Disclaimer: In writing this post, I am drawing off of my experience as a fundraiser. Some of my friends have or currently have crowdfunding campaigns that are ongoing, and this is not meant to be hurtful, discouraging, or critical – I want you to be successful and I hope this will help!
Social media and email are flooded with requests to give to causes on GoFundMe, Kickstarter, IndieGoGo. These crowdfunding sites (and others) have been around for a while now, but they’re really gaining mass popularity, especially when we hear about fantastic causes that raise $1 million in a single day! So you, like me, are probably thinking about how we could do the same thing (or at least raise a little bit of money)… because after all, who doesn’t have a wish list of things they’d like to do that they can’t fund?
I raise money for a living – I am the Development Director at a non-profit performing arts organization. I also donate to a variety of causes that are important to me. In addition, I have given toward good causes on crowdfunding websites, so let me say straight out: I am in support of fundraising and donating! Giving is one of the most impactful ways that you can make a difference in the world. In my job, I get to work with the most generous people who give of their wealth, time, energy, and talents. Every day in a job like mine is inspiring.
The cool thing about crowdfunding is that it empowers the individual with a simple, online means of raising funds. It gives entrepreneurs an opportunity to find investors they might not otherwise reach, family members to give aid to their loved ones with significant needs, and donors an opportunity to be a part of something they believe in at an affordable level (or lots of causes they believe in!)… this is a GOOD thing and it is being used well by many, many people. Organizations like mine have even started to embrace crowdfunding as a means to fund projects that might otherwise not be funded – one-time, exciting ideas that they can communicate to a larger audience that they might not otherwise reach. Most of all, crowdfunding has engaged millennials as donors and THAT is a fundraiser’s biggest challenge, to engage people with no time or money as donors. Crowdfunding rocks… when done well.
So, before you start that Kickstarter project, I’d like to encourage you to ask yourself a few simple/crazydifficult questions:
Who does this project benefit?
People don’t actually like to give away their money, but they do like to invest in things/people/ideas they value or they think merit the worth of their hard-earned dollars. The most successful crowdfunding campaigns have either a large impact (the benefits of the completed project will directly help a large group of people) or they have a deep impact (the benefits of the completed project will greatly change the life of the beneficiary). Unfortunately, your summer program in Europe is actually only going to impact you, and while it will likely be a very special time for you, it’s not going to deeply change the course of your life. This is the thing you need to get a second job to pay for, not the thing you should ask your friends & family to fund.
Why is the cause worthy?
Will this campaign actually do what you’re setting out to do? Can you be sure? If you can’t, why do you feel that it’s worthy, and why should I also feel that way? It is crucial that you tell me in a way that doesn’t use vocabulary that is exclusively used by people in your field/position (for those of you in the arts “intrinsic benefit” needs to be cut out of your vocabulary, for those of you in missions, your jargon is “kingdom importance”). This is the challenge I see my friends who are in missions work face the most, because the spiritual benefit of a missions trip is very difficult to measure, especially in short-term missions. If you’re raising support for a cause that you can’t answer this question for in 1-2 sentences, and then be able to write for 1-2 pages expanding on that answer, then you need to put the brakes on and figure out this answer immediately.
Why should anyone give?
This is the toughie – fundraisers make their career into understanding donor motivations because, the truth is, everyone is a little different. Successful campaigns in the non-profit world are all about communicating the stories of the people benefitting from the work of the organization. Crowdfunding has the opposite problem: when you crowdfund, the people who benefit are the most visible, but it is your job to bridge for your donor the gap between the problem you have and the reason it’s their problem to solve. I recently saw a kickstarter asking for funding for a friend to participate in a professional summer arts program… wait, what? If it’s professional, shouldn’t you be paid, eliminating the reason for me to give? And if you’re not, isn’t it the program’s job to raise those funds, not yours? This particular campaign didn’t even address that fact, and the giving in response was poor.
Does a solution to your problem already exist?
The thing that turns me off about crowdfunding is that in many cases it is superfluous to the work of nonprofits who already exist, and is ultimately competing for the same funds. Moreover, in many cases the crowdfunding campaign is the brainchild of a small number, not under the guidance of a team. Our nonprofit works with nearly 400 households who donate annually, under the wisdom and guidance of a board of nearly 25 community and business leaders, with a staff of 12, a corps of 200 volunteers; because of those individuals, our organization is able to impact 48,000 people in our region each year. There is strength in numbers! So, before you crowdfund, I urge you to do your homework and see if you could pour your energy into and connect your network to a non-profit that already has established a foundation for solving this problem. If there is, please consider doing so instead of competing against them.
Have your answers? I think you know what to do – go change the world! Immediately!
Thanks for reading.