5 Crowdfunding Lessons

Women cheeringLast month, Creating the Future finished its 3rd successful scholarship campaign at StartSomeGood.com – a crowdfunding platform that (unlike other more high profile platforms) is entirely focused on funding for social impact / changing the world.

As we do with every venture we embark upon, we learn from every crowdfunding campaign we do. Herewith, in no particular order, some of what we learned from our most recent effort.

Lesson #1: It’s Not Really CrowdFunding; It’s PEERfunding
There is a misconception in the world of fundraising that “crowdfunding” is a way to get masses of people to invest in your work. And as the folks at StartSomeGood point out, that is just not so.

“This is often referred to as “crowdfunding” but we resist this definition as we think it gives an erroneous impression that there is a crowd out there just waiting to shower your idea with money.

In fact, what’s happening is groups leveraging and growing their existing communities — their peers — by inviting them to become partners in igniting change.

Therefore, StartSomeGood is a peerfunding site – a platform for gathering a community and raising the funds needed to create change.”

Lesson #2: The Message to Peers vs the Message to Crowds
While we have intellectually understood this subtle difference between “peerfunding” and “crowdfunding,” we experienced this difference firsthand during this campaign.

First, we noticed the difference when we asked people we respect for their thoughts about the video we prepared for our campaign.

Here is a comment from someone who has been deeply engaged with two of Creating the Future’s programs for over a year – the NPCons twitter chat and the Facebook group for consultants.

“I liked the video very much. I found one story especially compelling – the story about changing the question from “addressing the problem” to asking what is possible. For me that story is an easy way for someone who may not totally understand what Creating the Future is about to “get it”. It’s also a concrete example of one of your tools, something that made me sit up and say ‘Hey! There’s something to this Creating the Future thing!’.”

Sports fans
On the flip side, here is a comment from someone who is familiar with our work, but who isn’t as deeply engaged and excited by the vision of what we’re working to accomplish.

“I wasn’t compelled to give nor did I know what my gift would actually be doing to change the world.”

Two completely opposite reactions, based entirely on the degree to which someone already gets what we’re about at the core – the degree to which someone is already an active participant in our programs and philosophies… a peer.

We got another dose of this lesson as we tested responses to messaging – an easy thing to do when you are messaging all day every day on social media for a full week.

When our message was for general consumption (e.g. “Help changemakers learn how to change the world” or similar messages), we received barely a handful of notes from people asking how exactly we are doing what we do. Importantly, a) those people did not donate, and b) there are more effective ways of engaging that conversation, if that was the goal.

However the message that resonated the most deeply was a message that only those in our existing circles would appreciate: “If you have benefitted from any of Creating the Future’s programs, please pay that forward, to help someone else benefit as you have.”

While the “pay it forward” message understandably had zero effect on people outside our existing circle, the interesting thing to us was that the opposite was also true – the broader externally-focused message had virtually no impact on our existing circle.sports fans

The effective campaign was therefore not about changing the world, but about our existing community wanting to share what was already powerful for them – their desire to broaden the circle. The words of the StartSomeGood team rang true: “What’s happening is groups leveraging and growing their existing communities — their peers — by inviting them to become partners in igniting change.”

And clearly, how that focus on “peers vs. crowds” translates into messaging will make a big difference in a campaign’s success.

Lesson #3: Where to Find Peers
Creating the Future’s education programs are all rooted in practical experience. Our M.O. has always been to experiment, see what works, then teach that. There is nothing any of us teach or write about that we haven’t used successfully ourselves. 

It is therefore always fun for us to come back to those approaches we now teach, and put them to use once again for our own efforts!

The tool we used the most was the Life List Generator. We also used a ripples-in-the-pond exercise that we teach in our workshops and workbooks, asking whose lives are touched by our existing programs, and then seeing whose lives are touched by those people, and etc.

As they always do, those tools proved to be both effective and empowering. And as teachers, that is not only reassuring, but downright fun!

Lesson #4: Go Fast, Go Strong and Go Home
When we’ve done campaigns in the past, we’ve allowed ourselves the maximum time – 90 days – with the thinking that that would give us as much time as possible to build support. Every time, however, the heavy lifting happend in the first week and the last week.

sports fansSo this time, we eliminated the dead time in the middle, and just pushed hard for about 10 days – constantly adjusting our messaging, testing results, and then pushing hard again.

The work was the same. The results were the same. And we didn’t suffer from people getting tired of hearing about it (or from us getting tired of talking about it!).

Which leads to…

Lesson #5: Race for the Finish: Making it Happen
Message is important. Peers are important.

And then there is this thing inside us humans that has 100% to do with “making it happen.”

The most powerful message for getting people to pitch in – far beyond any mission-based message – was “We are only $X away from $2,000.”

This has been an important lesson beyond fundraising for us, as Creating the Future’s R&D work in the area of Philanthropy focuses on the financial sustainability of not just organizations, but whole communities. Clearly, beyond the dollars and the issues and the mission, we humans have this need to “make it happen.”

Which raised the mission-focused question, “What does this realization about human psychology make possible for how the quality of life in communities can be sustained?”

It is indeed far easier to ride a horse the way it’s going. If we can acknowledge and work with this particular insight into the human psyche, perhaps we can get past the angst-ridden discussions of how communities sustain themselves, and begin tapping that deep desire in all of us to make it happen.

Bonus Lessons
Two more lessons. The first isn’t as much a lesson as a whole mini-class – a practical step-by-step workshop presented by Tom Dawkins, co-founder of StartSomeGood.com. Bookmark this, and watch it when you can take notes and absorb. We haven’t found a better Crowdfunding 101 workshop anywhere.  

And the second is an invitation for YOU to share what YOU have learned in your own crowdfunding peerfunding efforts. What has worked for you? What have you learned from what has NOT worked for you? We will share all your comments with the folks from StartSomeGood, so it can help all the efforts that use their platform to – well – start some good!

Special note: We extend a very warm thank you to Tom Dawkins and Alex Budak of StartSomeGood.com, for the ongoing support you have both showed for Creating the Future’s work. You guys absolutely rock!

Photo Credits: Wikimedia commons

6 thoughts on “5 Crowdfunding Lessons”

  1. Hildy,

    Great post! Love this stuff. Sorry about all the tweets. I figured I should have simply responded here. I think differentiating between peers and crowds can be good if it’s very intentional (from the beginning) to not need high outreach, have little time / low resources and/or really only need $500-$3000 in support.

    The dual benefit opportunities with crowdfunding (specific to ‘crowd’) are numerous. This gives incredible exposure to both parties and both / multiple groups are using their lists and tongues to strike chance at our short term attention span and our ability to sell our path to ‘do good’ in 3 minutes. Planning for these takes months. Elevator pitches, pre-marketing verbiage, meetings, parties with Launch day truly being a celebration after a long / exhausting outreach plan.

    Gosh… I could write on this for hours. Love this stuff! Great work you all. I mention and share Start Some Good in all of my classes.


    Jonathon Stalls

    • While I get that the ideal of what crowdfunding could be is all you describe, Jonathan, I’d be curious what percentage of those ambitious campaigns raise the money they hoped to raise. My guess is it’s not huge, but I could be wrong.

      And I am betting that because if someone is that good at marketing and etc., then their org is likely to be hugely financially successful already – and in reality, only a a small percentage of social enterprises and start-up businesses and traditional nonprofits are that financially successful.

      But that’s just my completely not-backed-up-by-data hunch. Hoping you have data that can prove me wrong! 🙂

      • Hildy,

        Yup. I definitely see where you’re coming from! I don’t have formal data. All I have is my own experience watching others build campaigns, studying successful ones and completing my own. I’ve listed a few example themes below that I’ve consistently seen that simply limit these campaigns (again / specifically the ‘crowd’ approach). The peer approach can be a very different / and more relaxed process I feel.

        1) Belief & being sold out for your cause or product. Absolutely 150% committed (individual or group) to sacrifice tons of clocked out time to build partnerships, practice your pitch and develop your campaigns ‘brand’.

        2) Meet people where they are. Short term attention span awareness. No trailing, circling, winding, redundant statements – visuals – or themes. Simple, creative, easy on the eye and answering: why, what and how You shouldn’t make people work hard to read or follow your campaign.

        3) Soul work. What triggers so many of these successful campaigns (specifically for a cause) is how this campaign reaches into to our (or the target’s) deepest cravings to connect emotionally and spiritually to a greater ‘good’.

        4) Breaking social barriers. You have got to be bold, confident and quick on your feet to jump at and create opportunities. Calling press, marketing directors and people who have only 30 seconds of time to see the dual benefit in supporting or blasting out your campaign.

        …and many more! 😉 I’m sure you know many or most of these already, but I’ve found that so so so many of the campaigns that haven’t been successful simply came up short on one of these – or just didn’t allocate enough time.

        • Oh my – first, the stuff you’ve shared is GREAT and true of other sorts of campaigns as well.

          Second, though, I’m smiling that you could have just written your last 6 words and that would have covered all of it! “Or just didn’t allocate enough time.” It is the sense of “If we build it, they will come” that is the lure – and downfall – of many crowdfunding campaigns. And pretty much any other campaign as well…


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