How to Crowdfund for New Donors and Dollars One Marching Band raised more than ever before

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UMN Band

Crowdfunding got its start as products and artists in need of capital turned to the masses online for support. Crowdfunding has taken off for nonprofits as a way to expand a donor base and tell fundraising stories in a new way. Crowdfunding allows you to galvanize existing supporters and expand your reach to new people faster through social media.

Case in Point

Before joining Creative Fundraising Advisors, I led development efforts for the University of Minnesota’s Arts Quarter, which includes the Marching Band. Most people do not know it costs about $100,000 to send a band on the road for a Big Ten football game. We had a plan to raise the funds, but a surprise came into play that catapulted us in a new direction: the band was invited to perform in the Super Bowl LII Halftime Show with Justin Timberlake. Our excitement was tempered with a requirement of secrecy: very few were “in the know” because the Halftime Show is supposed to be a surprise to the audience.

The Super Bowl opportunity opened up the crowdfunding opportunity. We had already developed our case for support and a preliminary prospect pool. The secrecy factor made setting up a crowdfunding campaign challenging, but we were able to announce the news to a select few donors, one of which was so excited by the idea that he agreed to match up to $100,000 of gifts raised via crowdfunding.

We launched the campaign the minute the band hit the field behind Timberlake. Assisted by the University of Minnesota Foundation (UMF), we emailed a wider-than-usual donor and alumni base to celebrate the moment. The dollars started rolling in immediately. What resulted was a crowdfunding campaign that raised $83,000 (which was matched) from over 600 donors. Approximately 20 percent were first-time donors to the University. As a result, the band just made their first regular season road trip in over 20 years.

Key Ingredients

Crowdfunding is a much more engaging and interactive vehicle for giving than the one-way messaging like direct mail, but it is important to be careful about how you implement it.

Leadership – Crowdfunding requires a leader with a keen eye for detail and willingness to devote a steady amount of time over the short life of a crowdfunding campaign. You must keep information fresh to keep momentum building.

Urgency – The band campaign combined a moment of pride for friends and alumni, a compelling and specific desired outcome, a sense of urgency tied to an event, and a generous match. Crowdfunding campaigns can do well with any one of those ingredients, but the combined force of all of them is powerful.

A Comprehensive Crowdfunding Plan – Because crowdfunding requires such a short window of time, donors engage heavily with the website and social media. Timely updates and compelling real-time stories about the campaign can lead donors to share more than once and make repeat gifts. Creating a timeline can help you see the bigger picture and spur new ideas in the process, plus keep your team on schedule for emails and posts.

Multi-channel Approach – While the focus of crowdfunding may be on social media or digital communication, a comprehensive, multi-channel approach will broaden your reach even further. Check out this example from Wartburg College. You might consider sending postcards timed to hit mailboxes the week your project launches, or use printed inserts in existing publications.

Important Lessons I Learned First-Hand

Do not Just Do It – Crowdfunding is only for when you have a compelling, specific, and urgent need that you are confident will entice donors not yet associated with your organization.

Capture Lead Time – Take time to develop engagement opportunities and ensure your messaging is consistent. Video teasers sent via email and social media are a great way to create a sense of excitement before launch.

Seed the Effort – Meet with potential major donors to “seed” the campaign with early donations. This allows visitors to your crowdfunding site to witness early support, which helps encourage their involvement. You can even plan seed gifts strategically to create momentum during periods of low activity. Plus, seed donors enjoy being involved in the process as early insiders.

Include Everyone – Avoid the mistake of holding off on approaching major donors because you have “other plans” for them. Crowdfunding is an interactive tool for fundraising and some of your largest gifts may come from your major donors.

Be flexible. Crowdfunding is about being prepared for the unexpected. Are you prepared to celebrate a big gift when an unknown donor steps up with a major gift? What will you do when your campaign stalls? Do you have videographers ready to capture relevant stories or writers ready to pen blog posts when shareable moments emerge? Plan to create an arsenal of marketable moments – videos from donors, written stories about beneficiaries, challenges – to inject real-time during the campaign in order to reignite sharing and gifts.

In the band example, we created a video of students and former members talking about travel. By sharing over social media after a “stall,” we raised an additional $30,000.

Get buy-in. Crowdfunding is at its best when the entire organization is on board. It can be hard to ask for money, but it’s easy to share online. When people witness passion from your organization’s closest constituents, they will want to be a part of your success. Consider recruiting some of your most influential donors as “ambassadors” for your project. Set clear expectations for ambassadors to post to their own social networks to broaden your reach and create more organic engagement.

Social Influence – Make sure your profiles are up to date and you have maximized your connections before you start asking for support. Check out this example from Dressember Foundation whose success has allowed them to raise seven figures annually.

Find the Right Partner – Partnering with an expert who understands the planning, marketing, fundraising and strategic moves that crowdfunding requires will make your effort run more smoothly and you more confident along the way.

Follow up. Crowdfunding is wildly successful because donors like to support specific projects or ideas, and read, hear, and see exactly what their money is supporting. Remember this when the campaign ends. Tell the follow-up story, thank donors often, and if you didn’t hit your goal, be prepared to share how funds will go to work.


Author: Jake Muszynski

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