How to Use Crowd-Funding Sites to Raise Money for Your Non-Profit

by Joe Garecht

Crowd Funding

Of all the innovative advances in online fundraising over the past decade, one of the most impressive has to be the rise of crowd-funding websites.

Some of these sites, like Fundraise.com, CauseVox and Fundly were set up specifically to help non-profits raise money to support their causes.  Others, like Kickstarter and indiegogo, aren’t non-profit specific but have been used by charities to raise money to support their mission.  Today, let’s talk about crowd-funding websites for non-profits: what they are, and how your organization can use them to raise more money quickly and efficiently.

What Crowd-Funding Sites Are

While features differ from site to site, at their most basic crowd-funding sites are websites that allow your non-profit to set up an online fundraising campaign based around a fundraising page, and accept money directly from that page using the website’s own credit card processor.

Many of these sites will also allow individuals to set up fundraising pages on behalf of charities they want to support, and others will allow your non-profit to set up a master page for your campaign and then allow your supporters to set up tangential pages that they can use to get their friends and colleagues to donate a portion of the goal of your master campaign.

Some of the sites (like Kickstarter) are geared more towards producing tangible products, and thus are best used by charities like arts organizations working to fund a play or art exhibition.  Others (like CauseVox) are specifically for non-profits and thus can be used to support a wide-range of organizations.

Crowd-funding sites work best for funding specific projects or campaigns, and do not work well for general fundraising or things like annual giving.  Some of the above listed sites work well for raising money through events, as do event-specific websites such as EventBrite.

What Crowd-Funding Sites Are Not

Many non-profits that find out about crowd-funding websites get very excited and make the mistake of thinking that these sites are magical cures for all of their revenue woes.  Crowd-funding sites can be a huge help, but they are not a fundraising panacea.

For example, one of the great things about these websites is that once you get some traction on your campaign, other people from around the world may decide to donate solely based on the strength of your project.  That being said, don’t expect to slap up a fundraising campaign, go away for three weeks, then come back to find that you’ve raise $1 million.  It doesn’t work that way.  You’ll need to get the word our first, get some traction from your own supporters, and then you may get some unexpected help.

The best way to see what crowd-funding sites are all about is to go visit a few of the sites listed above, poke around and kick the tires.  Check out projects that are currently listed, and see what types of projects are getting funded, and which aren’t.  Doing so will give you a good insight into whether or not your fundraising campaign has a good chance of being funded through that site.

Which Crowd-Funding Site will Work For You?

If you’re interested in using a crowd-funding site for your next fundraising campaign, be sure to shop around.  Each site offers different features, costs, and benefits.  Here are some of the key things to watch out for:

1.  Look and Feel

What do the fundraising pages look like?  Are they appealing?  Will they be appealing to your donors?  How easily can you present your project given each site’s constraints and customs?  (For example, at KickStarter, a video is required for fundraising success.  At Fundraise.com, you’ll want compelling pictures, but won’t need a video).

2.  Ease of Use

How easy is it to set up a fundraising page?  Do you need to know HTML or have other technical skills to make your page look great?

3.  Payment Processing

What payment methods can donors use to make donations to your organization?  Do they take all major credit cards?  How about e-checks?  How long does it  take for donations made on the site to reach your organization’s bank account?

4.  Fees

What is the total cost of using this fundraising platform?  Is there a monthly fee? Set-up fees?  Credit card processing fees?  Fees for sending you a check or a statement?

5.  Marketing and Social Networking Capabilities

What tools does the site provide to help you spread the word about your fundraiser?  How easily is it to link and promote your fundraising page on social networking sites?  Can your supporters set up their own pages to support your cause, and have the money funneled back to you and apply to your overall fundraising goals?

6.  Traction

Does this site have traction?  (In other words, are people using this site to make donations, and are non-profits successfully raising money through this platform?)  You want to use a site that at least has a decent amount of traction and traffic.  Ideally, people come to the site to browse for causes to support… that way, you may get donations from folks who you don’t know, and who simply find you on the site.

Tips for Making the Most from Your Crowd-Fundraising Campaign

In order to maximize revenue from your crowd-funding campaign, be sure your non-profit does the following three things:

#1 – Create a Compelling Page

The best way to get new donors to support your cause through crowd-funding sites is by creating an emotional, compelling fundraising page.  Use pictures and videos where possible, tell an amazing story, and explain to people exactly how much you need and what the money will be used for.

#2 – Start With Your Own Network

It’s imperative to launch your online fundraising effort by reaching out to your own network.  Tell everyone you know about your campaign – including your donors, supporters, staff, volunteers, board, etc.  Ask them to e-mail out the campaign to everyone they know, and to ask their entire network to donate to the cause.  You won’t get donations from others on a crowd-funding site until you have a good amount of traction from your own network showing that you are serious.

#3 – Publicize the Effort

You also want to publicize your crowd-funding campaign as much as possible.  Put it on the front page of your website.  Link to it on your Facebook page, through Twitter, etc.  Try to get your local media involved by suggesting story angles.  Take every opportunity to spread the word and get people talking about your project.

 

Photo Credit: ausnahmezustand

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{ 73 comments… read them below or add one }

Joe Garecht March 10, 2014 at 6:05 pm

Jennifer,

Thanks for your question. I think this type of project could be a good candidate for crowdfunding, with one caveat – you will need to make sure that you are willing to market the campaign to your own network, friends, relatives, supporting churches, etc., and have a plan in place to get the people you know already to not only donate, but also to spread the word about the campaign to their own networks. Try putting together a committee of people to help you with this – give them a call, tell them what you are doing, and ask if they would be willing to both donate as well as market to their own networks.

Joe

mechelle April 7, 2014 at 11:53 am

Morning,
My question is similar to Jennifers’ in that is is religious based and I can’t seem to find any type of precedence for this type of crowd funding. I’m on the school board of Riverside Christian School in CA (we are a non-profit). The school is doing great things. This year our applied mathematics students are sending their 2nd experiment to the space satelite with NASA, and all of our elementary and secondary students have been issued ipads. Our vision is to construct a “campus of the future”. We are in escrow for 149 acres and we have the architectural plans drawn for the campus. In Nov of 2013, we launched a capital campaign. We have 330K from donors and a few hundred thousand of school funds. We are still far short of our goal to begin construction. Do you think crowdfunding is a viable source of fundraising for us?

Joe Garecht April 7, 2014 at 2:07 pm

Mechelle,

Thanks for your question. Honestly, I think your best bet here is probably to focus / supercharge / double down on your capital campaign, as this is the best way to build a new campus like this. You CAN add some crowdfunding in, but that should be for a specific project related to the campaign. For example, if you are building a new high-tech campus, perhaps you run a $25,000 crowdfunding campaign near the end of the capital campaign to purchase the signage for the new campus, or a $10,000 campaign focused on recent alumni to purchase snack machines, or something like that. For a larger effort, though, focus on more traditional capital campaign techniques.

If you need help with supercharging your capital campaign, give me a call.

Joe

Alicia April 8, 2014 at 1:09 pm

Hi Joe,

I’m hoping you could point me in the right direction. I wanted to start a fundraiser for my friends daughter who has IS. My goal is raise enough money from friends, family etc in order to purchase The Upsee ($489 USD) as a gift to their family and help their little girl see the world from another perspective and not from a chair or being held. It’s not a lot of money to raise but will take some time as most people don’t have a lot to donate now-a-days. At most people giving between $5-$25 I thought a public set up such as a Crowd-Funding page would be something I should look into. My first plan was to Facebook all family & friends to donate and get them to spread the word. I thought maybe a public campaign would help raise the money faster in order to buy The Upsee and allow the family to benefit from this product sooner rather than later. If I had the money outright I would buy it for them but unfortunately I need help. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

Warmest Regards,
Alicia G.

Joe Garecht April 8, 2014 at 8:15 pm

Hi Alicia,

Thanks for your comment. Yes, I think crowd-funding would be a great way to raise this amount. Just be sure to call, e-mail, and use social media to spread the work to as many people as you can who you already know, or who already know the family — that’s the best way to jump start a campaign like this and reach your goal quickly.

Joe

Mary April 19, 2014 at 10:49 am

Hi Joe,

Thanks for the informative article. I’ve never used a crowd-funding site before and am starting from ground zero. The project I have in mind is to create a short video (maybe about 10 minutes tops) to help peers understand their classmates with autism. My goal would be to have the video available on the internet at no cost for anyone seeking to educate peers in order to decrease bullying and increase the positive social interactions kids with autism in schools need. I’m a high school special education teacher and consultant for a project here in my state of Nebraska where we train teachers how to run a form of peer-mediated intervention called Circle of Friends.

We’re currently in 134 schools and continuing to expand. There is a need for a quality video not only to teach kids in these CoF groups about their classmates with autism, but for the general public as well. I contacted a film company (I do not have the skills or equipment to produce this video myself) and was told I’d need $5000 for the filming/editing/internet launch.

Do you have any recommendations of crowd funding organizations that would work best for my particular situation? I don’t want to have to create a video about my project (like I’ve seen in Kickstarter), but do have some good photos I could use to create a compelling page. Thanks in advance for pointing me in the right direction!

Joe Garecht April 19, 2014 at 6:48 pm

Mary,

Thanks for your questions. Short, well-produced videos always work best on crowd-funding sites (even if they are self-produced) but great photos can work as well, so don’t let that stop you. The key to your success is “seeding” the campaign with your projects current contacts – that means, in your case, getting the word out to the teachers, parents, and other folks at the 134 schools you are in, and not only asking them to donate, but asking them to spread the word to ask their friends, family and colleagues to do the same.

If you can get 100 people to donate $50, you’re at your goal. You should be able to raise the lion’s share of that by reaching out to the people who already know your organization and asking them to give, then staying in front of them via e-mail, social media, phone calls, etc. for the length of your campaign.

Joe

Crystal May 7, 2014 at 10:53 am

Hi, Joe
Need some advice, I have a ministry called Blessing in a Package which is trademarked by the USPTO need some funding to pay IRS fees to get non-profit status and to the preparer, would crowd-funding be a good place to present my platform for my ministry?

Joe Garecht May 10, 2014 at 2:45 pm

Hi Crystal,

Thanks for your question. A successful crowdfunding campaign requires that you have a base level of donors or supporters who would be willing to support your campaign. So, for example, if you want to raise $5,000 to pay for setting up your organization, do you have enough supporters to raise at least $1,500-$2,000 through crowdfunding? If not, then you might want to investigate other funding options.

Joe

Dave June 4, 2014 at 12:56 pm

Hi Joe,
This is very informative and helpful. I’m working for a non-profit that ministers to veterans and active duty personnel. We are planning a retreat for victims of Military Sexual Trauma (MST) in August. This will be a quarterly endeavor (generally) and right now I’m scouting crowdfunding sites. Our budget is small, but 7K is all we need to fund the retreats. We don’t have much to offer in the form of incentives, maybe a T-shirt. What would you say is going to be the key for us to create a successful campaign?
Thanks

Joe Garecht June 9, 2014 at 11:13 pm

Dave,

The biggest key in successfully funding your effort – and any crowdfunding campaign – is the willingness and ability to get your organization’s network (board, donors, staff, volunteers, clients, etc.) and THEIR networks of friends, colleagues, family, etc. engaged in the campaign. This means you need to call your supporters, e-mail them, send them letters, meet with them in person, etc., and get them to give to your crowdfunding campaign, as well as share it with the folks they know.

Don’t rely on people just “finding” your campaign. Drive engagement, and get your current network involved.

Joe

Robert July 21, 2014 at 11:47 pm

Hi Joe,

I sing with a chorus, which is a non profit organization. We are planning a trip to sing in England later this year. Do you think crowd funding would be a good way to help offset some of the costs for the people in our chorus?

Joe Garecht July 21, 2014 at 11:50 pm

Robert,

I think crowdfunding could be an excellent way for your chorus to raise the money it needs for the trip – hopefully, all of your singers will get into the act, spreading the word about the campaign to their friends, family, colleagues, etc.

Best of luck with your fundraising efforts!

Joe

Bruce July 27, 2014 at 11:20 am

Our group built our website on Causevox, which we learned about from your article here. Thanks.

We tried to present it as not too professionally done, (real easy, as we aren’t pro’s!!) so as to lend some credibility, and to use a “story” as our theme.

It appears success is going to depend on how “sharable” the content is, and how “catchy” the phrase & pic that appears on Facebook shares is, so as to garner further shares.

If you have any suggestions for improvement for that phrase we’d love to hear them as we are about to announce it to our church congregation asking for them to share, share, share!

This isn’t easy is it…

Thanks

Bruce

Joe Garecht July 28, 2014 at 5:38 pm

Bruce,

Thanks for your question. I’d say the MOST important thing is having folks from your church pick up the phone, hold face to face and small group meetings, and talk to other members about this campaign. When doing so, your team should have two goals… (1) get the person to donate, and (2) get the person to commit to share the campaign with their email and social media lists. Then, the team member should follow up with that person on a regular basis to make sure they are doing so.

I have seen campaigns that didn’t look very “shareable” succeed because a team did these tasks, and have seen other seemingly “shareable” campaigns fail because the team didn’t do them.

Garnering support for a crowd-funding campaign is all about building relationships. It takes work, just like any other type of fundraising, but is well worth it.

Joe

Terri August 4, 2014 at 6:02 pm

Hello,

I was referred to this site by a friend that thought this would be a good tool for my fundraising needs. I am a new non-profit with a performing arts ministry. We focus on the underserved youth in our community by having them mentored by professionals in theater and performing arts. They shadow these professionals during the pre-production of plays, films, concerts etc. for 4-6 weeks prior to the event and then perform independently in that area of interest in front of an audience of their peers for the dress rhrsl. They are also given the opportunity to work side by side with the professionals during the actual event and after each event they are awarded publicly. This has had a huge impact on our youth by instilling a strong work ethic, accountability, leadership skills and self confidence. We are wanting to provide our participants with small scholarships based on their accomplishments/performance, to assist them with the purchase of books/housing for higher education. So our funding would go towards the productions themselves as well scholarships for our participants. Do you think this would be a good tool for our non-profit? I appreciate any guidance you can give.

Joe Garecht August 7, 2014 at 11:06 pm

Terri – thanks for your question. Your program sounds like a worthwhile endeavor, and I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be a good candidate for crowdfunding. Remember, though, that crowdfunding is just one tactic, and it should never take the place of building a strong individual giving program based on developing relationships with donors who care about your cause and support it long term.

Best of luck!

Joe

Vusa September 15, 2014 at 6:57 am

Hi Joe,
My wife and I ran a succesful live music venue in Cape Town for 10 years. Due to circumstance we no longer run the venue. We are however both musicians and the music scene around Africa is something that we are very keen on exposing to the world. There are many hidden musical gems on the African continent and it would be a shame if they are not documented now before they are a thing of the past. In order to do so we are aiming at travelling around Africa in a Unimog camper van or something similar and reaching otherwise unreachable destinations in order to fulfill our quest. We aim to document what we see and hear on camera and use the footage to build a significant story of African music that we believe would hold interest across the world. Do you believe that it is possible to fund such a project through crowd funding. Realistically the whole venture would take well over a year and we would be looking at funding to the tune of around $200 000.
Best regards
Vusa

Joe Garecht September 18, 2014 at 11:39 am

Thanks for your question, Vusa. Check out my answers to the questions others have left in the comments above. As noted there, most crowdfunding campaigns raise far less than $200,000. That being said, what will really determine your capacity for a crowdfunding effort is your current network size and your willingness to reach out to it directly via phone and e-mail.

Joe

Emanuel September 28, 2014 at 5:53 am

Hi Joe,

I’m so glad that I ran across this page. I have just recently started my own nonprofit organization. I have an unusual set of circumstances were as I already have my 1st field trip under my organization funded and fully paid for through the donations of a group of generous supports. My problem is that with the fees I have paid for my 1023ez, LLC, and other start up costs. I don’t have any money to start the website for my organization. I am taking 24 H.S kids from my area to a professional sporting event. The primary focus of this trip is to help the kids to recognize their true value. On this trip besides watching the game we will be meeting with faculty and staff as well. I feel as though this trip can build a lot of momentum for my nonprofit if I had my website up and running by our trip date which is Oct 26. Do you have any advice for me as to how to go about raising money to start my website? Thanks again for sharing so much of your wisdom.

Joe Garecht September 30, 2014 at 1:05 am

Emanuel,

Congratulations on starting your own non-profit. The best way to raise start-up funds is from your friends, family, colleagues, business partners, clients, vendors, etc. and from the friends, family and colleagues of your board of directors, early donors, staff and volunteers.

That being said, you do NOT need a ton of money to start a website. Check out SquareSpace, where you can set up a great looking site, without knowing coding or technical details, for $8 per month: http://www.squarespace.com/ (no, I am not affiliated with them)

Joe

Jim October 11, 2014 at 7:25 am

Joe,
I am impressed you took the time to respond to people’s comments. That is rare these days.

We have a home in Nepal that is for girls that have been trafficked and exploited. Recently we expanded the home to increase our capacity about 50%. So the short fall we will experience because of greater rent seems like a potential crowd funding campaign. We are talking about $600 per month.

But in the larger picture, we would like to develop a network of similar homes, initially in Nepal. In general it will cost about $8000 to open a home, and about $1300 per month, based on a occupancy of 13.

So there are two components. The start up costs. And the on going costs.

Any thoughts if we would be a good candidate for peer to peer activity?

Thanks,

Jim

Joe Garecht October 13, 2014 at 12:02 am

Jim,

Thanks for your question. In my experience, your best bet for crowdfunding projects are one off projects to expand your capacity, not ongoing support. My suggestion would be to start by launching a crowdfunding effort for $15,800, which according to your numbers would be enough to open one new facility and run it for 6 months. Tell people that you will use those 6 months to build up an individual base of support for the new home. Once you do that, you could launch another crowdfunding effort using the same guidelines. Rinse and repeat.

Would that make sense for your organization?

Joe

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