Crowdfunding is a term you hear thrown around in both the nonprofit and for-profit worlds these days, but few people have really grasped—and put into practice—exactly what it is. The way I’d define crowdfunding is with these three words: online social fundraising. Accepting donations online is not really innovative anymore, to be honest. We all know about online fundraising at this point and agree it’s necessary. But online fundraising in a way that allows you to leverage your community, not just for giving but for sharing, is innovative, and something that many nonprofits have yet to master.
Basically, when we talk about crowdfunding, we’re talking about leveraging and accessing social capital. Think “ice bucket challenge.” It’s perhaps the most successful crowdfunding initiative ever and definitely one of the most well-known.
Because of social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter, we have immediate access to our contacts, constituents and prospects. Reaching them is quicker, more efficient and more cost-effective. Because of this, the landscape of online fundraising has fundamentally shifted.
One of the biggest benefits of this immediate access is the ability to create campaign evangelists—people who can be our voice, champion our cause and speak to their friends, contacts and followers about our organization. When we create brand evangelists, we don’t have to do all the heavy lifting; they come alongside us and spread the word in a way that we can’t do alone.
One thing I often talk about in my crowdfunding workshops is the importance of creating these campaign evangelists, or an online street team. You need a group of advocates that will help you spread the word. And when you recruit people to be part of your online street team, one of the most important things is to manage expectations so that everyone is on the same page about what is needed and what can be done. Tell them upfront, “I want you to be a part of my team, and here’s what I need from you.”
In fact, I believe there are three key things things that will help you create a successful online street team that will make a big difference for your organization.
- Spell it out. From the get-go, tell your street team members how you want them to get involved and help support your organization. Do you want them to share your Facebook posts and retweet your tweets? Great—be specific and spell that out. So many nonprofits post or tweet great content, but they’re met with crickets because they think, “If I post something valuable, people will like it.” That’s not really true. Content needs to get shared to make an impact, so enlist your street to help spread awareness. But don’t think they’ll just “get it.” Instead, outline their responsibilities and be clear.
- But make it easy for them. I recommend making an email distribution list of your street teamers so you can send them messages saying, "Today's assignment is this.” Add the date, include a link and tell them where to post the content you send them. Or if you’d like them to send a quick email to their contact list, you can say, “Here’s a five sentence email I wrote for you to send out.” They can tweak it if you allow, but honestly, most people just want to copy paste and have you make their life simple.
- Follow up. This is a non-negotiable; it’s incumbent upon you to follow up. I call it creating a nudging calendar and basically sending an email once a week to remind your team members of their responsibilities/tasks. You don’t have to badger them, but it’s important to check in and keep the momentum going. Let them know you’re cheering them on and supporting their efforts. Just because you’re always thinking about your fundraising initiatives doesn’t mean they are, so following up on assignments will provide good reminders.
Now, not every fundraising initiative is necessarily going to include crowdfunding. Nothing is plug and play. But it’s definitely something your nonprofit should consider, and developing a street team will only further your efforts.
Speaking of fundraising initiatives, #GivingTuesday is just around the corner, which I like to think of as a kickoff to an end-of-year appeal for a lot of organizations. It’s also the perfect time for crowdfunding. It's a day of giving—a response to the commercialism of the holidays. And you can really benefit from running a crowdfunding campaign because it’s something that the the whole world is talking about it. It’s already viral, in a way.
If you’re interested in creative a #GivingTuesday campaign, it’s actually not too late—you can set one up in minutes here and get some momentum going for your end-of-year appeal with this worldwide 24-hour rally for donations.
And while you’re at it, start thinking “street team.” Who in 2017 could you recruit to spread the word, champion your cause and get the masses excited about your mission? Now is the time to get your people onboard and get the new year started right.