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6 Tips for Making Your First Crowdfunding Campaign a Success

Editor's Note: A version of this post originally appeared on Green Impact.

Today, more and more nonprofits and universities are turning to online crowdfunding to support projects, research, and entrepreneurship. In January a Forbes article reported that 2013 “yielded an estimated $5 billion in global crowdfunding with about 30 percent of that total going to social causes.”  When many people make a small donation, magic can happen.

In the spring of this year, Green Impact had the opportunity to support the Haas School of Business Center for Responsible Business (CRB) design and launch its first crowdfunding campaign.  The campaign was a great success, raising over $125,000, which was matched by an alumnus, bringing the total support to over $250,000 for the Haas Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) Fund.  As reported in Haas Newsroom,  “The crowdfunding platforms aim to attract engagement and financial support for research and innovation, community activity, and entrepreneurial ventures that typically fall between the campus normal funding methods and models.”

Is crowdfunding for you?  A crowdfunding campaign might make sense if:

  • You want to raise money for a specific project or campaign;

  • You can create a sense of urgency within a specific period of time—for example, matching funds will be offered for the next six weeks;

  • You have an existing network of supporters you can tap into; and

  • You have the staff capacity to manage the campaign.

Haas chose the ScaleFunder platform, a crowdfunding provider that focuses on nonprofit, university, and technology funding. UCLA is also using the platform for UCLA Spark, an online crowdfunding platform aimed at providing critical fundraising support for innovative projects by UCLA faculty and official student organizations.Other popular platforms include Kickstarter,Indiegogo, and CauseVox. Check out How to Use Crowd-Funding Sites to Raise Money for Your Non-Profit for more details on the different platform options.

As I reflect back on the campaign, I offer six tips to help you maximize the success of your first campaign:

  1. Make the Project a Priority for Staff

  2. Nurture Your Network Beforehand

  3. Develop a Marketing and Communications Strategy

  4. Create a Compelling Campaign Page

  5. Leverage Matching Funds

  6. Put A Face to the Campaign—Make it About People

1.  Make the Project a Priority for Staff

A critical success factor for the CRB campaign was a dedicated CRB project manager who had the capacity and relationships to manage the campaign actively.  Support from outside consultant like Green Impact is great when you have the resources, but don’t think about launching a campaign unless you have the internal capacity to manage the project.

Don’t underestimate how much work a campaign can be.  The tasks we completed in six weeks included:

  • Creating the marketing and messaging strategy;

  • Identifying targets;

  • Creating and organizing the perks;

  • Setting up the on-line campaign information and providing updates;

  • Promoting across multiple social media channels (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, email, blog);

  • Creating fresh blog stories to promote the campaign; and

  • Reaching out to strategic media contacts to get coverage.

2.  Nurture Your Network Beforehand

Another key to success was that CRB has an active network of alumni, board members, and other key partners who are enthusiastic about CRB’s mission.  Through personal contact, a regular newsletter, blog posts, and social media networks such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, its network is active and engaged, making it easier to rally support when it came time to launch the campaign.

3. Develop a Marketing and Communications Strategy

We crafted a short and targeted Marketing and Communications Strategy for the campaign that identified our goal, target audiences, key campaign elements, engagement strategies, messaging and a timeline. The key components we included were:

  • A campaign video to kick-off the campaign;

  • ScaleFunder website campaign description and updates;

  • CRB website updates;

  • Email outreach, including model language for “campaign cheerleaders” to help get the word out;

  • Donation perks;

  • iPhone video updates;

  • Blog posts; and

  • Social media updates (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn).

For the campaign video, we worked with TrimTab Media to create a short video.  It built on existing footage we had shot for a previous CRB video, so it was a low-budget item to produce.  To build momentum during the campaign, we used more casual iPhone video updates of alumni and students speaking about why the Haas SRI Fund was important to them.  You can check out some of the videos we used to promote the campaign here.  We were advised, and I would agree, that for these types of campaign updates, less polished videos work just fine.  With a few tweaks in iMovie we were off and running.

4. Create a Compelling Campaign Page

You can check out the campaign page we created here. As mentioned above, we created a short and sweet video to help us kickoff the campaign. The description emphasized contributions would make a difference and included model language, asking supporters to help get the word out about the campaign via Twitter and Facebook.

CRB staff tapped into its network to create a robust set of perks for donors.  The $50 gift certificate from Levi Strauss & Co. to buy a pair of their Water<less™ or Waste<less™ jeans at the $100 level was popular.

The campaign was only for six weeks, creating a sense of urgency.

5.  Leverage Matching Funds

Haas alumnus Charles Michaels generously offered to provide matching funds to the campaign, making it even more compelling to ask others to donate.  In addition, don’t forget about employee matching funds–many corporations will match employee donations.  This provided the Haas campaign an additional $13,555.

6. Put A Face to the Campaign—Make it About People

Last, but not least, is the suggestion that you find a frame and story that is not about your organization, but about your mission and the people you serve.  The CRB campaign was about elevating student learning, as well as shaping the future of sustainable finance.  We incorporated blog posts and video clips from alumni as well as engaged students to create short videos. As an added perk, CRB was successful in gaining media attention for the Haas SRI Fund and the campaign, including an article that ran in the Guardian Sustainable Business.
Deborah Fleischer

Deborah Fleischer is founder and president of Green Impact, a strategic sustainability consulting practice that helps companies walk the green talk. She helps companies design and launch new green strategies and programs, as well as communicate about successes. She is a GRI-certified sustainability reporter and LEED AP with a Master in Environmental Studies from Yale University and over 20-years of direct experience working on sustainability-related challenges in both the public and private sectors. She brings deep expertise in sustainability strategy, stakeholder engagement, program development and written communications.

Deborah has helped to design and implement numerous successful cross-sector partnerships and new green initiatives, including the California Environmental Dialogue, Curb Your Carbon and the Institute at the Golden Gate.

She has helped create lasting alliances among such organizations as Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy with companies such as Disney, Arco, Bank of America and Passport Resorts.

You can follow her occasional tweet @GreenImpact or contact her directly at Deborah@greenimpact.com.

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