Crowdfunding Lesson From Habitat: Empower Your Volunteers

Dave McMurtry is a player in Silicon Valley. I mean that in the very best sense. He is a graduate of the Stanford Graduate School of Business and has spent much of his career in the tech community, including more than half a decade at tech giant Intuit INTU +0.51%. He more recently served as the CEO of Loomia, a social media company.

In 2005, Dave wanted to take a break from his career to give back. As a pilot, his first choice was to volunteer some flight time to Doctors without Borders, but when he found out there weren’t any of those volunteer opportunities available at that time he decided his help was needed more elsewhere.

He called several prominent nonprofits to volunteer his time in experimenting—and in 2005 that’s what crowdfunding was—with the idea of using social media to raise money for nonprofits. He says, “No one knew what to do with me.”

In July 2004, Dave had served as a volunteer supporting official U.N. observers for the first elections in Afghanistan. While there, he and some of his colleagues helped build a home for a local who was working with them. Dave saw firsthand the impact that having a home had on this man and his family.

Drawing on this experience, and as a longtime volunteer at Habitat for Humanity Silicon Valley, he tried Habitat for Humanity International, offering to create a crowdfunding initiative for a specific project without any resources from the organization. Jonathan Reckford, the CEO, quickly accepted Dave’s offer to volunteer his time and fully fund the experiment. They agreed to run the project in Colombia, which Dave describes as one of his “favorites,” so Dave flew there to launch the experiment.

The project was to build and fund five homes at a total cost of $25,000. Dave quickly raised $200,000 so the project was dramatically expanded, ultimately putting 250 homeless people, displaced by the terrible violence in the region, back into housing.

The success of the program helped to change the relationship between Habitat for Humanity in Colombia and the government of Colombia, which has since become a major funding mechanism.

After this successful experiment in 2005, Dave went back to the corporate world as the CEO of Loomia.

Upon leaving Loomia, he volunteered for several months with Kiva, working in Liberia in support of their microfinance programs. Making the world a better place is what drives Dave.

In 2009, Habitat CEO Jonathan Reckford called Dave to ask him to come to join the cause full time to lead the effort to create an aspirational five-year strategic plan and also to “run with this crowdfunding idea.”

Over the past year, Habitat has raised more than $1 million on the Share.Habitat platform, powered by Fundly, proving the vitality of crowdfunding. Dave believes Habitat will raise a multiple of that number in 2013.

Over the last year that I have been writing for Forbes, I have also been researching my bookCrowdfunding for Social Good, Financing Your Mark on the World. I have been inspired by Habitat’s crowdfunding success.

Given Habitat’s success, I asked Dave to share some of his ideas for best practices.

His first rule is to empower the volunteers to share the story. He says, “Empower the volunteer to have the same capabilities as the organization’s marketing and PR teams to speak passionately in the first voice about the mission.” In large organizations this can be challenging because so much is invested in the brand, but he suggests that success comes from truly empowering the volunteers to do the work because they strengthen and embolden the brand.

Second, the volunteers should be invited to take responsibility for their success and then must be given credit for it.

The third key, he says, is “rich story telling.” You must give your volunteers tools to enable them to tell their story about your cause in a powerful way. Give them the ability to upload and share photos and videos to help them communicate their passion.

After joining Habitat full time, Dave met David Boyce, the CEO and founder of Fundly. Habitat now uses the Fundly platform for its fundraising efforts on Fundly has the tools to allow volunteers set up their own fundraising pages, giving volunteers the power McMurtry sought to put them front and center.

On the success of the Habitat for Humanity campaign, Boyce said, “Habitat’s secret for building a sustainable, high-growth crowdfunding program is the marriage of online and offline experiences.  Habitat was able to create a compelling offline experience (home building) and attach to that experience a fundraising requirement. Because people want the experience and are committed to the mission, they are willing to fundraise in order to participate.”

SOURCE: Forbes