Some Crowdfunding Ruminations

To my friends in the organizational fundraising world, we need to have a talk about crowdfunding.

What happens if you don’t have a crowd? Clearly, there will be no funding. Yet, still some organizations try to make this square peg fit a round hole.

It’s not necessarily that crowdfunding won’t work for an organization, but as is the case with the new social landscape, the power is in the hands of the individual and you need passionate individuals to carry the ball for the organization.

The Rationale

Whether it’s your next indie-documentary, a small business start-up or a theatre production of a one-woman show on the history of people named Elizabeth that eat insects, you need funding to get started.

Whether you view your fundraising success as validation of your project or your passion or of yourself as a person, your income will be affected by the number of people in your “crowd.”

Sure if you are in the for-profit world, there will be investors that simply want to invest in a stake in your future successes, but when it comes to something as personal as a production, recording, film or other artistic venture, you have to be willing to feel the pain of seeing the “$0 Raised” on your page.

Don’t take this as scorn from humanity as a whole, but rather as not connecting with the right crowd or a large enough of a crowd to move the needle.

Crowdfunding or its sibling, peer-to-peer fundraising, are based on the fact that one person (or a group of persons) have a similar passion and want to use their networks to raise money – and or awareness – of something that is deeply personal to them.

No-one can argue with the billions of dollars that have been raised by the peer-to-peer charitable healthcare projects around the globe to help fight devastating diseases that take lives. There’s nothing that can take away from those successes and the work that has been done is truly awe-inspiring.

But how can we take some of those same basic lessons learned through these platforms to excite and energize our bases. After all, your collective audience giving $10 will add up to millions… but it never seems to be that easy.

I’ve been privileged to work on some peer-to-peer projects that have worked beautifully and some others that have failed quite spectacularly.

Here are some questions that we’ve looked at and might be good areas for you to think about before entering into this world of in our review of these projects based in organizational crowdfunding:

1) Audience – First look at the targeted audience for your crowdfunding project. Does it appeal to the type of person willing to take the time type in their credit card number, process a donation as our normal fundraising happens? What if your audience is teens or late millennials with little concept of philanthropy?

2) What of your timing? What if you were to provide opportunities at a different time in the planning or life cycle of the project?

Are you asking at the very beginning of the project where people can play an engaged role in making something to come to life? Or have you already decided all there is to decide and you are just looking for someone to fund your dream? Unless you are one of the few lucky persuasive individuals that can sell the Brooklyn Bridge or swampland in Florida, its probably best to think of ways to be inclusive in your project development plans.

3) Is your campaign premium driven? Do people really care that they get a thank you on your website or your Facebook page? Do they really want to go to a reception with the Board of Directors or the Artistic Director?

Or do they want to play a role in the direction of the project? How much is that worth to them? How much is that worth to you?

4) Size of Audience: What if you are engaging and motivating a large group? We’ve seen this work incredibly well – and not so well. Of course, you need to have some leadership and guidance either through a carrot or stick – but getting that sort of buy-in needs to eventually manifest itself in the individual.

There’s a certain WIFM mentality at work here, but it is the passion of the individual that makes it so much more than a transaction and can eventually lead to the viral growth of any message or fundraiser.

Yes, you can make small goals and have people do their part, but the off-the-charts success only comes when everyone sees the impact of the collective energy and can create the momentum that makes people want to take part.

That’s more than marketing. That’s a movement.

Why do I write this on an arts marketing blog? Because as marketers as part of small or medium sized teams, we’re going to be asked to add our two cents as to how marketing will help sell this new project as part of our fundraising plan. Everyone is having success with it – why aren’t we?

Unfortunately, the interesting thing about organizational crowdfunding is that it can’t be sold through normal channels.

People will either want to support the project or not based on the relationships more so than the merits of the project.

The key is for the people who benefit the most from the project or program or initiative to become responsible for it’s funding. If that means you need to drop the wall down to include others for the sake of the financial viability of the project, than that is what is needed.

The donor or the benefactor, whatever their relationship to you, must feel an outcome to their investment in your project. If that means they feel closer to you or your organization, than that relationship is what is developed over the course of the transaction.

If I feel as if I’m doing my part to cure a disease, and it strengthens my bond and love for another, than that is a perfect outcome.

About

Sean King has been consulting with small businesses and non-profit organizations for 25 years. Currently, Sean is a principal in the Aspire Consulting Group providing solutions and training for arts, events and non-profit marketing professionals and their organizations. Clients include Youth Education in the Arts (YEA!) and a growing list of satisfied organizations. Sean speaks regularly throughout the U.S. including at the IFEA Annual Conference, Arts Reach Conference, AFP, 92Y, CiviCRM User Summit, PA Council on the Arts, Michigan Festivals & Event Annual Conference. Sean serves as the Marketing Chairperson for the Hamilton District Main Street, a program of the Allentown Chamber of Commerce in Allentown and is a Co-Chair of the Arts & Culture Committee for the Upside Allentown initiative. You can follow Sean on Twitter @skingaspire or email him anytime at sking.aspire@gmail.com

Posted in Fundraising, Marketing, Planning, Social Media

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About Sean King
Sean King has been consulting with small businesses and non-profit organizations for 25 years.  Currently, Sean is a principle in the Aspire Consulting Group providing solutions and training for arts, events and non-profit marketing professionals and their organizations. Clients include Youth Education in the Arts (YEA!) and a growing list of satisfied organizations. Sean speaks regularly throughout the United States including at the IFEA Annual Conference, Arts Reach Conference, AFP, 92Y, CiviCRM User Summit, PA Council on the Arts, Michigan Festivals & Event Annual Conference.  Sean serves as the Marketing Chairperson for the Hamilton District Main Street program in Allentown and is a Co-Chair of the Arts & Culture Committee for the Upside Allentown initiative. He also blogs a artsmarketingblog.org.  You can follow Sean on Twitter @skingaspire. Sean resides with his wife Natalie and son Haydn in the global crossroads of Fogelsville, Pa.