If Behind the Crowd on Crowdfunding

When I’m not in sync with the world, I often think of the scene in Gone With the Wind in which Scarlett O’Hara goes up the grand staircase of the Twelve Oaks mansion while everyone else is rushing down. Know that feeling? The crowd is in on something and you’re not ready or willing to join, but it’s uncomfortable to seem so out of step. 

Perhaps you feel that way about crowdfunding. Does it appear that everyone else has launched or is about to launch or is talking about launching a crowdfunding campaign? Should your nonprofit be running to catch up?

If those questions strike a chord, relax. You’re not alone. I know from my work with nonprofits and my networking beyond that plenty of organizations have yet to take the crowdfunding plunge. There can be good reasons to waitstarting with the need to assess your current fundraising apparatus.

Before You Crowdfund, Know How You Well Fundraise

I don’t mean that literallyof course you know how your organization is doing financially. Still, a successful crowdfunding initiative will be built on your current donor base. So it makes sense to step back and analyze how well your present development strategy is working. How are donors engaged? How do you sustain contributions? How many recurring donors could be counted on to give to a crowdfunding campaign?

Knowing those last numbers is key. One of the tenets of successful crowdfunding is to start with a bang. You want pledges from existing donors so you can reach a significant chunk of your goal within the first days of your campaign—a frequent number cited is 30 percent. It’s the follow-the-crowd logic in action. Evidence that others support you can propel prospective donors to give. To get those new contributions, your current donors must get the ball rolling. That means before you try a crowdfunding campaign, you may need to address and revamp how you steward to sustain donors. Or, you may need to set a more conservative crowdfunding goal.

Before You Crowdfund, Get Everybody Onboard

Take a good look at your development staff. Are they prepared to organize a massive outreach to existing donors in advance of the crowdfunding kickoff, as well as manage the campaign on a crowdfunding platform (assuming you use one), and follow up with thanks to everyone who contributes? Don’t stop at the development office. It’s a good time to assess the culture of philanthropy within your organization. Essentially everyone needs to be onboard for a crowdfunding campaign. That means pitching in on all those tasks, especially if your development office is small. It also requires active support of the campaign, particularly by board members contributing and contacting their personal and professional associates. If your board members are typically not involved in development beyond their own giving, you may need to initiate an honest conversation about their fundraising roles and get a reading on their willingness to fill them before you launch a crowdfunding campaign. 

What's the Goal Here, Anyway?

Another necessary point of consensus is your campaign purpose. Is there a special project to fund? Are you celebrating a significant anniversary or other milestone? You want agreement within your nonprofit on the crowdfunding focus and why it’s worth the staff time and attention. Defining and refining a project to sell internally will pay off. That thinking and tinkering are sure to help in creating a concise, compelling presentation to pitch to donors via email and on the crowdfunding platform you choose.

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The bottom line on crowdfunding: Don’t rush in until you’re ready. If fact, far from fretting that you’re lagging behind, you might congratulate your good sense in waitingbut not for long. The buzz on crowdfunding is fed by exciting examples of how it’s working for many organizations. Get your house in order, so to speak, and then join the crowd.

Susan J. Ragusa is a nonprofit strategist in the Hudson Valley region and metro New York. Email susan@susanjragusa.com or connect with Susan on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and Google+.