Crowdfunding…Is It Right For Your Nonprofit?

As if things weren’t already challenging enough for most nonprofit organizations, what with government funds being cut off in midstream in desperate budget-balancing attempts, and increased competition for grant dollars, there are also recent reports that revenues from “big events” like golf tournaments and galas are slipping. Even some of the biggest, most venerable efforts like the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life (- 12%) and the Susan G. Komen Race/Walk for the Cure (-38%) recording distinctive funding drop-offs.

It is becoming clear that a nonprofit interested in sustained progress in mission fulfillment must invest some time and talent in determining ways to diversify their funding sources, and pursuing new pathways to finding the money needed for the future.

With the continuing trend of online Social Media related tools seemingly eating everything alive, it is not unexpected to find that various online tools are moving into the forefront of many organizations’ fundraising methodology. One idea that is being seriously considered and increasingly utilized by nonprofits is crowdfunding. It may be time to consider if this strategy is right for your organization.

In case you have been living in a digital “safe house” for the last few years, here is a short primer on crowdfunding.  In simplest terms, crowdfunding refers to the practice of soliciting, usually via the Internet, smaller donations from large numbers of people, as opposed to looking for “big hitters” who can write fat checks to support or invest in a venture. The principles are generally the same for any effort, and may seem deceptively simple. Have a good idea, determine what type of effort you will mount (examples include reward/premium based campaigns, equity projects, and charity efforts), tell a good story, get people to share the message online, and rake in the cash! Of course, it is far from that easy. Each of the steps just listed has its own challenges and putting them all together may not bring the hoped for results. Kickstarter (see below for more information) notes that about 12% of projects never raise a penny, and most of their successful efforts have brought in under $10,000 – usually by design. The company also notes that nearly 80% of their hosted projects raise more than 20% of their goal amounts.

These concerns aside, crowdfunding has been used successfully by artists, filmmakers, and entrepreneurs of all stripes. A few campaigns have been singularly successful. In 2012, the Pebble Watch attracted more than $10 million in donations, and an online game development company is currently continuing to attract crowdfunded investments which are reportedly in excess of $70 million as of last report.

It does appear that crowdfunding is becoming a well-established means of raising money, and because of this, it is important that nonprofit organizations consider this tool as one which might belong in their toolbox for now and the future. Before you jump in with both feet, here are some considerations.

Evaluate crowdfunding platforms

There are a variety of platforms available for nonprofits to consider using the “host” their fundraising event. The best known of these is probably Kickstarter, which has been the destination for over 80,000 campaigns and has helped raise over $1.6 billion dollars since its establishment in 2009. Other notable platforms include Fundable, Indiegogo, Fundrazr, and SeedInvest, and more platforms are appearing all of the time. Deciding which is right for your nonprofit may require you to do some investigative work, evaluating things like ease of use (for you and your donors), cost, visual appeal, integration with other Social Media platforms and so forth.

Learn the Tricks of Successful Crowdfunding

Telling a good story is crucial to successful crowdfunding, as you may only have one shot at convincing a viewer that your effort is worthy of their contribution. The visitor will want to know what your organization stands for, whether you are viable or not, what you intend to do with the money, and how you will assess and report your successes. Deciding whether, and what you might give out as a premium or reward in exchange for contributions can also be important. Some groups will offer giveaways like t-shirts or ball caps, or written acknowledgment of the contributor, while others rely on the “good feeling” approach that often accompanies charitable donations – the giving of the gift is reward in and of itself.

The biggest contributor to success is attracting eyeballs, since the more visitors to your crowdfunding site, the more likely it is that you will reap rewards. Most organizations will be well advised to insure that they already have an established Social Media plan and presence, including a Twitter account, Facebook page, and LinkedIn presence. Robust email campaigning is also valuable in attracting visitors and ultimately, donors.

If you have access to traditional local media, such as newspapers,  or radio and television outlets, use these as well to announce your fundraising efforts and provide the information consumers need to link to your crowdfunding site. The vast majority of fundraising for most nonprofits is still local despite the ubiquity and universality of the Internet.

Consider Using External Resources

A crowdfunding effort requires a certain level of investment of time, and some funding. One thing many organizations will need to consider is the available resources, particularly human capital, they currently dedicate to fundraising. If you choose to try crowdfunding, who is going to do the work and – more importantly – what will they NOT be doing because of the time commitment to the crowdfunding effort. It might be in a nonprofit’s best interests to outsource the work to a consulting organization rather than divert their in-house experts from other critical tasks.

Of course, nonprofits should stay alert to the seductiveness of fundraising fads. One-off ideas like the “ice bucket challenge” or the Livestrong rubber bracelets are fun and can even make some significant revenue, but these strategies – and crowdfunding may be one of them – do not result in a sustainable funding strategy – and sustainability is a very important part of any nonprofits strategic planning.

If you need to know more, please contact us at Innovaision, and we will be happy to talk to you about the “fitness” of crowdfunding for your nonprofit.

Nine for Nine – Smart Twitter Tips

It’s February 9, 2015 and although I don’t publish Innovaision’s “These Nine Things” newsletter (subscribe here) on Mondays, I thought it would be appropriate to extend the NINE theme into today’s article. Herewith, then is a list of Nine Twitter Tips for Nonprofits that many readers will find interesting. Note that these tips are valuable for most any business!

1. Avoid jargon and abbreviations that will not be easily understood by people outside of your industry. The brief nature of a tweet might encourage this, but if you want to communicate across a wide spectrum, make sure your message is intelligible to the greater audience.

2. Use hashtags wisely. Sure, the #hashtag can draw attention to your message topic, and also make it easier to find tweets on a particular subject, but too many hashtags negate the value. Common wisdom is to use no more than two hashtags in any single message, lest your readers start to think of you as a spammer. Also, make your hashtags short words – #goodadoptions is much better than #findingsafeandhealthyhomesforkids.

3. If you are using a Twitter account that is designated for your nonprofit (and we recommend that you have one for exactly this purpose) use your nonprofit’s logo or an avatar (the small square picture in the upper left corner of your profile) based on that logo on your account to strengthen organizational “brand recognition”.

4. To encourage retweets, and allow followers to add their own brief comment or thought, consider putting 100 – 120 character limit on your tweets. If use the full 140 characters available on Twitter, there is no room left for any additional notes from the re-tweeter.

5. Tweet some interesting fact about your area of focus that will lend itself to being retweeted by your followers. Examples could include things like “The average American diet requires almost 1,000 gallons of water per day – more than the worldwide average for all uses, including diet, household use, transportation, and energy” or “A single drug-addicted person has a significant impact, often negative, on the lives of 4 to 10 other peoples – family, friends, co-workers, etc.”

6. Use Twitter lists (see instructions here) to keep your followers organized into logical groups such as Financial Supporters, Volunteers, Board, or Professional Colleagues. It will help you in so many ways!

7. Put a Twitter “follow button” that links to your nonprofit Twitter account on everything you post online. Blogs, newsletters, web pages, downloadable document are all good places to give people an easy way to connect with your account and become avid followers. Suggest that all email correspondence originating from your nonprofit staff include a link to the company Twitter account in the signature space.

8. Spread your tweets out over the course of the day! Twitter is like a stream running by your reader’s front yard, and they aren’t sitting out in the yard all day. If you bunch all of your tweets in the morning or after dinner, the chances that they will be missed entirely goes up astronomically. Send one message early, then one at midmorning, noon, mid-afternoon and so forth. This increases the chance that more of your followers will see at least one of your daily postings. If you are writing interesting content, they are likely to click through to see what else you wrote today.

9. Follow your followers, and follow people you hope would want to follow your nonprofit. It’s all about networking. When you follow a person or organization you think you might want to do business with, or ask for help from, they are more likely to follow you back. Similarly, following your followers and reading what is on their minds is a great way to get inspiration for your future tweets, to insure they are relevant and READ.

What is Content Curation (and why should Non-profits practice it)?

In mid-2014, we wrote that “Content marketing is king.”, and encouraged our non-profit friends to get on the bandwagon. Since then, we have received several requests to explore this topic in more detail. Happy to oblige! This article will form the beginning of a series – which we plan to turn into an e-book ultimately – on Content Curation for Non-Profits.

So, what is this thing called Content Curation? More importantly, why should non-profit leaders understand it and embrace it as a strategy?

Many readers may be familiar with the term “curation” as relating to museums. I had a nice visit to the St. Louis Art Museum recently with my visiting daughter, and noted that there are many different types of things that are considered “art”. Paintings from the Renaissance, ancient African tribal masks, 3,000 year old Chinese pottery, modern “found art” full-body costumes, colonial furniture, sculpture from all parts of the world spanning centuries of creation and much, much more were on display. For each and every item on display, there were probably several that are currently in storage, and certainly dozens of other examples scattered throughout the world in other museums and collections, or even resting on a shelf in some dusty attic, awaiting rediscovery! In a given year, a major museum might find or be presented with thousands of items which it might wish to add to its collection. The curator then becomes the invaluable party to any transaction or process involving current, or potential acquisitions.

One primary duty is to determine the authenticity of a particular piece. There is little value in a faked object, or a copy of an existing, established work. The curator must also ascertain the value of an item, particularly if a purchase is being considered. But beyond these important basic questions, the curator also needs to be able to establish relevance for the museum visitor, often done by researching the provenance of the item and telling a little of the back story for each thing that is on display. Once an item is in the collection, the curator needs to take care of it, making sure it is catalogued, labeled correctly, and stored appropriately. On the museum floor, the curator decides how to arrange or display artifacts. How can this painting be lighted to bring out the most important highlights? Which of these things should be logically grouped together so that visitors can see more than one work of art at a time and perhaps learn more or make important connections by seeing them arranged with like items?

It’s probably becoming obvious that a good curator will not only have a significant impact on the value of a museum’s collection, but does in fact contribute to the overall perception of the public of the value of the museum as a whole, both as a collector of valuable items, and as an expert in the areas those items represent. For example, the art museum in St. Louis has a respectable collection of Buddhist-related art, but nearby in Kansas City, the Nelson Art Gallery has an equal or better one. If travel were no object, I would go to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, the Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C., or perhaps the Victoria and Albert in London.

So, let’s apply what we know about museum curation to the Internet, and the vast amount of information available on pretty much any topic we can imagine. If it’s true that content is king, then content curation is certainly the crown prince! And, just as a museum curator wears many hats every day, so does an information content curator do so in his or her relationship with all of the articles, documents, images, blog posts and even Tweets that might be encountered every day online. Content curators find information, validate or verify the information, assign value to it, determine its relevance to their audience, and make notes that help readers see what that value might be. The successful online content curator then catalogues the information so that it can be easily retrieved, labels it correctly, and stores it for future reference. In the public eye, the content curator brings together similar items to create an information synergy, allowing readers to move easily among bits of writing or data that are related, and to develop fuller understanding of the topic in question for knowledge, research and practical purposes.

Let’s explore an example. Suppose my non-profit is involved in a specific facet of healthcare, say Alzheimer’s disease. We want to solidify our credentials as a leader in this field, which affects so many millions of people – not just those who have this condition but also their caregivers. To become a content curator on this topic, my organization will want to scour the web for well-written and validated clinical research, articles in the popular press, personal accounts about those affected by the illness, and much more. We want to discover who the best bloggers are on the subject, what current treatment seem to hold the greatest promise, and where you can find easy to understand explanations of what Alzheimer’s is all about. We also demonstrate value by providing links to respected treatment providers, and connecting people who want to help make a difference with organizations (perhaps including ours) that would benefit from philanthropy. Are there support groups in your area? I want my organization to show you how to find out if there are and, if so, how to connect with them. Is the disease preventable, or are there things you can do to maximize your chances of avoiding it? I’d like us to help you learn about that for your future benefit.

There is likely to be tons of information we will uncover, some more recent or relevant that others. We will sift through this information, validate it, arrange it and present it to you so that you can gain the maximum benefit with the minimum investment of your own time – gaining greatly from the work we have done for you. Our readers will come to trust us as experts, and to see us as the first place to check when looking for answers to their Alzheimer’s questions. In this way we become the paramount content curators on this subject, and gain esteem and influence we could never purchase otherwise.

We’ll be coming back to this topic soon, and discussing more about the value of content curation to your organization in future installments. Stay tuned!

Things You May Not Know About Fundraising (But Probably Should)

Hello non-profit world. By now, if you indulged, your “end-of-the-year fundraising efforts” are probably in the history books. Whether you chose a strategy that appealed to tax ramifications for the giver, or proposed that a donation to your enterprise would make a nifty holiday gift, or just relied on the fact that we all seem to think that people are in a more giving mood around this time of year, you may be sitting back, assessing the results, and thinking “Now what?”.

What better way to kick off your fund-raising strategies for 2015 than to think a bit outside the box? And, when I consider outside the box thinking, I often turn to Freakonomics. If you are unfamiliar with that word, I would be surprised. Starting with their first book, the eponymous Freakonomics which was published in 2005, Steven J. Dubner, a writer and sometime raconteur, and Steven D. Levitt, a well-respected economist on the faculty at the University of Chicago attempt to explain what they call “the hidden side of everything”.  5+ million copies later, the duo published SuperFreakonomics in 2009, and the books and the buzz have spawned a movie, a blog, and an extremely popular podcast. You can find out more about all of these at the Freakonomics website.

I tend to consume podcasts like I do television, by which I mean I rarely listen or view at the time a program is first aired, but I binge on several in a row. My latest TV gluttony occurred with Netflix’s Bojack Horseman which I highly recommend to anyone who is not easily offended by cartoons that are intended for grown-ups. In the car, though, I have been listening to back episodes of Freakonomics Radio. One episode I listened to recently was all about fundraising, and in its inimitable way, the podcast brought to light some interesting information that isn’t necessarily discussed in traditional articles about raising money for a cause or institution. You might find some of these ideas interesting, or controversial, but hopefully useful as well.

A featured guest on this episode was economist John List, who is a fellow faculty member, with Levitt, at the U. of Chicago. One of Dr. List’s interests is charitable giving, and he has an impressive array of research projects and articles on the topic. Whatever else you may think about the good doctor by the time you have finished reading this piece, you can’t say he isn’t well informed, nor thoughtful about this important subject.

Here are a few insights List provided during his on-air conversation for Freakonomics. If you are interested (and I suggest you should be) you can listen to the entire episode right here.

Americans give about 2.2 percent of their personal income to charitable causes each year.

Over the past 40 years, that percentage has increased about twelvefold.

Appealing to altruism (“You can help these poor unfortunate people”) is less likely to help you raise money than appealing to the donor’s self-interest. In other words, people are more likely to give if they are told that doing so will make them feel good about THEMSELVES, or even that they might LOSE something if they don’t donate.

Social pressure and guilt are actually powerful drivers of donation.

When someone sees that a friend, or someone you consider an influential person, has supported a cause, they are more likely to also want to support that cause.

Beautiful women, and more particularly attractive blonde women raise more money (maybe as much as twice as much) than others when they are the ones soliciting money for you. Most of this effect came from donations from men (surprise!) and there was not any observed reverse effect – women giving more money to good-looking men.

Matching gifts are powerful motivators, but a 1:1 match is as good as any other, so there is no need to make it 2:1 or 3:1.

Donors like lotteries, in which their donations in some way may qualify them to win a desirable prize. Think “For every dollar you give us, your name will be entered in a drawing for this big-screen TV”. List, by the way, recommends that you consult an authority on gambling rules in your state before trying this approach, but if it can work for you, offering a prize might boost giving.

As already mentioned, these conclusions are supported by data from rigorous academic research. So, what do you think? Did any of this surprise you? More importantly, does consideration of these research results give you any good ideas for some new ways you might consider boosting donations to your cause in the year to come? As Steven Dubner says about John List “We’d be fools to not follow his advice”. Let us know if you do, and how it works out for you.

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