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?

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

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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.

Storytelling

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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.