In the digital age, young entrepreneurs and students are flocking to crowd funding sites to have others financially back their projects, invest in their education, alleviate personal expenses, and spread awareness of the next big idea. The Millennial generation is much more open to conversations around money, so it is no surprise that they are not bashful about asking their social media followers to contribute to a fundraising campaign.
If you’re looking to start a crowd funding campaign to back your education, a project, or even fund a surgery for your beloved pet, here’s ten tested and proven tips from experienced professionals on various aspects of crowd funding.
ON PICKING A PLATFORM
1. Research and select your crowd funding platform wisely. Questions to ask: what’s the focus, community/audience, and ROI tradeoffs for each platform?
2. Craft a compelling crowd funding story, says Rob Williams, experienced crowdfunder, entrepreneur and professor. “Invest time, energy and money in crafting a short, sexy, provocative, and/or humorous story with accompanying video.” Williams advises keeping the video under two minutes long. As long as it clearly tells your story, and why people should help fund your project, keep it as short as possible. Don’t beg, don’t be wonky or too goofy—a unique balance of sincerity, humor, and vision is best, according to Williams. Find your voice!
Pictured: Champlain College junior Naomi Fambro crowd funded using Indiegogo to help her find a publisher so her children’s books could generate revenue and sustain funds for her college tuition. Her campaign video was equally informative, humorous and creative.
ON FINDING/REACHING OUT TO BACKERS
3. Develop a comprehensive crowd funding campaign with a contact list. “Before you even think of launching a crowd funding campaign, assemble a list of possible funders you will contact once you push GO on your your campaign—friends, family, colleagues, and most importantly, networks,” says Williams.
4. Have people share your campaign on your behalf. “You want to reach out to people who themselves will reach a hundred people on your behalf,” says Tim Brookes, author of First Time Publisher and director of the professional writing program at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont. “The allies you need, though, are not just your backers—they are also the people who will help you reach your backers.”
5. Top Heavy Funding. “Find a few funders of means who will guarantee you their support right at the start, to help jumpstart the money donation meter early,” says Williams. If it looks like a popular campaign to fund, others feel more comfortable jumping on board.
Brookes adds, “Another good strategy is reaching out to people who have donated to Kickstarter or other crowdfunding websites before; they are accustomed to digitally providing financial support.”
6. Finish strong! Save a few of your expected backers—family and friends you know will donate—for the end. “Save a few folks who will come in at the 11th hour to help if needed,” says Williams.
7. Don’t be shy. Reach out to potential backers and advocates over social media, Front Porch Forum, email newsletters, in LinkedIn groups with relevant interests, and reach out to bloggers with relevant content who may share your campaign with their audience. For not-so-tech-savvy friends and family you anticipate would fund your campaign, pick up the phone or send a letter in the good’ole snail mail. It could mean a few hundred extra bucks you’d otherwise miss out on.
“Direct personal email appeals, phone calls and conversations still work better than any other single tool, in my experience, for finding supportive funders,” says Williams. “Yes, use Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms to share your story widely, but do not count on social media somehow generating money in the door.” Think about it: your friends don’t use Facebook with a credit card in their hand, ready to spend money.
ON CAMPAIGN MAINTENANCE
8. Direct mailings. Most platforms will automatically keep donors who provide their email in the loop on your milestones and updates. Make sure to thank investors through these updates as well as where you’re at in your project or any new actions taken. If you’re asking people to help fund your tuition, update them on where you’re at in the admissions process, that you’re excited about receiving your class schedule, and even what technology and supplies you’re investing in for the start of the semester.
9. Plan for campaign consistency and endurance. Running a crowd funding campaign is exhausting. Most every day, you must dedicate time to 1) thanking existing funders; 2) reaching out to new funders; 3) leveraging all communications tools available to you, including the platform’s own tools, to get your story and message out, says Williams.
10. Consistently create both crowd funding and community excitement. “Remember – you are not just funding a project; you are creating a community of funders who are interested in seeing you succeed,” Williams reminds us. “Keep this community focus in mind. Be personal, grateful, humorous, fun and witty. And have fun! Courage and creativity are both contagious.”
11. Offer incentive. When you’re asking for money to back a trip or your education, people don’t expect you to use their money in turn to provide rewards for them…they are paying for your experience and want to make sure you have a good time.
If you feel like you really want to take the time to offer incentives for your backers, here’s some scenarios and suggestions:
Send along something that is a by-product of your project, advises Brookes. You’ve already created it so it costs you nearly no time or money.
Share your work. If you’re applying to college to be a game art student, for example, share some of your art with backers. With a donation, send along a PDF of a piece of work from your portfolio. This goes for any creative-major. Send a audio file along for musicians, a video trailer for film majors, a poem or short story for creative writers. A token of your appreciation in a form of art. Brilliant!
Offer to send along a high-resolution digital photo file or get a photo printed for you backer. Whether it be a shot of you at the Eiffel Tower during your time studying abroad, with the school mascot at freshman orientation, or with your invention at an industry trade show.
Consider levels of rewards for various backers. A reward for a $500 backer should be much greater than a reward for a person donating $5. Think about compound rewards: adding something on to the previous level, so backers get the level one reward (PDF of art) and a printed, autographed copy with a personal message.
Always, always be sure to send a personalized ‘thank you’ letter.
About our Experts
About Tim Brookes
Tim Brookes was born in a small house in London, of parents who were poor, honest and liked going for very long walks. His education consisted of being forced to take written exams every five or six weeks, and eat school lunches of liver and onions…until he got to Oxford, where he had written exams every eight weeks and had lunches of pickled onions and Guinness.
This was quite enough to make him flee the country and seek gainful employment in Vermont, where he has lived for 24 years, writing a great deal and trying to grow good raspberries. He is the author of 13 books or so and teaches about publishing at Champlain College, where he is the director of the Professional Writing Program. Brookes is also the founder of the Endangered Alphabets project, the primary subject of his Kickstarter campaigns.
View Brookes’ Endangered Alphabets Kickstarter campaigns at:
Brookes asked supporters to donate funds to allow him to double the number of endangered scripts he could track down and carve. The campaign allowed him to spread the word of the Endangered Alphabets project internationally and landed some of his carvings in the Smithsonian.
The second Endangered Alphabets crowd funding campaign, maintained by students in one of his courses, benefitted school children in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. The funds raised financed the first books ever printed in some of the endangered indigenous languages in Bangladesh, allowing students to learn their native language.
Learn more about Brookes at http://www.timbrookesinc.com.
About Rob Williams
Dr. Rob Williams is a Vermont-based musician, historian, consultant, journalist and media educator/maker who teaches F2F, global studies, media and communications courses at Champlain College and the University of Vermont, and leads student trips to China, the Middle East and other distant lands when possible.
The founding president of the Action Coalition for Media Education (ACME), Williams focuses with his students on media education approaches and tools, and employs hands-on learning in his classes, with an emphasis on “blogocentric pedagogy” and use of social media platforms like Blogger, Twitter and YouTube to create class conversations and produce collaborative work, and to encourage students to find their individual voices in the emerging world of digital media convergence.
Outside of Champlain, Williams serves as publisher of Vermont Commons: Voices of Independence newspaper and its corresponding 2VR magazine; performs “pherocious pholk phunk” music in the Phineas Gage Project band, and formerly co-managed Vermont Yak Company in Vermont’s Mad River Valley, a farm business raising grass-fed yaks for meat and agritourism.
Williams has been responsible for various successful Kickstarter crowd funding campaigns, including:
HigherMind Mediaworks raised $9K in 30 days to fund a community art and music center called Quench ArtSpace as a flood disaster relief project for the town of Waitsfield, Vermont in the Mad River Valley after Tropical Storm Irene hit in 2012.
Vermont Yak Company and BYOBiz at Champlain College raised $8K to fund what may be the world’s first yak focused mobile BBQ food cart, Yak It To Me VT, in winter 2013.
Now, in the words of Williams, “Go forth and crowd fund!”