The Fundraising Wall


Have you ever run a big online fundraiser and found the effort lagging somewhere in the middle? I call this the fundraising wall, much like “bonking” or a runner’s wall in the midst of a marathon.

The fundraising wall is pretty normal in my experience having run or been a part of more than $200 million worth of nonprofit and for-business online fundraisers, most recently with Meyer-Optik’s $683,000 Kickstarter for its Trioplan 50 lens. Almost every single fundraiser lags in the middle, and that’s increased as online fundraisers have become more mature and people — e.g. donors or backers — are no longer fascinated by the novelty of Uncle Joe, a hip start-up, their nonprofit, or their community foundation’s online fundraiser.

Because there are so many fundraisers now, there’s also a great deal of noise, too. These days most fundraisers have a novelty factor of about one to two communications. So when the initial launch euphoria passes, a fundraising wall occurs as companies, individuals and nonprofits try to slog their way through their campaign one email, one social update at a time.

The fundraising wall occurs regardless of the giving event’s length. I’ve had bad hours during almost every giving day, and have seen longer giving events have middle days that make pray you inside that the fundraiser hasn’t stalled out. You experience a great sense of relief when things start moving again.

In the worst case scenario, the fundraiser does stall out. The fundraising wall becomess insurmountable. Invariably, there are reasons. You can look for external ones to blame the failure on, but usually this type of failure comes down to value proposition, strategy and architecture.

Digest the Best Practices, but Don’t Settle for Them


I first started examining online fundraisers, and giving days back in the 2008-9 timeframe. Peer-to-peer online (or social if you want to be hip) fundraisers were still pretty unorthodox then. Kickstarter for business and personal projects was just getting going in the spring of 2009, and nonprofits were highly skeptical of online donations.

Today, things have changed with how-to resources allocated for fundraisers of all sorts, from the Knight Foundation’s Giving Day Playbook to many books on Heck, I’ve even contributed to the plethora of resources out there, too, with a few white papers like this Case Foundation giving day report.

Many of these best practices are still useful, in particular with great advice on pre-event communications formats, post-event thank-yous, and crisis communications. But 99% of these resources lack the pragmatic view of someone who has actually run a giving day. They are consultant research-based reports or written to meet an underwriter’s view of best practices, rather than offer the real perspective of hitting the wall.

Walk a mile in my shoes.

You’ll see some missing points.

Following recipes can help you build a perfect textbook online fundraiser that still experiences the Fundraising Wall. That doesn’t mean it won’t be successful, or that you won’t reach your goal. It does mean that you are probably leaving money on the table.

There’s a Day for Everything


As alluded to earlier, saturation is a huge issue. Go on Twitter most business days of the week, and you will see some nonprofit awareness or giving day trending. Or it might be their week. Or month.

Similarly, on Kickstarter, Indiegogo and a variety of other personal and business fundraising sites, you’ll see new apps, camera equipment, watches, clothing companies, etc. Peer-to-peer backing for art projects happens every day on our social networks.

There’s a day or fundraiser for everything now.

This is the beauty and the curse of online fundraising. The new option to go out and raise your own cash rather than getting a loan or surrendering equity to an angel investor who will surely interfere with your vision is attractive. For nonprofits, there is little choice. Online donations continue to grow year over year while traditional checks and mail donations dwindle.

Consumers — people in our core social networks and communities — are now accustomed to seeing online fundraisers. And they are much quicker to tune them out, especially if you simply deliver a formulaic textbook campaign that offers all the requirements. Even if your fundraiser is super interesting with a compelling topic or item to purchase, you will still experience a lag in these conditions.

Overcoming the wall becomes a central challenge for the capable online fundraiser competing in a crowded market.

Innovate and Entertain


Just having a fundraiser for a worthy product or cause won’t be enough to carry a campaign end to end. The way to overcome the fundraising wall is through entertaining evolutions in the fundraising narrative.

Interest can be achieved through content, events, surprises, new details, and prizes (that other people care about, not just you). You have to make the fundraiser something worth seeing and experiencing. Whether that’s time-bound tension in attempts to achieve a goal, pop-up events, access to leaders and celebrities, new content featuring customers using your content, or beneficiaries experiencing aid through your cause, find something to make your fundraiser compelling and interesting.

I am working on a small Kickstarter for a photography book project that will launch next week. It features the opening reveal of the project, and of course there will be the close. But I intentionally staged the campaign’s timing to feature a trip that will highlight the book’s raison d’etre in the very middle of the effort.

This will provide a compelling reason to share about the project. Since the subject is of national interest here in the United States, I imagine it will not only be compelling to my closest friends, but people in general. I hope folks are entertained.

Upon return and the fundraiser’s short close, there will be new content and initial takes on the final product. People will get to experience a reasonable preview of their book. Overall, I believe this structure will overcome the fundraising wall.

It’s thinking through the staging of an online fundraiser that can help you overcome what are very normal obstacles. More importantly, you will increase your overall yield.

What do you think?

How to Fundraise During a Giving Day

Last February, The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee kicked off The Big Payback 2015, its annual giving day in May ($2.6 million raised), with a training to help nonprofits garner the most impact. More than 400 Nashville-area nonprofits attended the event, which was emceed by giving day guru Spencer Whelan. He keynoted and moderated several panels, all of which offered incredibly useful tips for participating causes seeking to run successful fundraisers.

The conference room was filled with eager nonprofits ready to begin their 2015 campaign. During breaks, they networked, shot promotional videos and took Big Payback social media pics in a photobooth.

This year’s May 5 event will be the second #BigPayback. It is a part of the larger Give Local America initiative hosted by my client Kimbia. Last year’s giving day raised nearly $1.5 million for 525 local organizations. Whelan noted that second year giving days tend to see significant increases in funds raised. With that comes more competition.

Nonprofits that want to successfully compete for top awards in a second year giving day should consider a more thorough campaign. Whelan said that winners in second year giving days often create their own prizes to augment the Community Foundation’s prize pool ($250,000 in prizes last year).

Results always are contingent on the effort a nonprofit puts into the giving event, said Whelan. He encouraged nonprofits to set realistic goals for their giving day. Specifically, they shouldn’t get ridiculous with an overstated goal (think #IceBucketChallenge results), nor should they shoot too low.

Second Year Tips for Success

A nonprofit’s second year effort is more challenging than the first. Because of the increased intensity of the event and number of nonprofits participating, a nonprofit needs to do more than just turn the proverbial lights on.

With three months until May 5, nonprofits were encouraged to start building their campaigns immediately. “This year is all about cultivating. How will you prime influencers and donors before the #BigPayback?” said Whelan.

Nonprofits should use the time before the giving day to:

  • Build a compelling narrative for the giving day
  • Cultivate matches and prizes to excite their donors
  • Activate board members and volunteers with giving day roles
  • Inform donors that the nonprofit will participate, and get pledges to donate in advance
  • Get influencers on board who can fundraise and share the message
  • Build out communications programs leading up to the day of giving that include advertising, emails,
  • social media updates, visual media assets and more
  • Create post-giving day donor cultivation programs that thank them and show results

“Focus on your efforts that have impact, then engage with donors before the giving day,” said Whelan. “A fairly significant portions of your giving day donors will come from your ‘base’ of supporters who are already committed. Therefore, the giving day itself should be an execution of your pre-seeded efforts, with additional focus on converting new donors. Updates the day of #BigPayback should be celebratory and motivational in nature.”

The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee has built an extensive toolkit for participating nonprofits. It gives them access to graphics, social media tips, event facts, a planning calendar, a sample press release and email templates.



Building an emotionally compelling story is a critical part of any giving day campaign. More than anything, a giving day is not about a message to an entire region. It’s a moment to rally a nonprofit’s specific segment within that region, educate people about the cause, and show how it impacts the community.

“Offer a simple story, something that builds on last year’s effort, a continuation,” Whelan said. “Make it a simple plot, and make it open ended. Offer a hero, present the conflict, how donations help. Continue the story after the #BigPayback in your thank yous and, of course, next year.”

Nonprofits should invest in creative storytelling for the highlight stories. A panel featuring Abrasive Media and Lindsley Avenue Church of Christ shared out-of-the-box storytelling methods. The church created a rap parody video that drove significant donations during the 2014 #BigPayback

Spencer Whelan’s keynote speech is available online here. Nonprofits looking for more tips should check out the toolkits provided by their giving day, like the Big Payback’s. A second source is the Knight Foundation’s Giving Day Playbook.

This post ran originally in the Huffington Post.

Working on a Cool Documentary Project for Audi

Last week, I published several photos and social updates indicating that I had visited a landfill in the Salt Lake City metro area to help document Audi’s carbon offset program for the new A3 e-tron launch this fall. The hybrid car is a game changer for Audi, but perhaps what is most impressive is the company’s commitment to do more than just produce a sustainable car. The offset program addresses the carbon produced during the manufacturing process and the first 50,000 gas powered miles driven in an e-tron.

That brings me to the Trans-Jordan Landfill. It was an incredible experience seeing how a landfill that produces toxic methane gas – which is 25x worse for the environment than CO2 according to the EPA – turns that gas into a clean energy source.

Geoff Selfie in Landfill

I won’t lie, it smelled really bad. And the setting between two beautiful Rocky Mountain ridges was surreal, especially with seagulls flocking to peck away at the garbage. I wore a clear poncho to avoid getting pooped on by the thousands of birds. But it was in this bizarre setting that something special happens.


These orange cones mark wells, places where parts of the landfill are full with trash and the methane is pumped out of the land. They move the gas to a facility maintained by Granger Energy on site where massive turbines turn the gas into electricity for 4500 homes in nearby Murray, UT. While toxic, the methane can be turned into a profitable source of alternative energy and help reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.


In addition to the methane program, the Trans-Jordan Landfill employs Esther Davis (pictured below). Esther was our guide during the trip, and she helped educate us about the landfill, how it recycles, and the methane to energy program.


Part of Esther’s job is to educate local school children. We attended a couple of the classes and watched the kids go crazy as a few larger items of trash were destroyed by bulldozers.


These kids were pretty amazed to learn how their trash is turned into energy, and also how little their community recycles. It’s good to see a general concern for the environment in today’s youth. The sentiment provides hope for the future, particularly with my daughter Soleil. At four years old she is already concerned about the environment and wants to protect pollinators. I look forward to explaining the Trans-Jordan Landfill methane-to-energy process to her when she gets a little older.

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All in all, it was really quite amazing to see this story unfold in person. Just starting out with the Utah sunrise coming through the gas pumps on top of the landfill was incredible. Then watching the seagulls fly into the landfill to pick at the refuse while children watched the bulldozers manage our waste was esoteric to say the least. Finally, the tremendous sound of the massive turbines working to turn toxic gas into alternative energy was powerful.

The Trans-Jordan Landfill trip was part of a larger documentary film being produced by VIVA Creative on behalf of Audi. This will also include a trip to Kenya, Africa later this month to document a second project in the carbon offset program. It’s definitely an honor to be part of the team, and producing the secondary content for the effort. More to come.

Some More Thoughts on Using Periscope/Meerkat

Periscope and Meerkat are all the rage. Like Robert Scoble I still think these services will create many bad videos. But at the same time, I’d be a fool if I denied that some brands like GE are already using these tools to build a narrative, and actively engage audiences.

So this Tuesday Tenacity5 Media will be experiment with it during GiveLocal America. C.C. Chapman came on board for tomorrow, just to help the team here in DC. I’ll be in New Orleans covering GiveNOLA, and Erin Feldman will be in Kimbia’s office here in Austin, TX and Jessica Bates will be working with C.C. in DC.

All three of us will be providing updates from our various locations about what nonprofits are doing to win their communities’ respective giving days. These updates will be short and spaced out with each oof us reporting every hour, and one of us reporting on the @givelocal15 account every 20 minutes.

Getting ready! Just under 32 hours until #givelocal15

A photo posted by Give Local America (@givelocalamerica) on

So I needed to brush up on live streaming best practices. There have been some good pieces on best practices put together already. A quick summary of some smart tips:

1) Get a tripod for the phone so the video is steady.

2) Make sure your battery is charged.

3) Use the top third of the phone for your head (and shoot vertically).

4) Turn off notifications from your other apps so they don’t interrupt the broadcast.

5) Do your best to schedule your broadcasts in advance.

One thing I’d like to see some more of is using live video to offer citizen journalism broadcasts. So I started thinking about how I was going to use live video in combination with photos from the scene. More often than not, I thought of major events and how networks cover them live


GiveNOLA will offer a live event in Lafayette Square with organizations actively fundraising. So it’s a great opportunity to use live video to execute interviews with donors as well as Greater New Orleans Foundation and nonprofit staffers.

There will be many nonprofit parties, too. So the trip offers an opportunity to show live event activities, parades, music, etc. Then there is the behind the scenes management of the giving day from the community foundation’s perspective, the metaphorical war room shots. Finally, there will surely be good stories unfolding on site, and this is an a opportunity to report on them.

One thing I think traditional broadcast media does well is that they keep video material short. I think livestreaming offers the temptation of continuing to show live coverage when in reality, we know social videos do better when they are brief. Five minute livecasts of in-street action or behind the scenes interviews is probably too long for this purpose. I am thinking two minutes give or take is the cap for these efforts.

What do you think of Meerkat and Periscope so far?

Featured photo by Iwan Gabovitch

Save a Life This Spring

We often think the holidays are the most dangerous time for those suffering from depression, but in actuality it is spring.

Maybe it’s the hopes of change the New Year brings. When a long winter offers little relief and the weather turns, a staggering amount of people choose to take their own lives.

The IMAlive Online Crisis Network needs your help to meet the annual surge of suicides. I’ve decvided to help, and have made IMAlive Tenacity5 Media‘s pro bono client for 2014.

You, see I understand how scary suicide is. I’ve had several friends commit suicide over the years, and had someone very close to me confess ideation of suicide in 2012. In that case, I was able to convince my friend to get help. X was diagnosed with clinical depression, received medication, and has been doing progressively better. Let me be clear, if X had committed suicide the effects would have been just devastating in my life. I wish I could tell you more, but I’ve been asked not to reveal this person’s identity.

More people die of suicide these days than in car accidents, 38,364 victims in 2010 according to the CDC. And anyone of any age is a possible victim, not just the young and elderly. Middle-aged people represent the largest growth demographic for suicide.

The statistics are staggering. The impact on real people’s lives is far worse. I talk periodically with Reese Butler, founder of IMALive and parent 501c3, the Kristin Brooks Hope Center. Reese’s Kristin died by suicide in 1998 leaving him and his child with a fragmented life. If you ever have a chance, listen to Reese tell his story. It’s powerful and devastating at the same time. Needless to say, the impact on Reese was just horrible, and he has committed his life’s work to try and prevent others from suffering the way that he and hundreds of thousands already do.

People in crisis generally don’t have the energy or ability to take on a long search for help. Please lend a hand to those around you who may be suffering in silence find the help they need within seconds.

You can give your year-end tax deductible donation to the IMAlive Online Crisis Network here. IMAlive uses your tax deductible dollars to make sure that crisis counselors are available 24-7 online and by telephone so that whenever someone needs to talk, they receive an answer.

Thank you for helping to save a life like Kristin’s this Spring.

The above photo features Kristin Brooks in a 1931 Ford Model T.

Thoughts on Collaborative Social Innovation

This is Pensaola Beach, awash with tar balls from the Deep Horizon Oil Spill.

Recently I ran across a phenomenal crowdsourcing initiative last week, Lego’s NXTLog Senior Solutions Challenge, which leverages robotic designs to create better living for the elderly. It was a brilliant blend of brand, cause and community that empowers customers to make a difference.

I could not help but wonder how can B Corps and nonprofits and general do-gooders leverage the power of new models like the collaborative economy to share and make great things happen?

Social good is no longer the domain of big donors or causes anymore, but we haven’t gotten much further than crowdfunding, social sharing, and participatory access to campaigns. There is a stiff arm between cause and community.

What if mission trips were something that anyone can take, regardless of faith? Or if you couldn’t participate in a full four week mission trip, could you offer a portion of your work to another person?

Can we build stronger volunteering platforms to allow people to intelligently make a difference when a crisis like the Oklahoma tornadoes or the Deep Horizon oil spill happens? In both of those instances individuals were turned away from making a difference because their unorganized presence created more rubbernecking than contribution. Right now it takes an organization like Crisis Commons to try and harness general volunteering and good will.

How about technology? Could people donate minutes or bandwidth to a region on a temporary basis? Or could a company share its Salesforce database with smaller nonprofit partners so they, too, might benefit from a top tier CRM solution?

You can see how collaborative model could offer significant progress to the cause space. Yet, here we are, playing the same game.

Perhaps it is time for more.

What do you think?