I was a complete and utter mess. It was 11pm on a Thursday evening in July and I was the only one left in the co-working space.
I had been there since 7am and barely ate anything that day. A filmmaker friend of mine would arrive in less than 12 hours to film our crowdfunding video. But most of the volunteers who were supposed to star in our video bailed on me last minute. This was my only chance to get the filming done. The realisation that weeks of non-stop work could end up in an epic fail completely immobilised me. I had to call a taxi to take me home. It took me several weeks to fully recover from that episode.
I am sharing this story, because, in recent years crowdfunding has become a powerful tool for many individuals and organisations to kick-start their dreams. But the truth is that despite its alluring accessibility, crowdfunding is extremely hard work. For instance, on Kickstarter, one of the leading all-or-nothing crowdfunding platforms, only 36% of projects succeed in reaching their monetary target. Far from wanting to dishearten anyone from pursuing crowdfunding as a fundraising alternative, I hope that by sharing my experience you will be better equipped to succeed in your efforts.
In fact, when I decided with my co-founder to run a rewards-based crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter to raise £11,000 to offer full scholarships to twelve young people selected to join our Young Pioneers Programme, we were not fully prepared for the intensity of the experience. In our (50) Days of Summer campaign, we did manage to reach our target and offer our sustainability leadership course for free, but we almost burned out in the process. So, here are four fundamental tips we learned from experience that I hope will help you succeed in your efforts to raise money through crowdfunding.
1. Craft a coherent narrative
Many campaigns fail not because their ideas are poor, but because they lack a compelling story that convinces backers to support them. So you must dedicate a fair amount of time to craft a coherent narrative that can be used throughout your campaign. It took us several days to come up with a simple story that worked for us: inspired by the language and imagery of the film (500) Days of Summer, we crafted our entire crowdfunding campaign around the concept of (50) Days of Summer. During that time, we communicated one key message to our community: “This is a story of how 12 young people change the world, but before they do, they need you.”
2. Give before you take
Because our backers would not be the direct beneficiaries of a successful crowdfunding campaign, we decided to host 50 different activities (one for each day of our 50 Days of Summer campaign) to give something back to our community. Giving space to our creative impulse, we organised activities such as card-making for the social enterprise project Here To, a woodlands micro adventure; we spoke at events such as the Brainy Brunch at Impact Hub Islington and the RSA Engage at the Royal Society for the Encouragement of the Arts, Manufactures and Commerce; and we shared blog posts and interviews featuring various members of our community… all with an incredibly small budget.
3. Look after yourself
Crowdfunding extends well beyond the days your campaign is “live”. We started our preparation three to four months in advance and did not finish sending out all the rewards until three to four months after the end of the campaign. For a small start-up like ours, this meant I had to dedicate half my time to some crowdfunding-related activities for well over half a year. This was on top of all my other tasks, so it took a serious toll on my emotional, physical, and psychological wellbeing. I did not look after myself during that time; please do not make the same mistake. Get plenty of sleep every night, keep eating healthily, exercising regularly, and sustain your social life to help you survive and thrive in your crowdfunding efforts.
4. Identify your angels
Whether you are a large and established organisation or a small and inexperienced start-up, segmenting your network is critical to success. According to Crowdfunding.io, campaigns that reach 30% of their target within the first week are more likely to succeed. For us, over 80% of all donations came from within our own network, which was partly due to our strategy, and partly due to the nature of our project, in which the backers were not the direct beneficiaries. Before launching our campaign, we selected 50 'angels', i.e. 50 individuals close to us who would be willing to donate on the first day of our campaign. As a result, we raised 28% of our target in one day.
Want to expand your network? The RSA offers a Fellowship of 28,000. Become a Fellow and gain access to a global network of people aiming to enrich society through ideas and action
Interested in Crowdfunding and want to know more about how to do so successfully? Take a look at Jack Lewars and Tom Peyton FRSA’s blog with their top tips for crowdfunding, here.