The Local Story: This is about a specific local community and how your project serves them
  • The People You Serve Story: This is the story of how the people you serve through your project will be transformed
  • The Behind the Scenes Story: This is a peek inside how your organization is working on the project or why it is important
  • Innovation Story: It describes what are you doing that’s new, unique or innovative?

Or you can borrow some ideas from Hollywood.  Here are four examples of Hollywood plotlines used in crowdfunding stories from CauseVox.

Now matter which type of story you choose to tell or what medium you use (video, text, photos), here is a simple storytelling structure you can use to create the first draft of your story:

  • Once upon a time…
  • And everyday until…
  • Until one day…
  • Because of that…
  • Until finally…
  • And ever since that day…
  • And the moral of the story is…

You’ll want to set up a campaign calendar for your content so you are organized and it is efficient to distribute the stories through your various channels.  The content you create doesn’t have to be from scratch for every channel, you are simply tweaking or optimizing it for the channel.    The skill of writing good headlines is an important one to develop!  Here’s some ideas for making use of your social media channels:

  • A simple video by your staff or someone who will be positively impact by the campaign telling their story
  • Host a Twitter chat or Google Hangout with your key stakeholders talking about the program that the campaign will fund and why it is important
  • Share photos or mini stories about people being helped by your project over the course of the campaign.  These can be coordinated posts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, email or other channels.

4:   Offer many ways to people to engage with your campaign

You need to consider a continuum of engagement activities or what we has been traditionally described as the “Ladder of Engagement” going from passive observer to active donor to champion for your cause.     Social media has disrupted in this traditional linear model which is now being called a “Supporter Journey” visually depicted as non-linear.   It is no longer a linear journey up a ladder or pyramid.  And as this SSIR post suggests is more of a non-linear spiral or vortex.

Therefore, it important to brainstorm different calls to action that go from light or easy involvement to heavier or more intensive involvement.

  • Ask your network to make a donation
  • Make a donation
  • Ask supporters to share a story or photograph that illustrates their personal connection to the campaign theme
  • Engage audiences in conversation about the campaign theme
  • Share information or visuals about the campaign on your social media channels

5:  Activate a group of champions to tap into their networks and share the buzz

I’ve mentioned this earlier, but I’m saying it again because having champions – your board, volunteers, staff, or others to help you fundraise is critical to the success of the campaign.   If you are the person tasked with supporting this team, remember you have to model enthusiasm and make it contagious.

An external champion is a new breed of donor who cares so much about your campaign that they’re willing to spread the word to their friends and ask them to donate, especially through their online social networks.     They have been called “brand advocates” or “super fans.”   But they don’t just magically appear  – there is a process of research, cultivation, and escalation.    And, you have to spend some time supporting their work, including preparing campaign materials they can easily share through their social networks and ongoing communication through the duration of the campaign.  Making it easy for your champions to do the work is also important and you’ll find lots of templates and examples that you can remix on the Knight Foundation’s Giving Day Playbook and toolkits on the GivingTuesday site.

6:  Leverage the power of social proofing

Another important element of crowdfunding campaigns is social proofing or social validation, where friends tag their friends on social network or where people see other people sharing information about the campaign or making a donation. Social proof is peer pressure in a positive way, the positive influence created when people find out others are doing something – now, suddenly, everyone else wants to do that something too.    Social proofing or tagging your call to donate is something that be replicated.

There are other ways to incorporate this in your campaign, you acknowledge donations in a public and unique way.   If people in your network see that others are donating,  it creates “social proofing” and other donations follow.     It is also important line up some donors in advance so that you don’t open your campaign with “0” raised towards your goal.

7:  Say thank you in creative ways

Find creative ways to say thank you to your donors beyond the generic thank you email from the platform.   Social Media is great for this sort of thing, especially if you can say thank you shortly after they make the gift because that generates social proofing.  For example, I made a contribution to a NTEN Champion Campaign and they thanked me with a post on my Facebook timeline.   It is also important to say thanks after the campaign ends as part of a wrap up and lots of nonprofits use videos.    Finally, thank you is the end, but the beginning of retaining these donors, many who may be new to your organization.

8:  Document what you learned for your next campaign

If you can capture what actually happened as campaign unfolded and hold a formal debrief with your team,  you will have valuable feedback on how to improve your results for your next campaign.  This might sound like extra work, but keeping a journal can help you remember exactly what worked really well or what you’d like to tweak or improve the next round can save you time.

Capturing insights like this as the event unfolds is a good technique because if you wait until the event is over, there is a chance you won’t remember everything in vivid detail.    It isn’t just about writing it down, it is also reviewing what your captured with your team with these simple steps:

  1. Capture the lesson learned (big or small)
  2. Put it on a social site so all members of your team can add and access (a google document works great for this)
  3. Ask team members to reflect on their lessons learned
  4. Review it together in a meeting and summarize into a series of  “do, improve (say how), don’t do”

You will probably get lots of great ideas and see lots of great examples of content generated by your champions and donors.  You want to make sure to capture those.

Tools and Tactics

9:  Pick the crowdfunding platform that meets your needs

The recent growth of social fundraising and crowdfunding practice for nonprofits has been powered by new online tools that allow individuals to easily set up their own pages and solicit support from friends for their personal causes.

There are a growing number of nonprofit focused crowd funding platforms such as  Razoo, Fundly, Crowdrise, and CauseVox, that make it easier for individuals to raise money for their favorite charity. These platforms help nonprofits empower their most ardent fans to ask their personal networks to donate. These platforms not only make it easy for people to donate online with their credit cards, but seamlessly integrate social media into an online campaign.

10: Leverage the momentum of a local or national Giving Day

More and more we are seeing national Giving Days like Giving Tuesday and Give Local America Day or the many local giving days hosted by community foundations, typically 24 hour community campaigns that encourage people to donate to local nonprofits.  Participating on a giving day has many benefits, especially if the host is offering incentives like matching grants, training, or online toolkits.   Whether or not your organization jumps on the Giving Day bandwagon, a question to ask “Is the timing right?”

If you’d like to explore ideas, here’s the workshop resource page.

What best practice has your nonprofit used to be successful in a giving day or crowd funding campaign?  What resource would you recommend?  What I have missed?  Please leave a comment below.


3 Responses

  1. […] I delivered the keynote).    I’ve already shared a blog post about the content related to “Best Practices for Nonprofit Crowd Funding” that includes case studies, examples, tips, and resource links.    Instructional design is […]

  2. […] Day Playbook. 10 Best Practice for Planning Successful Crowd Funding or Giving Day Campaigns The Top 4 Non-Profit Social Media Campaigns of 2013 – And What You Can […]