Online Fundraising Campaign, Best Practices

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Ana Robbins is the Executive Director of Jewish Kids Groups, an independent, and ridiculously cool, Hebrew school and afterschool community, piloting in Atlanta.

The ROI Micro Grant enabled me to internalize and create these practices for best online fundraising and produce this video. I hope other ROIers can leverage this as a resource. 

Your Campaign

Your campaign should:

  • raise money for a specific purpose (not just for operations)
  • raise awareness about your cause
  • attract new donors

There are three critical parts to your campaign:

  • Video
  • Campaign page
  • Outreach

Video

  • Format
    • Tell us who you are.
    • Tell us the story behind your project. Where’d you get the idea? What stage is it at now? How are you feeling about it?
    • Come out and ask for people’s support, explaining why you need it and what you’ll do with their money.
    • Talk about how awesome your rewards are, using any images you can.
    • Explain what happens if you don’t reach your goal (this partly depends on what platform you use)
    • Thank everyone!
  • Colors: If your organization has colors, be sure to use them in the video.
  • Length: Keep your video under 2 minutes (no matter what).
  • Professional, or not professional? Your video should be near-professional quality. Many people will see your video, far more people than know about you now, and they will judge your product based on the quality of your video
  • Alternate Ending: Think about creating an alternative ending so that the video can stand alone and be reused after your campaign

Campaign Page

  • Catchy title that describes what supporter participation will mean.
  • Create clever giving tiers that make people smile (from highest to lowest).
  • Add lots of bonus media to create feeling of credible and robust brand.
  • Be sure that your video thumbnail is strategic, inviting and piques the visitor’s curiosity.
  • Be transparent. That means clearly defining your project’s scope and how you will achieve your goal. It’s imperative that you explain precisely how you plan to use backers’ money. These are the things people want to know first, and they can make or break some backers’ decisions to fund your project.
  • Your page is the perfect place to put all the details you had to cut out of your video to keep it under two minutes.
  • If contributions are tax-exempt note this at the top of your page.
  • KISS

Outreach (This is the most impactful part of your campaign)

  • Create an advisory committee from your target audience—this will address several issues. First, you can use these people you trust and who already love you as last stage editors. Second, 95% of funds raised will be raised from people who know you, or someone else involved in your project, so get people involved! Perhaps have your team appear in the video?
  • Successful fundraising campaigns start with previously established communities that have good reason to trust the organization asking for money. If you do not already manage an email list of people with whom you have been in regular communication, consider partnering with a group who has. Your first email to your organization should not be an appeal for money. You need to first build a relationship and establish trust.
  • I instantly (albeit it's slightly illegally) generated a 3,000 people mailing list using Google extract.
  • Develop a Story Arc and use it for all your outreach (my newsletter).
    • Social media
    • Newsletter
      • I use Madmimi, they’re Israeli and I have been happy with them (these should be made into templates and created before hand).
      • Diversify kinds of goals throughout your campaign like: # of views, # of new supporters, “# of shares."
      • Track everything—who clicks where?
      • Remove people from lists after they give.
      • Send thank you notes as you go.
    • Blogs and other PR—get other people to feature your campaign (build these relationships sooner than later).
    • Mix Cultivation Asks with Fundraising Asks within Your Story Arc.
    • Get featured: manage your traffic and wind up being featured on your platforms main page and/or twitter feed. Integrate this with other Channels (Email, Direct Mail, Social Media, Events, etc.).
    • Send a Thank You at End with Update on Progress .

Timeline

  • Length: Projects lasting 30 days or less have Kickstarter’s highest success rates. It’s worth considering shorter time periods because there’s less of a chance of a funding “dead zone”—a project’s momentum climbs in the beginning and the end, but can lag during a too-long middle time period. Find a happy medium between your time-frame and your audience’s attention span.
  • Plotting your correspondence: A timeline is important so that you can set mailing dates for your backers’ rewards, another essential piece of the fundraising experience. Here’s what I suggest in a 3-4 week campaign: First newsletter for the initial push, one or two as a ‘buffer’ week (you can announce progress and set ulterior goals), and then one for the final push. The buffer would simply act as a psychological pause between us screaming “IT’S NEW!!!” and “IT’S ALMOST FINISHED!

Fiscal Goal

  • Different platforms have different consequences for not meeting your goals. Consider these and how much you can realistically raise (and then add 20%) when setting your goal.
  • Here is a breakdown of pledges per tier. 
  • Consider production time/cost/shipping if you are offering tangible perks. I did naming opportunities and that worked well.
  • Consider: are you running this campaign just to raise money, or also raise supporters. Offering a $10 or even $18 level contribution may hurt you more than it helps you. Note: on Indiegogo contributors can actually designate an amount outside of your tiers.
  • Skip Paypal. I regretted that in my campaign I opted to accept Paypal donation because by the time they took their cut, and Indiegogo took their cut, there was less left for me. And, I don’t think I would have lost contributions if I hadn’t offered Paypal.
  • If you aren’t tax-exempt, consider retaining nonprofit fiscal sponsorship for this project, which allows your contributors (in the USA) to get a tax deduction when they give $ to support your project (keep in mind this requires additional follow-up for donors over $250 level.)

Positioning for Success and other Shameless Ploys

  • Secure testers who can give you feedback before you go live (Advisory Committee).
  • Hold back your prospective big-givers, you do not want them to give to this campaign, unless you need them at the end to meet your goal. Ask them to contribute via check outside the fundraising platform (which takes a fee).
  • Secure a matching grant—For every $ you give, we get $$.
  • Get a few people to give before campaign opens.
  • Remember you're not just raising money, you're also building a community of supporters through the fundraising process. 

Different Platforms—these sites are just tools. Unfortunately, these platforms don't have hordes of potential donors waiting with buckets of cash. Basically, think of the sites as platforms to manage your own audience of potential donors: your family, friends, colleagues, etc. If you are loner with no friends or family, the sites won't help you find new potential donors who you don't know.

  • Jewcer.
  • Indiegogo—okey for non-profits.
  • Kickstarter—all-or-nothing funding model; not for non-profits.
  • Uruut—designed to collect from corporations. 

Other recommendations

Don't recreate the wheel: steal ideas that work.
Scan some successful campaigns on Kickstarter and Indiegogo and learn their tricks (do you like their giving levels, what caught your attention about their page?); Study the various videos and see what affects you most as a viewer. Learn what works and what resonates with your personality and the tone of your work. The videos where the innovator themselves talk about their projects always seem the most compelling, but if that doesn't work for you, find something that does.