Crowdfunding for Nonprofits Best Practices - A Case Study

Last spring one of my clients, Church Street School of Music and Art, suffered a terrible flood due to a fire in an upper part of the building they rent. Thankfully no one was harmed, but the administrative offices were completely destroyed. Computers, desks, files, sheet music and instruments were all damaged.

While insurance will cover most of the basic infrastructure repairs, the school needed to replace all valuable items as quickly as possible to continue operating and providing services to their students.  For an immediate way to raise funds surrounding a specific event, Church Street School of Music and Art decided to create a crowdfunding campaign and activate the local community.

There are five main variables of a crowdfunding campaign: cause, platform, metrics, which are essentially the length of the campaign and the monetary goal, perks to contributors, and communications.  

In this case the cause was given to Church Street School of Music and Art in the form of an unfortunate accident.  So our first task was figure out what platform we would use. We looked at several options but quickly narrowed our choices down to Kickstarter or IndieGogo. There are many different variables that can make choosing a platform tricky, such as fees, platform rules, funding requirements and the ability to make contributions tax deductible.

We chose Indiegogo because the donations could be made tax deductible through FirstGiving, and Church Street School would still receive funds even if we did not meet the stated goal (however the fees paid are higher if your campaign falls short of its goal), and Indegogo does not require the campaign to fund a "project”. Kickstarter, the biggest crowdfunding platform, requires that all campaigns be a project towards a specific outcome, such as a film or a product. We felt this effort was too general to meet that criteria.

The length of your campaign and how much to raise can be tough decisions. Make sure your goal is achievable, as you don’t want your community to feel overburdened or put off by your ask, but don't be afraid to go for what you think you can raise, and even a little extra. If you make your goal you can add bonus goals and associated perks to your campaign.

When creating perks to give to contributors, play to your organization’s strength. What can you deliver that's fun, unique and contextual to the effort?  In the case of Church Street School, we asked our students and teaching artists to create some one-of-a-kind perks. Remember, creating and delivering perks will add cost to the effort, so keep them inexpensive and scalable, and don’t give away the store.  The type of perk should be attached to the value of the donation.

No campaign is successful without a solid communications plan. In addition to promoting the campaign via the usual channels: email, social media and blogging via the Church Street School properties, we also reached out to bloggers.  We contacted over one hundred NYC “mommy bloggers” and local press outlets. We got about a 10% response rate and those mentions were very helpful in spreading the word about the campaign and the School.

Although this campaign happened online, it’s important to remember direct touch points as well. While the money was being raised online, we leveraged the built-in audience of the school’s recital season for in-person appeals. We also created fun craft projects for kids to take home. One of them was a folding paper boat project: the SS Indiegogo!

People are more inclined to give to a campaign that has momentum, so line up board members and other donors to kick off the contributions on launch day. Open with a bang and build on that. Don't panic if the middle weeks of your campaign are quiet, keep up with your communications plan and get the word out consistently throughout your campaign.

Points to remember: find the story that makes your campaign unique, be realistic but optimistic with your goal, create relevant perks for donors, promote your campaign consistently online and in person, and thank everyone for their efforts at the end of a successful campaign.