How to Launch Your Successful Crowdfunding Campaign
This is an excerpt from Kristen Palana’s new book, Crowdfunding Confidential: Raise Money For You and Your Cause.
It’s Fundraising Time!
We’re halfway up the mountain already and yet I see you getting nervous. You’re looking at your fundraising goal thermometer and despite the fact we’ve put in lots of effort getting the project planned and set up, we’re still only at $0. It’s time now for us to finally launch this project and collect donations.
The good news is you are in the 10% minority of people trying to raise money online who thoughtfully planned out and set up a high quality campaign before rushing into the launch and fundraising phase. The advantage you have over the other 90% here is that by this point, your project speaks for itself once it launches. While you are sleeping tonight in fact, it’s entirely possible that someone might come across your project, be moved by your content, and will generously donate.
They really might.
The bad news is our work has only begun. I hate to be the one to tell you this, but no matter how good and worthy your project is, you STILL have to let people know about it and ask for donations.
This is where the people (like myself) who HATE asking for money from anyone often throw down the towel.
“But it’s the Internet!” you are protesting. “There are millions, even billions of people online and they all can donate a few cents and we’ll wildly go OVER our goal.”
That’s a very good point, but only people who have never tried to raise money online will ever say such a thing. The reality is that those millions of web surfers are too busy looking at Angry Cat images and poking people they’ve never met in person on Facebook to know or care about your project, let alone open up their wallets for it.
Unless your campaign gets featured on CNN or the local news tonight or is mentioned in a write-up in Time Magazine, chances are the only person who is going to be able to effectively drive traffic to your project and inspire donations to your cause is YOU.
At this point in our crowdfunding journey the only way to win is if your desire to see your project succeed is stronger than your fear or hatred of asking people for money.
Do we turn back or keep forging ahead? Stick with me and I’ll take you to the top.
Day 1: The Launch. (Again, A Job Well Begun Is a Job Half Done.)
The first day that your campaign goes live (or the day you re-launch a flailing campaign) is the most important. Today it’s not about how much money we raise, as important as that is, but rather HOW MANY people support your project right from the beginning. Anyone who has ever been to a Junior High School dance knows how awkward it can be to get the first few people out on the dance floor. Do you remember that group of four boys dragging their friend over to the red-faced girl surrounded by her giggling cohorts across the gym to try and get him to make the first move?
If you can coax a few people onto the dance floor, by the end of the night, everybody will join in. So what your campaign needs the first day it launches is SOCIAL PROOF. People above all else, need to see that YOU and at least a few other people care about this project before they will also come on board.
When To Launch
Crowdfunding platforms like Indiegogo.com and others have wonderful resources, blog articles, and the like for helping you succeed at meeting your fundraising goal. (Because if you make money, they too make money.)
One very helpful tidbit they dispatch is that the most successful crowdfunding campaigns launch on a Monday or early in the week.
I have some similar, but slightly different advice for your fundraising email campaign that we’ll get into later. I do thoroughly agree though that you want to avoid launching your project on a Friday night, Saturday, Sunday, or National Holiday when people are otherwise preoccupied.
If your project has chosen you, you might not have much say in what time of the year it launches, but if you do have some wiggle room about the timing, I recommend mid November- mid January during the so-called Season Of Giving (and tax deductions.)
Traditionally and also in my own personal experience, the most difficult time of the year for fundraising is June, July, and August. During this period of the year people are most often preoccupied with summer vacations, weddings, and are gearing up for back to school for themselves or their children.
I’ve personally had no choice with many of my projects to fundraise during these slower months so I can attest that success is still possible. Just be prepared for more of an uphill battle if this is also the case for you and your campaign.
Another issue that often comes up during a crowdfunding campaign is what is going on in the world on any given day. If a 7.5 earthquake has just devastated a major world city, you can bet that anyone inclined to donate to a worthy cause will be donating to support earthquake victims instead (as they should.)
In my eleven years of constant crowdfunding, these kinds of events are obviously unfortunate but also unavoidable.
The world is not going to stop turning while you are raising money online. If such a major disaster occurs during your project’s run, just pause your efforts for a few days or more and gently restart once the initial shock has worn off. After all, the large humanitarian organizations will provide the major help to millions. Your efforts are smaller but no less noble. You can remind your potential donors of this fact while also acknowledging world events and even provide useful links your donors can visit and help once they’ve supported your project first.
So once you’ve found the perfect Monday in November on a slow news-day to hit the “publish” or “go live” button on your campaign, what should you do next?
Getting Your First Donation
Donate! (Yes, I’m talking to you.) That’s right, I know we are here to get other people to support your project, but who wants to look at, let alone donate to a project with a big fat $0 raised so far? Not me. Not anyone, except maybe your Mom. (We’ll talk about her in a moment.)
First, you’ll need to set an example and donate $50, $25, or even just $10 to your own cause. It’s up to you if you want to put your name down. (I always do.) Some platforms give you the option to donate anonymously as well as decide if you want to reveal the exact amount donated or not.
Aside from giving your campaign a nice little first shot in the arm, your first donation also allows you to test and ensure that your online payment system is working. You wouldn’t want to find out later that people tried to donate but couldn’t because a link was broken or similar. It’s best to nip these things in the bud right away.
Congratulations! You’ve gotten your first donation. It’s the hardest and yet easiest one to get. Now we’ve got to get some more bodies out on the dance floor while the music is still playing.
Getting Supporters on the First Day
For the rest of the day (and then week) we are now going to let the world know about your project. Some of you will be delighted at how quickly the donations start rolling in. Others will be shocked at the apathy of the people closest to you. Most likely it’s not even anything personal. Your success or failure really depends on the nature and scope of your project + how and when you ask + whom you are asking +how determined and persistent you are.
I’ve been through ALL of it: the first burst of hope and enthusiasm, the surprising apathy of others, the lack of progress, the fear of failure, the re-burst of momentum, and later the glorious success of a completed project and interviews with podcasts, newspapers, and magazines asking me to recount how I helped make the world a better place.
After making the first donation, I recommend a heartfelt, but BRIEF and persuasive Facebook posting to your friends and network. Make sure you have an attention-grabbing visual and the link to your donation page. Use a line at the start or (preferably) end of your post that is a call to action. “Please support X by making a small gift of ANY amount, even $1 and/or sharing this campaign.”
There’s a wonderful article on CoSchedule.com called “Emotional Headlines Get Shared More on Social Media.”
I made my AUR (The American University of Rome) students use no less than two headline analyzer tools when we were setting up Yasini’s Education Project to ensure our headlines for both the project itself and the social media postings were hard-hitting and attention grabbing. By taking a little time to get the right combination of power words, you can propel your social media posting out there into cyberspace so it gets shared more frequently and gets in front of those who will care about and then donate to your campaign.
Use relevant hash tags if applicable such as #crowdfunding #charitytuesday (if it’s Tuesday), #autismresearch #education or whatever is relevant to your particular cause. Using hash tags allows for your posting to reach wider audiences who otherwise would never have stumbled across your project. (This is in fact how Lucia from Ngoni’s Project in Zimbabwe found me.)
Next take this same Facebook posting, reword it if necessary, make it 120 characters or less, and tweet it on Twitter. If you have a friend who is a social media maven, now is the time to enlist their services and have them shout out your project to their followers. Here, the more friends who can help spread the word, the better.
If you are also on LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+, Youtube, or other social media platforms, you can start sharing your campaign there as well. Also check out the wonderful Thunderclap.com (several days or weeks BEFORE your project launches for maximum effect) to learn about how you can harness the immense power of many people posting about your campaign to their various networks and followers at the same time in one glorious, coordinated “thunderclap” with little to no effort from everyone involved. Visit: http://thunderclap.it
Finally, please do be mindful that WHEN you post on social media is also very important. If your main target audience is in the USA, try posting at 11AM-12 PM (apparently a very popular time for people to engage with social media) or 2 or 3PM so you are catching most people across the various time zones as they are returning from lunch on a normal workday. If you are in Rome, Italy like I am, and want to catch Europeans, Africans, and North/South Americans at a good time, 6:30PM tends to work pretty well.
You might also consider making your post more than once to accommodate people in different time zones and there are free online resources like Buffer, Hootsuite, Post Planner, and others where you can preschedule your posts across a variety of social media platforms.
So to recap, for 90% of people crowdfunding online, this is the only “fundraising” they ever do. Just posting about your project via social media on the first day of your campaign is a great start for sure, but to get your very first supporters on Day 1 and beyond, you are going to need to do something else too.
Still, take a moment to pat yourself on the back. You’ve taken the leap. The wheels have been set in motion. If fortune is smiling on you, you could get featured on your platform’s home page, by an influential blog, or skyrocketed to instant notoriety through the right social media connection. And if you built your project well, your text, images, colors, layout, and video will do all the heavy lifting once people actually find your page to convert browsing viewers into donors.
You’ll probably notice at first, like my AUR students did in May, that you get lots of “likes” and shares on social media the first day, but perhaps less in the way of actual donations.
Social media likes and shares are all well and good, but this isn’t a popularity contest. We have a goal to reach and people to help, usually with an urgent deadline looming. So if you’ve gotten more hollers than dollars by this point, read on and let’s get your donor numbers up so that more people will join in later.
If you liked these tips, you can download a free sample from the new book, Crowdfunding Confidential: Raise Money For You and Your Cause.
Kristen Palana is an artist, author, and educator based in Rome, Italy and a tenured Associate Professor of Digital Media at The American University of Rome where she also runs its Film and Digital Media Program. She also teaches online to over 13K students on platforms such as Udemy, Skillshare, and through the UN-mandated University for Peace’s Centre For Executive Education. She has raised over $100K online since 2004 for 90+ housing, health, education, and income generation projects for needy children on five continents in her so-called spare time.