Pedestrian Bridge in the Navy Yard

What Nonprofits Can Learn from Kickstarter

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Nonprofit online fundraising lacks good follow-up. Some nonprofits like charity: water are fantastic with their post donation experience, including thank yous, reporting results, and continued community cultivation. But in general, most nonprofits that participate in giving days or host their own larger online fundraising events fail to deliver in their post donation experience.

Ironically, or perhaps to no surprise, Kickstarter — the standard used in for-profit online fundraising — provides a more rigorous customer-centric solution. The platform requires certain amounts of interaction and follow-up after a pledge has been made. Success demands that businesses and individuals fulfill their commitments with updates, surveys, and of course, product delivery.

Focusing on the Wrong Things

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A charity: water drilling success.

Nonprofits know donors are important. They could not exist without them. Yet most fundraisers are designed to get donations and achieve a dollar goal, as opposed to cultivating relationships with donors who also care about what the nonprofit is trying to achieve. That monetary focus creates the motive for failing to achieve a great post-donation experience.

Even the vaunted Knight Foundation Giving Day Playbook in its follow up section encourages community foundations to analyze the data so they can learn, and grow a bigger giving day (whatever their foundation-centric goal is). Umm, what about interacting with donors after they give? What is the community experience, Knight Foundation?

The biggest problem with the Knight Foundation’s playbook is that it completely focuses on galvanizing a community to raise money (or grow an community foundation’s fund, or…) by activating nonprofits, leveraging partnerships with media and the like, and mass communications. It ignores the donor experience. That would be like the NFL focusing solely on teams and media partners, and completely ignoring the fan experience. Huge mistake. But that is another post for a different day.

As Avinash Kaushik, Google Analytics wizard and product marketing evangelist, says “Suck Less” by focusing on the user (e.g. donor) experience as your primary driver and not data points. Nonprofits have to look at donors small or large as investors. Just like a Kickstarter, people give money for something: To affect change, support a friend, and/or to feel better about a problem.

When a nonprofit fundraises, it is to achieve something. That is the shared value, the goal that all parties want to see.

The customer wants to see and possibly participate in the achievement of that goal, or at least the attempt to get there. Getting back to charity: water, one of my favorite case studies features the nonprofit failing to drill a well in 2010. It was something investors experienced with the brand, and they responded well when the failure occurred. Founder Scott Harrison said at that time, “Perhaps people wanted to see us fail. Perhaps it was a triumph for the cynics and apathetics. But I don’t think so. I think people just want to know the truth.”

Investors want to be communicated with. They want to know what is going on, and they understand that the journey has bumps in it. Communicate with them. Which brings us to the lessons nonprofits can learn from Kickstarter.

Lessons from Kickstarter

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An image from my personal trial Kickstarter for a book, Cuba: Seven in 10.

There are many aspects of the Kickstarter platform that are worth experiencing. From prompts to updates to how to structure a fundraiser and promote it for success, nonprofits can leverage a lot for their own efforts. It’s worth setting up a small personal fundraiser just to experience it. That being said, the three big Kickstarter takeaways for a nonprofit post-event experience include, communicate often and frequently, fulfill your commitments, and make it engaging.

Communicate

Kickstarters require frequent updates. Successful campaigners communicate often, as they deliver not only the product, but also offer a level of transparency into their efforts. That is true during the Kickstarter when someone is soliciting. It is also true afterwards when brands fulfill their promised product or action for their backers.

Nonprofits often communicate frequently during the fundraiser, but afterwards most simply solicit investors for more dollars. Worse, these solicitations tend to bore investors!

Instead, provide regular progress reports. Show your donors/investors how their dollars are making an impact. Do it without asking for a donation every time, too. You might be surprised how well that will go over, and create additional fundraising opportunities in the future.

Fulfill

Kickstarters promise a result. You can communicate all you want with your backers, but if you don’t fulfill it is a fail.

Many people feel the same way about nonprofits, and won’t donate to a cause again if it fails to achieve success. So the biggest way to garner repeat donors is to actually show progress. Demonstrate that you are achieving your mission’s results. If you fail, communicate why and what’s next, just like charity: water did.

Some fundraisers back a specific action or program. The same principle applies in those cases: Show results for that action or program.

Engage

Kickstarters are inherently exciting and engaging. With Kickstarters people create videos, add stretch goals, and send fun promos, which are all part of the solicitation process.The post process should continue that experience. Let people have a say, let them experience the execution of the product first hand. The meaningful part of engaging in an activity or with a cause cannot be underestimated.

One of the better executions I’ve seen was a contest my client Meyer-Optik ran for its customers. They bought a product, the Trioplan 100, and it has shipped. Was that the end? No, you could win a contest with pictures you are taking with the product.

The point is find ways to let people experience how your cause is changing the world. Invite them to an event, let them see field work via video, or meet the executive director via a Hangout.

A nonprofit can always create other ways for people to engage beyond donating, too. Volunteer, or send messages of encouragement, or advocate. Find ways.

What do you think?

Mashable Outtake: 12for12K’s Susan Murphy

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My column last week on Mashable tied together overarching themes from mega charity events like Twestival, 12for12k, Tweetsgiving and CrisisCamps. To get the information, I interviewed the four organizers cited in the article. Each interview was fantastic and informative in its own right. So with my editor’s blessing I am publishing the unedited interview source material over the next couple of weeks for general consumption, starting with Susan Murphy‘s 12for12K interview.

GL: What makes 12for12K unique as compared to other large-scale social media events?

Susan:I think what sets 12for12k apart is that we started small. It wasn’t about getting the large numbers for us right away. In other words, we weren’t trying to raise a million dollars in a month. Our goal was pretty reasonable. Find 1200 people to donate $10 per month for 12 months.

Since we were already pretty heavily involved in social media, reaching 1200 passionate people didn’t seem too daunting a task for us. We knew we had the capacity within the core team to reach people, and we focused on inspiring people to not only donate, but to help us spread the word. Our idea was to focus on building a community first, and the money would follow.

GL: How does 12for12K attract the long tail (large amounts of people) so successfully?

Susan:We focused first on building a community that cared about the cause. These people became our ambassadors – they were as passionate as we were about helping, and they spread the word. We got the charities directly involved too, and made sure their stories were out there for people to hear. Once we had a passionate community, spreading the word was much easier. When we needed to get a message out, or inspire people to contribute, our community went into action.

GL: In spite of its size, people seem to feel a relationship with you and local 12for12K organizers. How did you achieve that?

Susan: It’s not enough to just find a bunch of people willing to spread the word – that kind of publicity has a shelf life. We needed people to commit to 12for12k long term. We achieved this by empowering our community, not just “using” them for their blog posts and retweets. We wanted our community to feel ownership in 12for12k.

So we encouraged their ideas and feedback, and eventually 12for12k took on a life of its own….people were organizing their own fundraisers, and offering to help with web site design, logos and graphics, content, video production, social media outreach and other tasks. It is a true community effort, and our supporters have been absolutely critical to the success of 12for12k. It was this strong community that raised over $100,000 last year. We are so grateful to everyone that has supported the cause.

GL: What can a cause learn from your effort?

This has been a learning experience for us from the beginning. One of our biggest lessons happened mid-last year when we started to lose momentum. This is a natural thing with any long term initiative, and it’s something that causes need to be aware of.

It took some time to pinpoint the exact issue, but we realized that we’d lost some of the connection with our supporters – we weren’t reaching out to them as often, and weren’t listening as intently. We refocused our efforts on being there for our supporters, and regained our momentum by making sure we were involving our community at every step.

GL: What’s your favorite social media tool that you used for 12for12K?

Susan: Well, my mantra is, it’s not about the tools… but if you insist. ;) It’s important to leverage the platforms where your community resides – in our case it was important to have our home base as the web site www.12for12k.org, where we could share news and promote the charities and events, as well as promoting our strong community and highlighting their tremendous efforts.

Involving our community in conversations on our Twitter and Facebook pages was also extremely important. I would say that our leveraging of Twitter has been extremely successful. Last year we worked with Scott Stratten (@unmarketing) and held a Tweet-a-thon for our March charity, Share our Strength, and brought in over $12,000 in 12 hours, which was remarkable.

We’ve had other amazing 12for12k’ers that have also done their own online fundraising events, like concerts and live webcasts, with great success. But I think a balanced social media strategy is the best approach. Find your community. Listen to them. Encourage and empower them to share the message. The tools come second.