Note from Beth: Last month I had the pleasure of presenting on a panel at Association of California Orchestras with Marc van Bree, an arts and social media blogger I met in 2007. After Marc finished reading the Networked Nonprofit, he was curious about crowdfunding and free agents, chapters in our book. This was also about the same time as the flood in Nashville. This terrible flood didn’t spare the Nashville Symphony Orchestra (NSO), an event that he first learned about through his social networks. The orchestra’s damages were approximately $42 million and after insurance and support from FEMA, the remaining financial gap could be as much as $10 million. He wanted to raise some money to help the local orchestra and test some ideas. Here is what he learned.
Guest Post by Marc van Bree
The title of this blog post is of course a wildly inaccurate claim. How did I get to the number? In my small-scale “free agent” crowdfunding experiment for the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, I ended up with $235 from 1,000 followers by the deadline. That translates to $0.24 per follower.
The goal was $1,000, or one dollar per follower. It was a fairly arbitrary goal and I had no expectations. However, I’m still slightly disappointed I didn’t make the goal. But consider the following:
- All communications were strictly limited to my blog, Twitter and Facebook. Since this was an experiment to test social networking, I did not send an appeal to friends and family in the way people do when they raise funds for a run or walk, or want you to vote for a particular contest.
Beth Kanter and Allison Fine, the authors of The Networked Nonprofit that inspired this experiment, wrote an Assessment and Reflection Report on America’s Giving Challenge 2009. They found that: “Personal solicitations to pre-existing networks of donors and friends through multiple channels were rated as the most effective methods for fundraising. Thirty-five percent of contest participants rated messaging to friends through Facebook as most effective; 32 percent rated personal email to friends, family and colleagues as effective or most effective; and 25 percent rated email to an existing organizational donor base as effective or most effective.” I did not use any of these methods.
- In light of that, I personally met only 4 of the 12 donors (excluding myself). Two donors were former colleagues who also have Twitter accounts. However, most of the donors were definitely social media contacts with whom I have had more in-depth conversations. One donor was a friend of a friend.
- Kicking off the effort was paired with an e-mail to a list of about 30 classical music bloggers. In addition, I created Web banners for those bloggers to use. Four bloggers wrote a post; one blogger used the banner. (Other bloggers, not on the initial list, also wrote a post. All are captured here).
In the Assessment and Reflection Report, the authors bring other good lessons and note that “Some like Atlas Corps recruited 150 ‘Campaign Captains’ before the contest started. Other organizations broke their efforts down into bite-size pieces for their volunteers by creating templates to use to send messages to their friends, post and comment on blogs, and create their own videos.” Perhaps I should have recruited similar “captains” and created more multimedia in a shareable format.
- I counted most on Twitter followers to spread the word. There were 44 followers that used the #floodofsupport hash tag or linked to the Crowdrise page or blog post.
- Spreading the word was not a case of “build it and they will come.” The hash tag spread fairly well in the first couple of days, after which it dropped significantly. Even after I created an incentive to use the hash tag (a ¢5 donation for each mention), it did not pick back up.
- The donation process needs to be as simple as possible. I would have preferred to go straight to the Nashville Symphony Orchestra’s Web site, but after checking in, I decided it would cost them too much in administrative fees and human resources. Remember, I did know how the donations would start coming in; I anticipated more donations, but smaller amounts.
- Crowdrise was a good tool, but certainly not perfect: it didn’t allow for $1 donations, as I had wished. The payment process went through Amazon, which created an extra step. In addition, seeing that donations came from different countries, there were questions surrounding paying with credit cards and with foreign currency.
- Sure, I did not reach my goal. But I would be willing to bet that the particular donors would not have given a gift if it wasn’t for this effort. Nothing is lost and my “free agent” effort didn’t cannibalize the Nashville Symphony’s efforts.
- The Nashville Symphony Orchestra fulfills a, albeit large, regional function. But don’t let this geographic boundary limit your campaign. I started this campaign in Chicago, having never been to Nashville, and received donations from different countries and states (England, Germany, and several states within the U.S.).
- This also tells us something about telling stories and increasing awareness of your issue or organization in general.
The lessons for arts organizations
- Don’t think of social media as a quick fix to raise funds. This was already obvious before the experiment, perhaps, but even though I felt I had a great cause to support, in the end it was the personal connections and more in-depth relationships that resulted in donations.
- Beyond using and counting on your social network for donations and spreading the word, find ways to activate your network more concretely: create those “campaign captains.” Going about the effort alone is much tougher.
- Momentum is tremendously important. Even after a monetary incentive to simply retweet a hash tag, I could not retrieve the momentum. Kanter and Fine identified immersion in the effort and the ability to react on the fly as key aspects in fund raising success.
- Technology and ease of process is very important. That’s why the Red Cross was so successful with their text message donation campaign during the Haiti crisis. It was easy to explain and simple to execute. Make sure your organization’s Web site and your staff can handle a wave of many small donations, and make it a one-click process.
- Your key performance indicator is of course the money you raised. But it doesn’t stop there. You will likely have gained more relationships, deeper relationships, behavioral information, and increased the organization’s overall awareness and created opportunities to tell your story. Measure those elements as well.
In the end, this entire experiment was all about just that: experimenting. I wasn’t able to fully engage and immerse myself in the project; life on the outside took over. But remember that the experiment was about creating a low-effort, easy to set up campaign, and seeing where 1,000 Twitter followers would lead. Could I have raised more money? Definitely. But that wasn’t the point.
I am still proud of raising $235 for the Nashville Symphony’s flood recovery effort. It’s a $235 they wouldn’t have had without this little experiment.
Dutch native Marc van Bree is a public relations practitioner with more than 5 years of experience communicating—on and offline—in the nonprofit and cultural environment.