Crowdfunding and movement-building
Eugenie Teasley, founder of Spark+Mettle, shares her tips on crowdfunding for first timers, and reflects on the benefits (but the struggle) of building a community of people around a cause.
Crowdfunding is the easy option, right?
No, but it is an exciting one. Any sort of fundraising is hard, especially now. Whether or not you are at the coal-face of the charity or social enterprise world, there are often times that you need to raise some money. Perhaps for an event you’re doing, a new project you want to get rolling, or—as was the case for me—trying to start up an organisation. From zero.
If you’ve raised money before you’ll know all too well that it is tough. Really, really tough. And if you’ve been asked to donate money (as I’m guessing almost all of us have), then you’ll know that it can be a little tiresome. I’m not sure if they exist in every country around the world, but here in the UK on pretty much every high street we are often approached by people asking us to sign up to be a regular donor for a charity. Some call these people “chuggers” (a shortening of the not-very-kindly phrase “charity muggers”).
But even if you don’t have to try to dodge chuggers as you set out to buy groceries, you may have been approached by all sorts of people and have been asked to give money. Perhaps you have been asked to donate to someone who’s running a marathon, or to attend a fundraising dinner (with an auction). Perhaps you’ve had to figure out how, politely, to turn them down. I know that I suffer from donor fatigue, so I’m sure that others do too.
So the issue I’ve been grappling with recently is this: how do I ask people for money? And, more importantly, how do I make sure that they want to give? And on top of ALL that, how do I get them to become part of our community rather than arms-length donors?
I knew that I didn’t want to go down the traditional routes of fundraising. I realised that if I was bored at the thought of them, then I probably wouldn’t pitch my idea across particularly convincingly. After living in the States for a couple of years, I was well-versed with the idea of crowdfunding. Over there, great websites like www.kickstarter.com have been hugely successful at getting lots of people to invest small amounts into innovative, creative ventures. I liked the idea of it. It feels grassroots-y. And that ties in well with the morals and values of my organisation.
I also learned about Kiva (www.kiva.org) — an organisation that adopts the microfinancing approach (originally spearheaded by Yunus at Grameen Bank) and applies it to the web. It gets lenders in developed countries to invest small sums (say $10) in small businesses in the developing world. It has had great success and spawned many similar sites across the world.
You can build a movement through crowdfunding, right?
Right! If you have a pre-established community then crowdfunding is a great way to get them re-energised with your cause. But crowdfunding also works if you want to build from scratch a network of people who want to do more than merely donate to your cause and if you are able to offer incentives or rewards for their pledge. It is not an easy option. Especially if you’re starting with a tiny/non-existent community, when it is hardest to get traction. For me the most enticing thing about crowdfunding was the idea of building a movement: a community of people championing the cause. But as Derek Sivers points out so brilliantly in this video, that is no mean feat…
All crowdfunding platforms are the same, right?
Not exactly. In the couple of years since I moved back from the States, crowdfunding has gone from being unheard of to being almost omnipresent. There are now so many platforms up and running in the UK, and it is sometimes hard to differentiate between all the crowdfunding sites that exist.
For me the choice was pretty simple: as a non-profit, I wanted to find a platform that would not just support and uphold Spark+Mettle’s charitable aims, but also one that contributed to the third sector itself. I found it really appealing that Buzzbnk was a social enterprise itself, over 60% owned by charities, and thus gives back to the third sector. For similar reasons to choosing a wind-powered website hosting provider, I went for Buzzbnk: I felt reassured about my sources.
Some key tips from a first-timer
Even with carefully-crafted rewards, it was hard to incentivise people. In fact, I had to resort to being far more resourceful. I quickly whizzed up a little animation that took many of my nights (and days) and tried to explain not only what Spark+Mettle is, but also why we were trying to fundraise the way that we were. I was secretly—well, openly—hoping would go viral. Sort of…
After 60 days, some sweat and tears, we made it, with change to spare. Buzzbnk provided tips and tricks along the way, and they are currently developing a suite of videos and other resources to make it even easier to manage a successful campaign.
The key things I learned that will help me become a more effective (crowd)fundraiser are:
- Make it exciting and unusual. You need a hook. You may have a deep-seated passion for your cause and belief in the work that you are trying to do, but others probably don’t. At least, not initially. So go and get them hooked by offering benefits or rewards something new, something desirable, something fun. Crowdfunding has really locked into this idea. And on Buzzbnk you can now also crowdfund loans, which means your backers can not just get their benefits, but could also get their cash back too. Pretty enticing.
- Allow for moments of lightheartedness. Pepper all the serious things you are trying to do with some humour.
- Make an ask. Be brazen, be bold, be unapologetic. Don’t offer an easy way out, offer something in return. The amount most commonly donated is $30 on www.kickstarter.com. People tend not to go for the smallest amounts, and most of the pledges for our campaign were at the £25 mark—so make that one particularly covetable.
- Make it easy for other people to spread the word. For crowdfunding, getting people to get other people onto your project is key. So provide them with resources that they will be excited to share. Get posting, tweeting, emailing—the lot.
- Be careful not to over-ask. If you try to plug your venture every time you meet people or go online, people will tune out. Talk about other things, engage in other conversations, and then bring up your project if it is relevant.
- Get others in on it too, right from the start. It’s estimated that in order to attract “cold” donors (in other words people who don’t know you personally) to donate via crowdfunding, there need to be at least 20 people listed as supporters. So before you go live with your campaign, rally your buddies (and your folks) behind you and get them to pledge as soon as the light turns green. Encourage them to reach out to their own networks. The success of crowdfunding is right there in its name: it’s about raising a crowd. And if you can start off with a small one already in the bag, then you’re doing well.
Building a movement is no easy thing. But once you’ve got things rolling, and you’ve created a community who are invested in what you do: there’s no better way to make your work succeed and be sustainable.
To crowdfund for either donations or loans through Buzzbnk, visit www.buzzbnk.org
This article was first published on 15 November 2011