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Smart Giving: Cooking Up Successful Crowdfunding Campaigns


It?s hard to miss the seemingly endless wave of crowdfunding websites and strategies in the marketplace, and not just for nonprofits. We recently found an intriguing compilation of crowdfunding articles on Mashable, as well as the following definition:

Crowd funding (alternately crowd financing, equity crowdfunding, or hyper funding) describes the collective effort of individuals who network and pool their resources, usually via the Internet, to support efforts initiated by other people or organizations.

Notably, while we think of crowdfunding as an increasingly popular fundraising option for nonprofits, it is a practice that is widely used by artists, entrepreneurs and researchers to help support and expand their work. Other campaigns emerge almost out of the blue, launched by creative or well-meaning individuals who are inspired by an out-of-the-box idea or a touching human interest story.


This got us thinking ? what is the common denominator? What is it about these stories that sparks an interest in our hearts and compels us to donate?

Ultimately, we concluded two things. First, it takes a well-crafted, compelling story that plays with our emotions. Second, these stories should be used strategically. The potato salad campaign is original, quirky and, most of all, fun! Don?t you want to chuckle and slap your forehead over its simplicity? You could have thought of it?but you didn?t. The story of Detroit native James Robertson, however, tugs at the heartstrings. He?s relatable ? he could be a friend, neighbor or the coach of a neighborhood t-ball team. We want to help him just like we would a victim of crime or disaster, an injured animal or a decorated veteran looking to rejoin the workforce. Other stories focus on heroes ? a transplant donor, an anti-bullying advocate or the young man who befriended Mr. Robertson and launched a GoFundMe campaign on his behalf. Aren?t nonprofits full of compelling stories like this?

Fundraising is tough no matter how it?s done. With so many causes and organizations competing for dollars, a captivating story can go a long way toward breaking through the noise. While nonprofits can and should use stories to motivate giving, even the best stories have a shelf life. The lesson here is to strike while the iron is hot. That is exactly what a crowdfunding campaign is set up to do.

First, crowdfunding efforts are typically finite. They will end ? and this is important to donors who prefer not to hear from you every month until they die. Second, they create a sense of urgency. In a typical scenario, donors know they can give at any time of year and that makes it easier to shrug it off. Remember, people are good. They want to help, but they also get caught up in the craziness of their lives. When time is a factor, action is easier to inspire.

Finally, the best stories are stories of impact and the best campaigns are those with a clear goal. Whether the campaign is for a nonprofit or a for-profit company, supporters want to see how their gift will make a difference. They want to be a part of something. They want a cause to stand behind. Successful crowdfunding campaigns not only set clear financial goals, but also describe the outcome they hope to achieve. Furthermore, they tend to break down their ?ask? into bite-sized pieces, defining opportunities for donors of all giving levels.

The campaigns for James Robertson and the potato salad were also updated frequently. Supporters could follow along from the first post all the way to the end, where they can see Mr. Robertson getting into his new car or the unveiling of a $55,000 potato salad recipe. See the tracker for the Richmond Cycling Corps?s recent indiegogo campaign ? donors were able to view the amount raised in real-time as RCC worked to meet a defined goal that would enable the team to hire a new staff member.

At some point in time, we all have heard a story, witnessed a story or become part of a story that warmed or broke our hearts. The question is ? how often did it motivate us to act? How many more people would step up to help if only they knew how? Nonprofits have a unique platform to share their passions and their stories, all while enlisting others to join the cause. Crowdfunding is a powerful way to become part of something new, innovative or transformational. Sometimes, it even offers an opportunity to change lives.

Want more tips for online campaigns?

Read – Tech Tips: 12 Online Fundraising Best Practices

Want to know about LOCAL giving platforms and resources?

Read this post about our past event featuring local giving platforms


GiveRichmond/GiveSouthsideVA is a program of The Community Foundation serving Richmond & Central Virginia (TCF). As strategic partners with ConnectVA, TCF and GiveRichmond/GiveSouthsdeVA encourage smart giving by identifying trends and success stories in local philanthropy through their Giving Smart blog series. If you have ideas about topics you would like to have covered, please comment below!


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