$1,500. That was the amount I needed to get myself into the Democratic National Convention as a delegate from Wyoming.
With only a few months’ warning to save over $3,500 for the total trip, it was nearly impossible to meet the goal. Even with side hustling, delaying debt payoff, and asking for cash gifts for my birthday, I would still be short by $1,500. It seemed that I only had one place to turn: my friends and family.
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You have heard the term “crowdfunding” before – it refers to raising money from a large group of individuals. Well, crowdfunding has made way for “causefunding,” in which non-profits and individuals raise money to support a specific cause (such as a trip like mine, a charity, or even a procedure or medical care for a patient in the hospital).
Today, causefunding is a massive industry in and of itself. Crowdfunding websites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter brought in a total of $17.25 billion in 2015 to North America alone, according to CrowdExpert.com. And with new sites popping up every day, those wanting to use online platforms to raise funds have plenty of choices for where and how to host their causes or charities.
If you’re looking for a few ways to begin raising money for your own cause – or your favorite charity – I have a few tips on getting started. These best practices will help put your causefunding on the map and get your mission where it needs to be: in front of those who can help financially.
Give Incentives (Where Applicable)
There’s conflicting information about giving gifts or incentives in return for donations. For investing purposes (funding for businesses or projects), giving incentives and/or equity is a requirement. However, the Journal for Economic Psychology has found that receiving gifts can actually make charity and cause-givers feel guilty for their donation and therefore reduce or hold off on their donation.
This wasn’t the case with me, as my cause was a one-time thing. In exchange for donations over $10, I offered donors lottery tickets for a chance to win a gift card. For $40, you got a t-shirt I designed with a local t-shirt maker. And a $250 got you a piñata in the shape of a certain politician.
Even though not many took advantage of the incentives, it got people talking – and it did motivate some to give a bit more.
Tell a Complete Story
When Taylor Ertl's mom was in a car accident, she turned to causefunding to help cover $10,000 worth of medical bills. Her first attempt at using these websites was difficult because she wasn’t entirely ready to share the story of her mom’s accident.
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“After raising just $500 in a month, I decided I would just type every single detail out. I think not having that story told was like downplaying the seriousness of it,” Taylor told me. The new bio and detailed updates (including photos and video content) brought new life to her campaign and increased her donations by 500 percent.
She ended up raising $10,000 in four months by continuing to be open about her mom's progress.
Don’t Forget Your Donors
For some donors, a compelling story alone will not lead to action. There instead needs to be a clear “what’s in it for you” in the mission description. In my case, what worked was explaining what I would be doing at the convention and how my role mattered in the process of democracy.
This can be true of any cause. For example, a literacy campaign fund shouldn’t be afraid to write about how teaching neighborhood children how to read will decrease potential crime rates or will increase school test scores.
Social media is a huge part of crowdfunding. While you might risk over-sharing, under-sharing can be the nail in the coffin.
Ertl avoided bombarding her personal Facebook page by using GoFundMe’s “Thank You” option, which allows you to share when someone donates. She then looked through her data and realized that most people gave on Saturdays and on Tuesdays after lunch, so she designated those days as “thank you” days and only posted about her campaign then.
Market Outside Your Network
One of the most effective ways to reach outside your network when tapped out is to go public. “I was so nervous when strangers emailed me about my mom,” Ertl explains. “I didn’t want to beg. But after the local newspaper found out about my mom’s needs for an accessible shower, their article led to about $2,000-worth of donations.”
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I, too, was able to find sites specific to the convention, and I asked them to publicize my cause. Many shared my campaign website around their networks. It worked so well that my incentives got media attention way out on the East Coast!
Crowdfunding and causefunding can be intimidating, especially if you don’t have a background in non-profits or are reluctant to ask friends for donations. But with cause-based funding sites and a plan to attract and keep attention, you can build your network of donors and raise the money your cause needs.