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How to Use Crowd-Funding to Raise Money for Your Non-Profit

posted May 21, 2013, 3:21 PM by   [ updated Jun 7, 2013, 9:44 AM ]
Of all the innovative advances in online fundraising over the past decade, one of the most impressive has to be the rise of crowd-funding websites.

Some of these sites, like, CauseVox and Fundly were set up specifically to help non-profits raise money to support their causes. Others, like Kickstarter and indiegogo, aren't nonprofit specific but have been used by charities to raise money to support their mission. Today, let’s talk about crowd-funding websites for nonprofits: what they are, and how your organization can use them to raise more money quickly and efficiently.

What CrowdFunding Sites Are

While features differ from site to site, at their most basic crowd funding sites are websites that allow your non-profit to set up an online fundraising campaign based around a fundraising page, and accept money directly from that page using the website’s own credit card processor.

Many of these sites will also allow individuals to set up fundraising pages on behalf of charities they want to support, and others will allow your non-profit to set up a master page for your campaign and then allow your supporters to set up tangential pages that they can use to get their friends and colleagues to donate a portion of the goal of your master campaign.

Some of the sites (like Kickstarter) are geared more towards producing tangible products, and thus are best used by charities like arts organizations working to fund a play or art exhibition. Others (like CauseVox) are specifically for non-profits and thus can be used to support a wide-range of organizations.

Crowd-funding sites work best for funding specific projects or campaigns, and do not work well for general fundraising or things like annual giving. Some of the above listed sites work well for raising money through events, as do event-specific websites such as EventBrite.

What Crowd-Funding Sites Are Not

Many non-profits that find out about crowd-funding websites get very excited and make the mistake of thinking that these sites are magical cures for all of their revenue woes. Crowdfunding sites can be a huge help, but they are not a fundraising panacea.

For example, one of the great things about these websites is that once you get some traction on your campaign, other people from around the world may decide to donate solely based on the strength of your project. That being said, don't expect to slap up a fundraising campaign, go away for three weeks, then come back to find that you've raise $1 million. It doesn't work that way. You'll need to get the word our first, get some traction from your own supporters, and then you may get some unexpected help.

The best way to see what crowdfunding sites are all about is to go visit a few of the sites listed above, poke around and kick the tires. Check out projects that are currently listed, and see what types of projects are getting funded, and which aren’t. Doing so will give you a good insight into whether or not your fundraising campaign has a good chance of being funded through that site.

Which Crowd-Funding Site will Work For You?

If you're interested in using a crowd-funding site for your next fundraising campaign, be sure to shop around. Each site offers different features, costs, and benefits. Here are some of the key things to watch out for:

1. Look and Feel - 
What do the fundraising pages look like? Are they appealing? Will they be appealing to your donors? How easily can you present your project given each site’s constraints and customs? (For example, at KickStarter, a video is required for fundraising success. At, you’ll want compelling pictures, but won’t need a video).

2. Ease of Use - 
How easy is it to set up a fundraising page? Do you need to know HTML or have other technical skills to make your page look great?

3. Payment Processing
What payment methods can donors use to make donations to your organization? Do they take all major credit cards? How about e-checks? How long does it take for donations made on the site to reach your organization’s bank account?

4. Fees - 
What is the total cost of using this fundraising platform? Is there a monthly fee? Set-up fees? Credit card processing fees? Fees for sending you a check or a statement?

5. Marketing and Social Networking Capabilities - 
What tools does the site provide to help you spread the word about your fundraiser? How easily is it to link and promote your fundraising page on social networking sites? Can your supporters set up their own pages to support your cause, and have the money funneled back to you and apply to your overall fundraising goals?

6. Traction - 
Does this site have traction? (In other words, are people using this site to make donations, and are non-profits successfully raising money through this platform?) You want to use a site that at least has a decent amount of traction and traffic. Ideally, people come to the site to browse for causes to support… that way, you may get donations from folks who you don't know, and who simply find you on the site.

Tips for Making the Most from Your Crowd-Fundraising Campaign

In order to maximize revenue from your crowd funding campaign, be sure your non-profit does the following three things:

   #1 – Create a Compelling Page - 
The best way to get new donors to support your cause through crowdfunding sites is by creating an emotional, compelling fundraising page. Use pictures and videos where possible, tell an amazing story, and explain to people exactly how much you need and what the money will be used for.

   #2 – Start With Your Own Network - 
It’s imperative to launch your online fundraising effort by reaching out to your own network. Tell everyone you know about your campaign – including your donors, supporters, staff, volunteers, board, etc. Ask them to e-mail out the campaign to everyone they know, and to ask their entire network to donate to the cause. You won't get donations from others on a crowd-funding site until you have a good amount of traction from your own network showing that you are serious.

   #3 – Publicize the Effort - 
You also want to publicize your crowdfunding campaign as much as possible. Put it on the front page of your website. Link to it on your Facebook page, through Twitter, etc. Try to get your local media involved by suggesting story angles. Take every opportunity to spread the word and get people talking about your project.

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