For many professionals like you, life at a nonprofit is a constant balancing act—balancing management with leadership, balancing program delivery with fundraising, balancing operations/administration with outreach. Inherent in this balance is a willingness to always be exploring what is edgy and cool (particularly in fundraising) while still keeping your core development fundamentals strong.
With that in mind, we wanted to provide a few thoughts on crowdfunding. This is the practice, either based on a campaign on your own site or more likely through the portal of one of the sites established for this purpose, of raising a large number of small gifts over a short period from a field of new donors. We’ve done some research and offer a few suggestions.
1. Spoiler alert: it’s not “free money.” There are usually fees involved. It’s also not likely to be a sustainable revenue stream, but that is inherent in its structure.
2. A readable overview of the topic can be found here. Possibly better than the article are the posted observations from your peers that follow, so be sure to take the time to read those.
3. It’s worth dipping your toe in the pool. Unlike some fundraising tactics, trying a crowdfunding blitz can be a one-time event for you, or could become a stand-alone annual tactic with a theme, i.e., Back to School if you’re serving K-12 students.
4. If you decide to consider crowdfunding as reliable/sustainable fundraising strategy, however, it has got to be supported with a range of aligned messages through other channels. For example, crowdfunding is a perfect complement to satellite “hubs,” i.e., geographically diverse circles of supporters who are passionate about your cause on college campuses, other cities, etc.
5. Like all forms of social media, it requires commitment over the longer term. Make sure that a steady focus on useful content on your web site, Twitter account, Pinterest board, blog, enewsletter, and online campaign management are formally assigned responsibilities, not something someone on your team does “when they have time.”
6. Be sure to weave experimenting with new online approaches into your larger donor development strategy. If you’re working with a classic donor pyramid, crowdfunding will build small, first-time donors. (The harder part will be converting those potentially impulsive givers into true believers who make subsequent, larger gifts.) And if you’re specifically targeting younger adults, obviously keeping on top of new practices in online development is key.
7. Don’t quit your day job. In other words, raising money in innovative ways online is a fine idea, often a tremendous idea, for our sector. But it is not a magic wand for all that is currently challenging you in development; consistently, continuously ask yourself and your board: what is working that we should do more of? What is not working that should be scaled back and discontinued? Do not wait until annual budget time to have these conversations.
8. Never forget the fundamentals: Face to face meetings with prospects and major donors. Solid, consistent, repeated messaging through a variety of means. Measuring the true impact of your work, reported in a timely manner with both data and context.
9. Crowdsourcing is a broader term for the explosion of solving problems, identifying resources and performing work collaboratively online. You might consider harnessing this power for things other than simply donations—like finding out how other organizations in your broader industry are meeting operational barriers. For a great overview, invest a few minutes on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crowdsourcing).
10. Share what you learn! Help RMA help you and the thousands of nonprofit professionals who read Rich TIPS. We’re on this learning curve together.