A few weeks ago, I received a request from a blog reader:
“I would be interested in an article on the topic of social media fundraising and prospect research. For example, a prospect giving to a Facebook birthday fundraiser for Save the Whales. My understanding is that donations to something like that won’t appear on iWave under the donor’s name because the donations are grouped together. Any ideas on how to quantify donations you may see on someone’s social media account?”
I know that this is a topic that has interested Brent Grinna of EverTrue for a long time, so I asked Brent if he’d be willing to tackle this question. I’m delighted that he said yes! Thanks, Brent, for sharing your thoughts here! ~Helen
$24,000 to monitor the health of honeybees. $10,000 to bring water filters to a girls’ school in Bangladesh. $250,000 to build an educational therapy center for special needs children in a remote area of India.
Each crowdfunding success story is completely unique. What they all have in common is their reliance on a large number of donors giving small amounts…and spreading the word organically.
Crowdfunding has changed the face of philanthropy in recent years and left many traditional fundraising institutions wondering how best to harness its power and mitigate its risks. Nonprofits around the world have successfully launched crowdfunding campaigns to send student groups on mission-driven trips abroad, support a specific research project, or cover a unique, one-off initiative. Many institutions have embraced this uncertain fundraising approach and reaped significant benefits, both for donor engagement and for major gift pipeline.
The authentic, actionable, impactful nature of crowdfunding campaigns is what makes them so compelling. Friends, coworkers, and family are the donor base, and we are intrinsically driven by a sense of community and a desire to join the crowd. Especially if the crowd shares a common commitment to make the world a better place.
At EverTrue, we’ve been especially proud of many of our advancement friends for holding their noses and jumping into the crowdfunding game. In some ways, it has been a counter-cultural move, but so many organizations now have a myriad of success stories on smaller projects and programs that would not have been possible without crowdfunding, with donors that would have otherwise been disengaged (take the University of Oregon, for example).
Now that many nonprofits have embraced crowdfunding and are currently coordinating and managing a number of campaigns, we’re collectively faced with the question of how to identify, quantify, and steward donors to crowdfunding campaigns?
We struggle right alongside our fundraising partners to answer this question. Part of the struggle is due to the fact that many crowdfunding donors choose to be anonymous or donate under a pseudonym. And if the campaign is not managed by an advancement employee who has established a direct link between the crowdfunding software and the school’s CRM, identifying donors is even more elusive.
We may never arrive at the moment where we can identify every person who has donated to a crowdfunding campaign. But, think about this: perhaps we don’t actually need or even want to.
Donors who give to crowdfunding campaigns are exploring a new means of supporting their favorite nonprofit or cause. If they’ve chosen to give anonymously to a small-scale cause they care about, it wouldn’t be donor-centric to move that individual through the traditional donor pipeline by mailing them letters of thanks, adding them to telefund lists, and listing them on the printed donor roster.
Rather than give in to the “Quick! Quantify!” urge, remember first and foremost that these donors are engaging authentically and organically with a cause that resonates with them.
Before jumping to examine crowdfunding campaigns through traditional fundraising lens, fight that impulse. And instead, remain curious. What about these crowdfunding campaigns is working, and what isn’t? How are previously disengaged donors reacting? How many anonymous donors are there? Does the crowdfunding campaign have a defined purpose and impact statement? And, how can these insights inform the more traditional fundraising approaches of our development offices?
The suggestion to remain curious isn’t a decree to sit back and let it all unfold. There are ways to identify engaged donors and begin understanding the crowdfunding donor profile. Start by taking lessons from these campaigns and replicating them in the more familiar and comfortable annual/regular giving space (all with the vision to build your major gift pipeline). Here are some suggestions for that:
- Ensure that crowdfunding campaigns are shared on your school’s professionally managed social media sites. Track likes, reactions, shares and comments on campaign posts. Use this valuable data to build insights on crowdfunding donors, and route them to annual fund or major gift portfolios, as appropriate.
- Take note of the powerful effect of peer-to-peer fundraising, especially on social media. Who are your social media champions? Which of your alumni, members, friends, patients, etc. are highly engaged on your nonprofit’s social media accounts? How can you earn the respect and trust of these champions so that they can help to spread the word about your nonprofit’s longer-term fundraising priorities by sharing relevant content across their social networks? (Look to Oklahoma State for insights on how they increased donations to the marching band by 40%.)
- Do not miss the opportunity to learn about the programs that are being supported by successful crowdfunding campaigns. These are causes, however small, that your constituents genuinely care about. Do your research; meet with campus partners; discover whether there is a program or project that needs longer-term, more sustainable support.
- Bring the crowdfunding model to a larger scale. Work with your Development Communications team to create inspiring, relevant content on that program area. Share it across your organization’s social media platforms. Track results. And take action on every engaged constituent. (Does this sound like a larger scale crowdfunding campaign? It should!)
We understand that the fact that we can’t pin down and call every donor to a crowdfunding campaign feels inherently like a missed opportunity. But rather than try to make crowdfunding fit into the traditional fundraising model at your organization, think of it as an incredibly useful pilot program that you can learn so much from. Remember: change is the only constant in life!
We are EverTrue are working closely with Facebook to explore the back-end capabilities of Facebook Fundraiser for gathering useful donor data and insights. There is more to come, but suffice it to say that we look forward to sharing what we learn with all of you!
In the meantime, don’t miss the opportunity to track engagement with crowdfunding campaigns on your nonprofit’s social media pages. But by the same token, don’t spend frustrated hours trying to identify and quantify every donor that made it possible for your school’s a cappella group to travel overseas for a competition. Instead, learn what made this mini-campaign so successful, and replicate it on a larger scale using the well-established resources of an advancement shop. (UVA took this approach and funded two $3M professorships.)
All the while, keep in mind that tapping in donor interests and acquiring donors via targeted campaigns is the first step towards building long-term philanthropic relationship.
Curiosity will build a bridge between the old and the new. Good luck (to all of us)!
Brent Grinna founded EverTrue in 2010. He is CEO of the company, which has 50 employees and is based in the beautiful seaport area of Boston, MA. Brent is on Twitter at @BrentGrinna.