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.

Podcasts for Creative and Innovative Listeners

Are you PodLearning yet? Podcasting is “trending hot” now, with literally thousands of choices available for you. If you aren’t in on this yet, it’s time to get savvy. Podcasts are most often audio, sometimes video files which can be downloaded and listened to or watched at your leisure. The ability to choose what you want to tune in to, to listen on your own schedule, and to pause and come back to later makes the podcast a very desirable alternative to commercial radio or television, and the low cost of producing a podcast allows most developers to offer them for free – sometimes with a brief “word from our sponsor(s) at the beginning. The options on your iTunes and related I”players” (I use and iPod nano myself), as well as the prevalence of a variety of podcatchers as apps or software for your laptop allows you to download multiple streams, listen to episodes in serial, and keep up to date via feed subscriptions.

People are listening to podcasts when they awaken and are getting ready to start their day, at the gym, jogging, and driving in their cars. My iPod plugs into my car radio (USB) and I use it so often I am probably going to discontinue my satellite radio subscription! It’s great for long trips or commutes in particular.

As you might expect, the majority of the most listened to podcasts fit into the general category of entertainment. One hot entry, Serial, about a murder and subsequent investigation, leaped to the top of the popularity list last fall. It was produced by staff from This American Life, the number two most often accessed podcast. Others include Radiolab, Freakonomics, and the humor/quiz show Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!

Still, there are many podcasts that are not necessarily chart-toppers, but have solid following, and a lot of these are more educational, instructional, or (dare I say) cerebral. Several of them should be of particular interest to those who are looking to feed their creative side, or energize their innovative spirit. Here, in no particular order, are seven that you should look into. The links below will help you see what is available and decide if you would like to tune in, but to listen you may have to load the podcasts on your ITunes or your Podcatcher. Happy Listening!

Innovation Hub  From Public Radio International (PRI). The “thinkers, researchers, authors and visionaries who are crafting our future.”

The Accidental Creative  Generally featuring interviews with very creative people.

Innovation that Sticks  Particularly geared to those who are interested in how innovation and technology will affect healthcare.

Killer Innovations  Former HP executive Phil McKinney talks about developing prize winning products and technologies.

HBR Ideacast  From the Editors of Harvard Business Review, some of the best information about how business is being reinvented every day.

The Everyday Innovator  “Practices and Ideas for Product Managers, Developers, and Innovators”.

Stanford Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Series  Produced every week throughout the academic year.

Optimize Your Online Time

There are numerous guides to organizing and systematizing your social media activity online. “How to Maintain a Killer Social Plan in Only Five Minutes a Day” might be a typical title. While I would not immediately swear to the validity of some of the claims these articles make – I think that it takes a wee bit more of an investment to carry out a legitimate strategy – I certainly agree that having a planned, structured way of going about your online business will save you time and insure a more comprehensive approach becomes routine.

What is not often mentioned in these tutorials, however, is the importance of maintaining your interface in a way that supports efficiency and allows you to make the best use of your time. There’s nothing worse than sitting down at the keyboard to get some serious work done and finding that your computer is working sluggishly, web connections are sluggish, and you are constantly waiting for something to load so that you can move on to the next step.

Here are a few tips which, if followed consistently, should help you make the most of the time you spend in front of your monitor. I’ll warn my Apple using friends that I am a complete MS/Android user, so you may need to adapt some of this advice to your system.

Check Your Connection

The speed of your internet connection may not always be what your service provider advertises it to be. A lot of factors can go into this, including cable integrity, hardware connections, use of home wi-fi networks, and so forth. However sometimes there may be problems at the provider end, and you won’t be getting the signal you expect. These problems can be resolved with a phone call (my provider will reset your connection from their office if you call and ask) of if extreme, a service call. One way to find out what your actual connection speed is at any time is to use Speedtest, a quick online program that will show you your “Ping” rate (basically, how quickly you are connecting to the Internet backbone), download and upload speeds. If you connection speeds are quite a bit different than what you expect them to be, call your provider for assistance.

Close Programs You Aren’t Using

It sounds simple and logical, but how often are you switching tasks between your web browser, email tool, word processor, and favorite online game? When you click out of one window into another, the programs you left behind don’t just stop running, they continue to operate in the background even though you have moved on. An easy way to check what’s running on your computer at any time is to open Windows Task Manager, which you can do with the CTL-ALT-DEL key shortcut combination or via you Control Panel. When you see how many programs are running (and using the tabs on Task Manager, you will also see the CPU and RAM usage) you may decide to start closing those programs instead of just minimizing the windows. It can work wonders for your machine’s performance!

Clear Browsing Data

Whenever you use a browser – Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari, Internet Explorer – it stores information for later access. Cookies, visiting history, and a variety of other information may be going into your browser’s memory cache, and the more information that accumulates, the slower your browser may respond. It is good to clear unnecessary information regularly, I recommend that it be the first thing you do each time you start your browser, particularly if you have been on some extended Web sessions. For a list of links to browser cleaning instruction sets, see this helpful collection from Indiana University.

Re-evaluate plug-ins and extensions

The availability of a wide variety of plugins and extensions for your web browser can truly optimize your online experience. I wouldn’t want to live without my Pocket and Evernote buttons (for short and long term savings of valuable web sites), and I have a few friends who would wear the “P” off of their Pinterest icon if it were physical and not virtual! However helpful they are, every extension or plug-in that you add to your web browser extracts a price in terms of performance. So, use plugins and add valuable extensions, but periodically (monthly at least) review what you have added on. If you aren’t using a feature any more – or rarely – uninstall it and reap the benefit of better performance.

Install updates

I know, Installing Windows Updates and Security Patches can be a real pain – it always takes longer than we think it should. There are some very good reasons why you should regularly update your system though, including protections against malicious people whose main function in life seems to be to find and exploit weaknesses in the operating system code. The frequent patches that are delivered to us are often a response to such attacks. Updates also address general fixes and bugs in the Windows OS, and deliver new features that are being developed all of the time.

If you do not often take your computer with you when you leave the house, you are probably safe to allow automatic updating, which will result in updates being downloaded and installed as they are made available. If you need to restart your computer to activate a change, you will be given the option to do so. You can also turn off automatic updating, which gives you more control but also creates a responsibility on your part to check for updates from time to time (weekly is good!) and install those  you want to activate. For more instructions, see the Windows help site.

Use Disk Cleanup

The Cleanup tool is already installed on your computer if you are using a Microsoft OS, now you just have to use it from time to time. It will find temporary files and others that are no longer in use, empty your recycle bin, and perform other services designed to reduce the clutter on your computer. Follow these simple instructions to use the Disk Cleanup utility, and perform this task once per week or more frequently.

Use an optimization program

In my experience, there is no better thing to do for your computer than to run an optimization program every week or so. I don’t like spending that much time “under the hood” so the convenience of a one stop solution is very appealing to me. The program I use, AdvancedSystemCare, even provides a little desktop icon that uses “smiley faces” to tip me off when it’s time to start a session. ASC – the free version – will give you basic protection from security threats, support system optimization, maximize your hard drive performance, and block most malware. The professional version, which costs (but not much) adds features like registry cleaning, privacy sweep, and even recommendation and completion of disk defragmentation if needed. ASC is not the only tool out there, but it’s a good one. Other choices include Norton Security, CCleaner, and System Mechanic.

These practical solutions to optimizing your computer’s performance, when combined with strategy, scheduling, and efficient Social Media practices, should insure that you make the most of your time online, and reap the greatest rewards!

A Simple Question that Most People Will Answer Incorrectly

If I had to pick one question that you could ask to a cross-section of reasonably intelligent people, and be sure that most of them would give you the wrong answer – and confidently, no less – it would be this one: “What is the shortest day of the year in the U.S.?” Go ahead and put that question in a Google Search and you’ll see. Even they get it wrong. Don’t think those Microsoft folks are any more accurate, a Bing search brings up the same wrong answer.

In fact pretty much every web search engine, and most people on the street, will give you the same wrong answer to this apparently easy question. Here’s the deal.

Everyone, it seems, interprets this question to mean “What day of the year has the least amount of sunlight?” and, when interpreted in this fashion, the correct answer is the one you will hear the most often – the date of the Winter Solstice, which usually occurs around December 31 in the Northern Hemisphere (plus or minus a day depending on the year).

If you listen to the question as it is stated, as opposed to how it MIGHT be interpreted, the correct answer is that the shortest day of the year in the U.S. is the second Sunday in March. You remember that day, it seems like yesterday doesn’t it? This being written on March 9, 2015 it was in fact yesterday. If you were looking at one of your many internet connected devices at 1:59:59 AM on Sunday, the next tick of the clock would have jumped to 3:00:00. The hour from 2 AM to 3 AM is completely eliminated each year when Daylight Saving Time (no, there is no “s” at the end of Saving) begins, which means that the day this happens is only 23 hours long making it, in fact, the shortest day of the year! Of course, the longest day of the year is the first Sunday in November, when DST ends. On that day we get to repeat the hour from 1 AM to 2 AM because that’s when we turn the clocks back. That Sunday is 25 hours long. (Interesting story I heard about an old Indian who was told about daylight saving and said “Only the government would think that you could cut a foot off the top of a blanket, sew it on the bottom and have a longer blanket.”)

Of course, there are other parts of the world that practice Daylight Saving, and they don’t all follow the U.S. Calendar. In Great Britain for example, DST begins on March 29, and in Iran, March 22. In the Southern Hemisphere (Hello, Australia!) they turn clocks backward in first part of the year, and forward in the latter months – something about the tilt of the earth, I suspect. For all of the world travelers out there, here’s a handy reference guide for you to consult.

Daylight Saving Time has been connected with many arguments, not all of them necessarily true or valid. A lot of people think it was designed to help farmers, but farmers don’t actually like DST, and have consistently noted that “cows don’t look at clocks”. It does appear to be true that Benjamin Franklin first proposed it for the United States back in 1784, but it did not become a general policy here until around 1945 (there were some fits and starts) . Germany was the first country to adopt the policy as a country, in 1916. I wonder if there will be a big celebration for the Centennial next year?

If you want the straight scoop on Daylight Saving Time, there is no better source than Wikipedia, and if you want to know some other lesser-known facts about it, take a look at this resource. I also commend to you the John Oliver piece on Last Week Tonight.

The point of all this, and there is a point, was not really to entertain or to inform you about Daylight Saving Time, although if that happened I will take it as a bonus. The real point is to make you think, the next time someone asks a question, what question was really asked. I’ll address this more later but perhaps this simple example helps you begin to understand how nearly everyone can be wrong about an answer, and that just because we all agree on something, doesn’t mean it is true. Stay tuned!

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