By Erin Shaver, Senior Grantwriter for Joining Vision and Action


This is the second blog in a series on crowdfunding. You can access the first one here, which ran through the basics.


While we don’t know the full impact yet of a new administration, its policies and how funding will all shake out (JVA has some ideas, though, which you can check out in these blogs), we know times, they are a changin.’

Of course, some things do stay the same. Fundraising has always been and will continue to be a need for nonprofits. But as wheels go in motion to changes in rights and regulations for various groups and causes in 2017, the power of the people to come together with their financial acumen to make a statement online, and sometimes virally, should continue to be more powerful and wide-reaching.

Success stories of charitable crowdfunding

In the past few years, crowdfunding has grown to an approximately $35 billion industry, and the charity picture is an emergent part of the equation. The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protest has been the latest crowdfunding boon, with hundreds of personal pages raising millions to support the Standing Rock Sioux in the past few months. Even if it’s unclear where and how the money raised in some of the personal fundraisers will be used, donors have been undeterred and determined to do something—anything—to help this cause. Crowdfunding has played an enormous role.

Some other recent examples: Sometimes a local, smaller-profile organization already working in a community can respond quickly to a local current event and raise its name, prowess and impact at a time when people are emotional and want to give and make a difference.

Or sometimes, one of the largest, most longtime nonprofits in the country can work with local agencies of its affiliates to harness emotions toward current events.

  • In 2015, United Way of Central Maryland got an idea, launched it within 24 hours, and raised $570,000 via crowdfunding in the Restore Baltimore campaign, a MobileCause drive in response to violence in Baltimore that gave humanitarian relief and emergency support in affected neighborhoods.

Or, just like in the private sector, a third-sector, grassroots startup with a big idea can get the word out and find its backers quickly.

  • In 2014, The Ocean Cleanup raised $2.2 million on Indiegogo from 38,000 people from 160 countries to fund research and feasibility studies in cleaning up garbage in the Pacific Ocean, becoming the most successful nonprofit crowdfunding campaign at the time. The project was just the idea of a teenager (check it out if you haven’t heard of it yet!) who had an enormous idea.

Of course, current events and innovative, world-changing ideas with widespread appeal don’t apply to every nonprofit or day-to-day work. But I do encourage nonprofits to think outside the box. In some emergency response situations, private fundraising pages—with little to no vetting process—are even almost keeping pace with traditional nonprofits. We can argue the merits of private pages versus large nonprofits, but the proof is in the numbers.

  • For example, last year, more than 6,000 GoFundMe campaigns raised more than $11 million for Louisiana flood victims by mid-September. In comparison, the American Red Cross had raised about $23 million in donations and pledges designated for flood victims at the same time, which was less than its target of $35 million to $40 million. Essentially one could argue the crowdfunding pages took away from Red Cross—or argue the other way, that they generated new donors. Time will tell, but there are lessons here.

So maybe you’re game… here are some best practices

So you’re brainstorming a crowdfunding campaign. Here are a few best practices from the past few years’ success stories. The best crowdfunding campaign…

  • Is project-based with a clear tangible goal, i.e., a response to current events or issues, a new piece of equipment, production of a film or materials, a matching grant, or research idea for a new project
  • Should be seeded by board members and regular donors prior to launch
  • Ideally should be designed to reach approximately 30% of goal in first 48 hours
  • Should offer regular updates—campaigns that updated followers regularly are said to have raised 126% more than those with no updates
  • Have a clear start and end—experts say between 20 and 40 days is ideal
  • If it offers rewards, they are impact-based rather just material items (more on that later)
  • Offers a compelling story, to get people motivated even if they know nothing about the organization—and videos help, too. Campaigns with videos are said to raise 105% more than those without.

Next time, we’ll get down to the fine print. I’ll blog about the various websites for charity crowdfunding (there are many), their ins and outs, fee structures, legalities and all the latest trends there.

Come back next time for part three of three!