If you manage a program, I’m guessing one of the things constantly on your to-do list is raising funds for a variety of projects. It’s a great fantasy to imagine there’s some new simple system, a silver bullet that will eliminate the hard work traditionally associated with fundraising. The ease of Internet access in the last few years brought us the new trend of crowdfunding that promised to be one of the easiest ways to generate funds from the broader public. My optimistic side continues to believe that. My pessimistic side can see the flaws in the system. But statistics tell us that crowdfunding raised 2.7 billion dollars in 2012 and nearly double that in 2013, so this young and growing approach to finding donors and investors is definitely working for some.
Forbes.com has an article entitled Top 10 Crowdfunding Sites for Fundraising. It gives some background for each site and the types of projects for which they work best. Some are better for nonprofits and worthy causes, while others work better for inventors or individuals looking for investors for their creative endeavors. Fundamentally, crowdfunding sites provide web-based software that assists you in making your case, promoting the project, collecting funds, and evaluating your progress as you go.
Recently, we selected Indiegogo.com to raise funds to buy computers for Rwandan guides at national parks. Indiegogo.com is only one of many options but we felt it matched our need better than the others.
What we learned:
• Your natural constituents or warm markets are still the most likely to contribute.
• It can take a lot of promotion and you still may get only a little return.
• Non-target messaging and news releases elicit little or no response.
• Facebook proved to be the best channel to get interest; Twitter had no impact.
• The crowdfunding sites are the big winners for they get their fees regardless of your success.
• It takes practice to use this kind of tool skillfully, particularly in learning how to state your case and promote it.
• Personal stories help get people emotionally involved, but they take some time to collect and refine into a great case statement.
We raised only $800 with an objective of $10,000 so we were very unsuccessful when you consider an 8% performance. And all donors were from predictable sources – people we know well, colleagues in our profession, and people who know something about Rwanda and the challenges created by the genocide twenty years ago. Running a campaign without a nonprofit organization umbrella is also challenging. In the past, I’ve always represented the fundraising interests of a 501c3 charity that had members, which provided a large group of dedicated constituents to ask for help in raising funds. In my current role as a private business owner and consultant, all I have now is a passion for doing good work with and for good people. I confess that it’s disappointing to learn that many people simply will not donate without the added incentive of a tax exemption, no matter how worthy the cause.
So the bad news is that crowdfunding does not seem to be a silver bullet. The great news for us is that the efforts we made through Indiegogo.com led to donations of funds that will send three PCs and one iPad to four guides in Rwanda at Nyungwe National Park on May 19 with Dr. Beth Kaplin, an ecologist from Vermont who teaches in Huye, Rwanda. All four guides are working on Master’s degrees supporting families and doing amazing work with volunteer co-ops in their communities. We owe a special debt of thanks to our donors:
Pam and Mike Neely Mary Jane and Mike Swope
Nicole Deufel (U.K.) Lisa Brochu and Tim Merriman
Carole Ann Moorhead and Luke George
We will not quit, though our Indiegogo.com campaign has ended. This effort was just the beginning. If you are willing to help a Rwandan National Park Guide bridge the digital divide, you can:
- Contact us to donate any amount you can afford towards the purchase of laptops or iPads;
- Donate a laptop or iPad less than 5 years old that we will refurbish;
- Ask your friends to help in whatever way they can.
There are a total of more than 50 guides and hosts at parks we hope to help. It may take a year or two, but we will keep working on it.
If you’ve thought about crowdfunding as a source of funds for a special project, be sure to plan and prepare for months, read as much as you can about the various websites, and develop a promotions plan to help you get as much as benefit as you can from the campaign. Despite its shortcomings, crowdfunding is still likely to become an important way to approach some of those projects still lingering on your to-do list.
– Tim Merriman