Crowdfunding Campaigns for Nonprofits: Giving Tuesday and Beyond

By Rob Ruchotzke, Consultant

There’s nothing like a crowdfunding campaign to capture a moment, build your donor base, or raise money for a specific project. I’ve had the opportunity to lead over 30 crowdfunding projects ranging in goal from $1,000 to $50,000, as well as seven days of giving and Giving Tuesday campaigns. Each project had its unique set of challenges and opportunities that led to the insights I am pleased to share with you below. 

Crowdfunding allows you to galvanize your existing supporters and leverage your constituents and their social media networks to expand your reach faster than traditional annual giving methods like phonathons or direct mail campaigns. Plus, crowdfunding can be fun. When people see you and your followers having fun with a campaign, they are more likely to engage. 

Crowdfunding is most successful when executed over a designated time period or on a single “Day of Giving,” such as Giving Tuesday. Giving Tuesday falls on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving (November 29, 2022) and is recognized around the world as a day to make contributions to nonprofit organizations. On Giving Tuesday 2021, nearly $3 billion was raised in the United States alone. 

How to run a successful crowdfunding campaign

Set Campaign Messaging

Your goal can be a specific number of donors or a dollar amount, but it must be attainable, relevant, and time-bound. Create a unique, authentic tagline to communicate your goal and a dedicated landing page or fundraising platform that you can link to in all of your messages. Plan to share stories online along the way. 

  • Consultant Tip: Campaign video teasers sent via email and social media are effective ways to build anticipation before your campaign launch. Here is an example of a crowdfunding campaign teaser video from a university where I worked. When we encouraged reactions and responses to our posts, people were more likely to spread our message.

Build Your Team

Recruit a leader to manage the progress of internal staff members, volunteers, and “star” ambassadors. Who is best suited for planning and who for execution? Who is motivated and will stay engaged? What connections to social media “stars” do you have on your Board who would be willing to make a gift, post about their contribution on their social networks, and help increase organic engagement?

  • Consultant Tip: Track which of your ambassadors brought in the most new donors or overall dollars and create a leaderboard to generate healthy competition within your team to increase gifts.

Find the Right Partner

Crowdfunding can be part of your larger annual giving strategy. Partnering with an expert who understands the planning, marketing, fundraising, and strategic moves that crowdfunding requires will make your effort run smoothly and give you confidence. 

  • Consultant Tip: Set aside time to meet with an account manager for each of the platforms you use including your customer relationship management (CRM) and bulk email platform, direct mail vendor, texting application, and giving page. Make sure you understand what tools you have at your disposal and how to use them to make your campaign really shine.

Set a Timeline

Once you determine your crowdfunding approach, it is crucial to plan when, what, and where you will post your campaign goals and progress updates. Creating a timeline can help your team see the bigger picture, generate new ideas throughout the process, and stay on schedule with timely communications. 

Create Urgency

Crowdfunding is most effective when you have a compelling and urgent need to entice donors, many of whom may not yet be associated with your organization. One or more of your donors may be willing to encourage others to give to your crowdfunding effort by making a challenge gift and calling for matching gifts. 

  • Consultant Tip: In advance of launch day, meet with potential major donors to “seed” the campaign with early donations. This early support will encourage more people to get involved, especially when you have a challenge gift. During a designated day, time challenges can also be effective, such as a “Rush Hour Challenge” or “School’s Out Challenge” or a “Members Only Challenge.” 

Drive Momentum

Your crowdfunding campaign success will be defined by how constituents drive the momentum via social media. Harness your ambassadors and keep the online engagement moving with timely messages, videos, and updates along the way. Use a multi-channel communications strategy to reach people in more than one way.

  • Consultant Tip: Plan for the unexpected. Your campaign could go viral if a megastar or influencer gets on board. Be ready to react in real time and ride the wave to success.

Make It Easy

Donors want to click, give, share, and receive acknowledgement and campaign updates. Make the path to sharing your content simple and approachable both for your team and the public. 

Prioritize Stewardship

Plan stewardship well in advance of launch day so that you can thank donors along the way. Enlist ambassadors, staff, and volunteers to help with a letter writing campaign or thank-you video in addition to your regular tax receipt acknowledgement. 

  • Consultant Tip: Show the impact! Record a video capturing the excitement on a day of giving or the results of the gifts that have been made – check out this example of a personalized video I received when I made a contribution during a crowdfunding campaign.

Analyze

Debrief, learn, and adapt for future programs using quantitative and qualitative data. Create tracking mechanisms in advance of your campaign. Use solicitation codes and set up a campaign tracking sheet so you can understand which channels and outreach tactics were most successful. 

Crowdfunding takes effort, but can have an immediate impact on your organization and be incredibly satisfying when done correctly. Reach out today to learn more about how CFA can help your organization succeed in your crowdfunding and annual giving efforts.


Rob Ruchotzke

Rob Ruchotzke, Consultant

Rob Ruchotzke focuses on annual giving strategy, development assessments, campaign feasibility studies, and campaign counsel. Rob comes to CFA with nearly a decade of annual giving experience in higher education institutions. Most recently, Rob served as the director of annual giving at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI), where he led multi-channel campaigns, developed crowdfunding platforms, managed annual giving vendors, and served as the strategy lead for UNI’s Day of Giving (#LivePurpleGiveGold).

A native of Camanche, Iowa, Rob holds a BA in Public Relations from the UNI and resides in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

How to Write a Fundraising Case Statement: 10 Steps

Your organization has an inspiring vision and is ready to raise big money to make it a reality, but you aren’t quite sure of the communications approach to donors. Would punchy, bold language add to your fundraising appeal or turn prospects away? Should you print hundreds of fancy brochures or create a campaign website? Do you need a theme separate from your annual fund or marketing slogan? This is where a fundraising case statement comes into play.

A case statement—also referred to as a case for support—is your best communication tool for a fundraising campaign. It indicates to prospective donors what you hope to accomplish with their philanthropic dollars in both a pragmatic and an emotional way. It also ensures that everyone on your campaign team—your executive director, board members, staff, and volunteers—is aligned with your messaging.

Tailor Your Messaging

Your case statement must be tailored to your brand, campaign, and, most importantly, your audience.

Consider the questions your audience will want to know:

  • What is your organization’s “big idea”?
  • Why does this idea matter, and who will it impact?
  • Why is your organization the right one to implement the big idea?
  • What will it take to reach success?
  • Why is now the right time?

10 Steps for Building Your Fundraising Case Statement for Support

Articulating your organization’s distinct values and vision is vital to raising money consistently and effectively. There are several steps that you can take regardless of the size of your organization or the scope of your campaign when building your case:

  1. Gather background. Reflect on your organization’s brand and strategic plan and how they integrate into your fundraising approach. If you have had a fundraising advisor conduct a campaign study, incorporate recommendations from the feasibility study report.
  2. Build a team. Host a kickoff meeting for a small team of internal and external stakeholders with whom you will collaborate as you develop content. Be proactive in asking for your team’s input and always be open to their feedback.
  3. State your timeline. Determine a timeline for content production. A case statement can take anywhere from two to six months to develop, design, and print.
  4. Determine structure. Decide what structure you think is best for your audience and whether to go digital first or have it professionally printed.
  5. Write an outline. I cannot overestimate how important an outline is to the case building process, especially for managing word count.
  6. Interview key figures. Campaign leadership, the people you serve, and notable community members will help you make your case.
  7. Create a memorable campaign theme. My most important piece of advice when developing a campaign theme is that it suggests to the donor how they can take the organization to the next level.
  8. Insist on an appealing design. Having a distinct look from everything else the organization is putting out will ensure the campaign is viewed as the special effort that it truly is.
  9. Use clear and compelling language. Communicate your organization’s primary campaign priorities and the impact that donated dollars will make.
  10. Make the ask. Bolster your conversations and grant proposals with philanthropic language throughout your case statement to reinforce the message that this effort is only possible through leading donations. Why not start with, “Join us”?

If you are interested to learn more about how CFA can help your organization succeed, please reach out.


Pressley Peters is an award-winning writer specializing in philanthropy and marketing. She has written for numerous CFA clients including the Entertainment Community Fund, Friends of St. Paul Public Library, Headlands Center for the Arts, Lundstrum Performing Arts, North Carolina Museum of Art, Project Angel Food, and United Theology Seminary. She is a graduate of Rhodes College and calls Dallas, Texas home. Pressley can be found at pressleypeters.com.

Donor Cultivation & Stewardship: Key Steps in the Donor Cycle

The Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota is expanding its outdoor nature play adventure opportunities for children and families through philanthropy. The museum is a compelling example of how intentionally following the steps of a donor cycle – especially adding cultivation and stewardship strategies to your solicitation process – can reap larger gifts and repeat donors. 

Speaking of nature, you can think of a donor cycle as analogous to the water cycle of our planet, where rainwater feeds land, streams, and oceans, and the sun continues the process via evaporation. Just as the water cycle ensures the planet’s sustainability, following all the steps within the philanthropic gift cycle—donor identification, qualification, cultivation, solicitation, closure, and stewardship—can ensure the health of your nonprofit ecosystem. 

By following CFA’s Guide to the Major Gifts Cycle, nonprofits can shepherd donors through the stages of philanthropy to build sustainable, long-term relationships. While the major gifts cycle contains distinct steps, the stages of cultivation and stewardship encompass ongoing activities that are integral to retaining a donor network with recurring and increased gifts. Employing cultivation and stewardship strategies can allow your organization to execute a more predictable and sustainable fundraising plan.

Donor Cultivation Strategies

Cultivation is the process of relationship building with a donor or prospect leading up to an ask. Cultivation includes personal visits, calls, emails, and events to engage the prospect and help match their interests with the needs of your organization. In addition to the executive leadership and development staff, board members play a pivotal role in the cultivation process by helping to champion your mission. 

There are many ways to engage donor prospects through cultivation. A board member, executive director, or development officer can, for example, invite and accompany a prospect to an upcoming event and introduce them to the organization’s key constituents; organize a coffee or lunch with a prospect to share targeted updates on the organization’s programming and progress on strategic planning milestones; and/or send periodic formal communications, such as newsletters or annual reports, to prospects accompanied by a handwritten note for a personal touch. The cultivation stage can be lengthy and there is no need to rush it. There is a need, however, to track your moves. Consistently communicating the current status of each prospect as you progress through the gift cycle provides structure and consistency within your fundraising team.

Recommended Reading: How to Activate Your Strategic Plan for Fundraising Success

Stewardship Strategies

Stewardship refers to how an organization thanks donors and communicates how their generosity made an impact on the people and community an organization serves. While a prompt acknowledgment letter (mailed or electronic) is essential for tax reporting purposes, an organization can also engage with donors on a more personal level through handwritten notes, phone calls, donor appreciation events, and one-on-one meetings. Thoughtful gestures such as these are appreciated, especially with major gifts. 

Donors are attracted to visionary organizations and are personally rewarded when they can see the demonstrated impact of their contributions. Ask community members or other stakeholders who have been directly impacted by your organization to share their gratitude through a direct phone call or personal note to the donor. If your organization has completed a campaign to build or renovate facilities, invite donors to an insider tour. If you have created a donor wall or naming opportunity for their gift, invite donors to an unveiling. Personalized attention will show the measure of your gratitude, and staying in touch will keep a donor informed of their continued impact. Remember, your next gift is a well-stewarded one.

Donor Cultivation & Stewardship Case Study

The Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota (CMSM) is a one-of-a-kind museum, and its creative approach draws visitors from all over the Midwest. CMSM engaged CFA to conduct a Development Assessment as they sought a more sustainable platform for raising money. One of CFA’s recommendations was that board members become more invested in the relationship-building necessary to garner larger and repeat donations. Specifically, we suggested segmenting appeals into two seasons, adding a dynamic major gifts strategy, and hosting donor appreciation events. With CFA’s guidance, CMSM set forth a new leadership giving group, the Ignite Society, named after the driving force of CMSM’s mission “to ignite the curiosity of every child.”

CEO Lou Dickmeyer joined CMSM in 2019 and shepherded the organization through a pandemic closure and reopening. She said, “There’s so much support and passion for the Museum, it’s an easy ask, but we had not been sophisticated about telling our story. Our new Ignite Society has led us down a path where we more deeply engage our donors and increase conversation of what their dollars can do.”

As part of cultivation and stewardship efforts, CMSM offered a special donor event for Ignite Society members, a newsletter with behind-the-scenes details on exhibits and programs, and an in-person preview of the museum’s new exhibits. The Ignite Society grew to over 140 people within its first year.  

“Working with CFA has deepened my understanding of how important it is to cultivate relationships and keep donors informed of what we’re doing,” Dickmeyer added. “We now have a clear line of sight to what success can be and how to get there. They helped us ready ourselves for a bold and strategic move to the next level.”

It is exceedingly difficult to secure multiple gifts from the same person or organization without the personal touches involved in cultivation and stewardship. If you are eager to learn more about how CFA can help your organization succeed through cultivation and stewardship, please reach out.


Jake Muszynski, Principal

Since joining CFA in 2018, Muszynski has headed more than 20 projects throughout the country, including multi-year engagements with Dodge Nature Center, New Mexico School for the Arts, Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota, Grief Club of Minnesota, and School for Advanced Research. Muszynski also has led more than a dozen clients through CFA’s campaign feasibility study process, testing over $150 million in potential campaigns. 

Muszynski began his career in higher education, serving as a major gifts officer at the University of Northern Iowa. He moved to the University of Minnesota where he led fundraising efforts for the Arts Quarter of the College of Liberal Arts. A native of Perham, Minnesota, Muszynski holds a bachelor’s degree in communication from Concordia College. He and his wife have two children and share a love of folk and jazz music.

Dodge Nature Center’s Transformative Campaign Thrives Amid Pandemic

Dodge Nature Center kicked off its largest-ever fundraising campaign in September 2020. This was as the United States was six months into the global pandemic and people throughout the country were feeling great economic pain.

And yet, this environmental education center headquartered in a small suburb of St. Paul launched the public phase of a $40 million campaign, with nearly 75% of the funding already secured. How did they do it? According to Dodge Executive Director Jason Sanders, the key was listening to the right people.

“Our initial intention was to raise $15 million for a new property in Cottage Grove, Minn., in order to build a new preschool facility there and make improvements to our main property,” Sanders explains. “After listening to our most committed donors, board members, staff, and expert campaign counsel, we realized we could and should do far more than we ever thought possible. The vision for the campaign significantly expanded from modest capital improvements to securing funds to ensure this 52-year old institution would be vital for another 50 years and beyond.”

Sanders and his team partnered with Creative Fundraising Advisors throughout the development and launch of the campaign called Nourishing Everyone’s Need for Nature. Given that much of the campaign was developed pre-pandemic, Dodge’s experience pivoting its plan and adjusting to a virtual environment for prospect cultivation and solicitation can be a case study for organizations considering a major campaign.

Start with a Solid Vision

In the fall of 2018, Sanders and the board were considering plans for Dodge’s Shepard Farm property. Since receiving the property in 2013, they had been maintaining it and making small upgrades. However, they knew it could be more closely aligned with the other properties, and they started contemplating a capital campaign.

“We were getting real momentum internally for the idea of building a preschool there,” says Sanders. “Our West St. Paul preschool is hugely popular, and it was appealing to replicate that program at Shepard Farm.” Sanders and the board asked CFA to help explore the idea. “CFA was knowledgeable about conservation and education, but they had enough distance from our normal operations that they were able to challenge assumptions, to bring perspective, and to ask hard questions.’’

“It’s really important to get boards and leadership teams aligned before kicking off a big campaign,” says CFA Vice President Jake Muszynski, who led the work with Dodge. “In order to do that, we stepped back from the campaign idea and held a workshop to help all the major stakeholders come into agreement around the future of Dodge. And what we found was, opening a new preschool in another community was not central to their shared vision.”

“The vision workshop was really enlightening,” Sanders says. “We did a lot of small group work to be sure that everyone’s voice was heard. Collectively, our priorities are to expand and impact the lives of thousands more visitors, to preserve and protect the original vision of our founder, Olivia Irvine Dodge, and to be a significant force in educating future generations about environmental education. A new preschool in a new community might be a priority at some point, but we realized it wasn’t where we wanted to start.”

Sanders worked with his board and leadership team to expand on the vision they had established in the workshop. Based on those discussions and recommendations from CFA, Dodge decided to test a $15 million campaign focused on growing Dodge’s endowment, investing in capital improvements, and supporting the annual fund.

“We were focused on the endowment because we know we don’t need big buildings,” Sanders says. “We exist to get people outside, and we don’t want to devote big dollars to buildings and drywall. Because we knew our ‘Why,’ our priorities for the campaign were clear.”

Validate Your Case with Donors

Sanders then asked CFA to conduct a feasibility study, which included conversations with top donors to see if the goals of the campaign were compelling. “Feasibility studies are all about fact-finding, understanding potential investors’ support for the vision of the campaign, and positioning the organization for success,” Muszynski says. “Organizations discover how motivated their donors are, and sometimes they find out that they won’t attract major gifts.”

For the study, Muszynski and CFA President Paul Johnson crafted a summary of the case for the campaign, screening and interviewing potential donors. It soon became clear that the board’s vision and campaign goals were right on track.

The feasibility study had another powerful outcome: a $22 million lead gift from a long-time supporter. This gift changed the entire dynamic of the project and led Dodge to increase the scope of the campaign to $40 million.

“We really appreciated CFA leading us through that feasibility study,” Sanders says. “We knew we wanted to talk to our nearest friends, and it was incredible to find out that we could secure a lead gift that was larger than the initial scope of the campaign. Because of the study, we knew we could ask for enough to protect our endowment, to secure our annual fund, and to invest in capital improvements as dictated by our strategic planning, not limited to a specific site. This all will help us ensure that Dodge is healthy and able to serve the community for at least 50 more years.”

“A rigorous feasibility study is absolutely critical for a successful campaign,” says Johnson. “You get rich input from your supporters, uncover unrecognized needs and opportunities, and sometimes you learn enough to know you’re not really ready to go forward.”

Ask for Major Gifts

By mid-2019, with an ambitious plan developed and a significant lead gift secured, Dodge was ready to move into the quiet phase of its campaign.

After the lead donor, the first significant gift conversation was with Minnesota philanthropists Si and Vicki Ford. Vicki is the niece of founder Olivia Irvine Dodge, and in 2000, the Fords had established the preschool in West St. Paul. They had been part of the feasibility study and had expressed interest in contributing to the campaign. “But when we went back to them with our vision and showed them our path to $40 million, they became even more inspired,” Muszynski recalled.

They found the vision so compelling that they committed $5 million to the campaign, and Vicki signed on as a campaign co-chair. “The size and scope of our campaign, and our ability to show how we would get to the $40 million, really drove their interest and their level of commitment,” Muszynski says.

Plan For Anything

When the U.S. started feeling the effects of the pandemic earlier this year, there was significant concern about moving forward with the campaign. In March, as schools and businesses shut down, the team stopped soliciting major gifts.

After the first few weeks, people were encouraged to get outside. “You couldn’t gather but you could get outside safely, so we saw people coming to Dodge,” Sanders says. “We were seeing new people on our trails, and we had great attendance at our online “lunch and learns” with our naturalists. Our mission was right in line with what people needed. We knew we had a responsibility to protect our ability to do that, which meant pressing on with the campaign.”

Increased attendance was proof of Dodge’s value to the community, while the organization also had data from the feasibility study that confirmed the great level of commitment of their donors.

“When the team considered whether to delay or to lower the goal, we had the data,” Muszynski says. “We kept showing the numbers and our fundraising pipeline. With that assessment we could move forward confidently, knowing that our ask was not tone deaf and that donors would prioritize Dodge.”

While Covid-19 forced shifts in operations, the fundraising program was able to continue largely as planned because the campaign was so clearly connected to the larger vision for Dodge. Not every organization is in that position, and that uncertainty can make planning difficult.

“The best solution we can offer for that is scenario planning,” says Johnson. “We work with clients to think through their long-term plans and to consider what they would do if there is no vaccine, or if a completely new disruption were to hit. When we imagine how we would handle major disruptions, we are able to be nimble, no matter what comes at us. And we account for those possibilities as we approach our strategic plans and feasibility studies.”

Support the Development Team

The launch of the public phase of Nourishing Everyone’s Need for Nature was slated for Sept. 17. It became an online event rather than a live gala, with videos, remarks from Sanders and other campaign leaders, and an online auction. As planning progressed, Dodge’s Development Director moved to another organization. Fundraising veteran Tony Grundhauser had recently joined CFA and stepped into the vacant seat on an interim basis. “He had a great background in environmental work and was a natural fit for Dodge,” Muszynski says. “He really reenergized the campaign from the inside during its quiet phase.”

The CFA team was able to lead launch efforts so seamlessly because of the close alignment it had with the campaign from the beginning. Also helpful was having in-house design capabilities and writers.

Ensure Top-Notch Execution for Public Phase

While Grundhauser worked with Sanders to call donors and secure large gifts, Muszynski focused on leading the planning for the public launch. He scripted and oversaw videos, arranged for the online auction, and coordinated design and web production along with CFA Creative Services Director Sara Johnson. “My primary focus was that we were going to be able to announce a very successful campaign,” Muszynski says.

The public launch of Nourishing Everyone’s Need for Nature took place, as scheduled, on Sept. 17, 2020, with its virtual gala and online auction. Remarkably, nearly 75% of the campaign was already secured, while the gala raised another $150,000 for Dodge (See the campaign collateral).

Executive Director Sanders is immensely pleased with the results of the campaign, for the funds it has raised so far and for the sense of focus the team has developed in the process. “We know who we are and what mission we’re serving,” Sanders explains. “Now we can look at our decisions more firmly through the lens of why we exist and how we protect our ability to give people access to nature.”