As a big fan of Sky1’s ‘Modern Family’ sitcom my ears pricked up when I saw an article about Sofia Vergara ‘crowdsourcing her birthday’ on Mashable. This grabbed my attention for a couple of reasons, not least because it was about Sofia but more importantly because over the last year I’ve noticed a number of crowdsourcing sites pop up but never deeply considered if charities were really using them or even thinking about them as another potential source of income for mission/campaign based fundraising initiatives. I decided to have a look around a few of these sites and see if I could find out a bit more about what makes them tick and the approach charities could take to leverage these exciting new platforms.
What is Crowdsourcing?
It is probably best described outside the context of charitable causes as its origins lie in helping start up business to secure investment funds to develop their products and services. The concept, in a nutshell, is that instead of a startup looking for one or two major investors to finance their plans they look to spread the investment across a large ‘crowd’ of individuals who will typically offer smaller parts of the total sum required. The pay off for these investors can be anything from financial rewards, being sent the finished product or being invited to unique experiences – there really is no set way. Kickstarter is probably the most widely recognised in this area and comprises of creative projects of all types from consumer products, musicians, film and video projects to Art & fashion. A key aspect of the way it works for Kickstarter is that there is a timeline in which the total desired amount must be achieved, if not the funds are not collected from prospective investors. Other sites like Indiegogo have different pricing options which mean you can still keep what is raised even if you don’t hit your goal.
How can it benefit Non-Profits?
This seems to be the key question. Now that more and more charity orientated versions of kickstarter are entering the marketplace it certainly does appear that the internet has responded positively to the way these sites work and what they can offer to people who open their hearts and their wallets in through this new medium. Some charity specific sites include Fundly.com, fundraise.com and Causevox. Non-profits can benefit from this form if they are able to put together a fund raising project as opposed to the year round general fundraising activities that they do anyway. By the term project I mean a plan of achieving a single objective with a definite and measured outcome and end goal. For example, saving an orphanage from closing down (if you’ll pardon the cliché) is one such target which can be achieved and observed. This kind of target is something that when communicated to the right audiences, using modern digital communication tools is the type of thing which can capture people’s imaginations and move them to help. Charities can develop digital advocates to spread the message, create more awareness of themselves and the on the ground activities they do and have the opportunity of keeping donors engaged on a long term basis – if they have a solid communications plan this can last much longer than the project itself and hopefully encourage users to take part again on the next one too.
How to make it work
From all of the assorted blogs and news articles I’ve seen regarding crowdsourcing for charities it seems that there is one common message throughout. What all sites seem to warn about is that charities should not think of crowdfunding sites as a miracle answer to all of their fundraising dreams. Whilst there have been some fantastic results achieved for charities big and small this has occurred because of concentrated efforts to spread awareness of their causes. To truly utilise this modern fundraising concept there are a few tried and trusted marketing principles to observe, namely;
A Planned Marketing Push
Once you have decided that you will be setting up a campaign on your chosen platform it will need a beautifully designed individual page and then a concentrated effort to make sure everybody possible is tweeting, facebook liking, blogging, +1ing and talking about your cause. All sites will allow images and most allow a video to be placed on the fund page too – you can host the video on youtube to make sure you bring in traffic through their network to increase reach. The objective is to make the page/cause go viral on as big a stage as possible, the more people that know about your cause the better.
As decribed above investors in kickstarter usually always get something in return for their funds. For non-profits it is safe to assume that most people will be happy simply feeling as though they are a part of a movement with an ambition that they all want to see realised. To reward their donation it will be imperative that they know how the campaign is developing with regular updates through enewsletters or social media or an rss blog feed for example. The more they feel a part of the entire activity the more inclined they will be help another cause in the future.
Long term engagement
Once the target has been achieved this is will only be the beginning for the donors. From this point forward they will have a great interest in how the funds are being used in the physical world. We would suggest possibly having a dedicated microsite with interactive features that allow for regular updates and comments from your community of supporters as this would be an excellent way to offer value and a sense of community to thank people for being a part of the entire movement.
Creating a campaign through a crowdsourcing site doesn’t seem to be something that can occur in isolation of any other marketing activity. If a charity decides to use this form for generating donations it must be adapted as part of an integrated communications strategy, pulling in traffic from every possible digital (or other) network it has at it’s disposal. The great thing about these types of campaigns is that the time limit creates a much greater sense of urgency as opposed to being able to donate at any time. The other great bonus is that it is potentially much more satisfying for donors to give to one cause, to see how their funds are being used and to be able to look back at the end and feel part of a difference which they can actually narrow down to a single (or very narrow) set of outcomes.
So are there any alternatives for crowdsourcing without using one of the established sites? Well the only one that really springs to mind is the option of creating a platform within a charity’s existing site which allows a number of campaigns to be set up and multiple donations to occur – this could may well be where the future is for the global charities who can see some real gains to be made from developing online peer to peer networks. For larger charities it may not be an issue to do this and have, say, different causes spread over different geographical locations for example, but for smaller charities it may be more difficult to separate out single causes.
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