Crowdfunding Challenge 2012 – The Results!

So the dust is settling on a fantastic – if ridiculously busy – few months. The organisations taking part in the Crowdfunding Challenge had just 60 to raise their target amount, using a method of fundraising that they were all completely new to. Many of the participants hadn’t even had much experience of raising money from individuals, historically relying on grants. From our perspective the challenge was a great incentive for organisations to try something new. We’ve noticed that until people hit crisis, it is very hard for them to make time to explore potential new income streams or develop the materials needed. Without any urgency, it can be all too tempting to spend weeks deciding every next step, designing leaflets by committee, undertaking endless consultations. We hoped the Crowdfunding Challenge would be a great way to provide that sense of urgency to encourage innovation without organisations needing to have hit financial crisis!

We decided the winners of the Challenge based on who had been on the greatest learning journey – who had reflected on and put into practice what they were learning, and who had shared this with and supported the other participants.

Here’s how our winning three got on….

Same Sky – who received the £1000 cheque from our sponsors, CAN Impact

After losing our core funding from the Arts Council last year, like many other small arts charities, we were keen to try a new way of raising funds. We decided to use our crowdfunding campaign to raise money for Burning the Clocks, our spectacular lantern parade and beach fire show which takes place on the shortest day every year in Brighton. Same Sky created Burning the Clocks as a seasonal celebration for all faiths and ages and as a way for the community to turn the spotlight away from the more commercial side of Christmas.

We did lots to promote the campaign – creating bookmarks and posters, talking about the campaign on our social media, sending out press releases, contacting local opinion formers to back the campaign, and emailing our mailing list and personal contacts or suppliers to ask them to contribute. We included some offline fundraising to the campaign – adding a raffle to an evening event we were giving for local teachers at the last minute – and we were invited by our local roller-derby team to come and bucket collect at their monthly bout. I also put time into ensuring that our whole team felt involved and used a blend of old-tech and new-tech with a simple “crowdfunding thermometer” for the office wall which became a talking point for staff and visitors alike!

There were many lessons that came out of the campaign for us – in fact too many to list them all here! Firstly, that crowdfunding takes more time and energy than I had ever realised – it’s easy to see how many crowdfunding campaigns never reach their targets. We definitely found that the personal touch worked best, especially when an approach came from a member of staff the donor knew well. Also I would advise crowdfunders to be open and responsive to possibilities – you never know where or indeed what that next opportunity is going to be. We were delighted to hit our target but just as delighted to see support rolling in from unexpected sources.

Stay Up Late – who received £250 from our partners, the crowdfunding platform Buzzbnk

At Stay Up Late we were used the Crowd Funding Challenge to raise funds for our Gig Buddies project. Gig Buddies is a scheme to link up music fans with and without learning disabilities so they can go to gigs and other cultural events together. We wanted to raise funds towards the training programme we’ll be delivering to make sure buddies are well supported before the scheme goes live, and to also make sure that there are opportunities for people with learning disabilities to be involved in delivering the training sessions.

For our part the campaign took the shape of firstly having a really good think about the type of rewards we could offer and then starting to tell as many people as we could think of about what we were doing, this meant printing up leaflets, talking about it at every opportunity (which included hijacking my own sessions lecturing Brighton University students and a training session for Brighton and Hove City Council), sending regular email updates and using Facebook and Twitter to encourage engagement. We also organised offline activities such as fundraising lunches, and a club night  and were supported by friends putting on their own activities. We also made good use of the Crowdfunding Challenge Yammer group to share our activities and support other groups.

We’re happy to say we hit our target – a modest £1000, but we are a very small team (one of us at the moment) and I think the biggest learning outcomes for us were:

  • Make time everyday to tend to your campaign.
  • Take time to build your crowd and prime them before you start, and ask for help from anyone who has experience.
  • Be specific about what you’re asking for, and clear about what you’re fundraising for, and don’s assume people know what crowdfunding is.
  • Love your crowd and keep them updated on progress.
  • Be creative with your rewards.
  • Get active with whatever social media your crowd are using.

And would we do it again? Definitely, once Christmas is over though.

Newyln Art Gallery – who received £250 from our partners, the crowdfunding platform Buzzbnk

Our attempt this autumn to crowdfund for the long-wished for improvement of the outdoor space around Newlyn Art Gallery and creation of an outdoor classroom and recreation space that will help us to build a better relationship with our local was successful, but in rather unexpected ways.

We have been trying to build some individual giving into our income generation with limited success, and we wanted to try crowdfunding as a potential new way to supplement it. The first thing I realised is that putting a project up online, and on facebook and twitter doesn’t  generate the blizzard of donations that I fondly imagined. Social media is a good channel for communication – keeping people informed and engaged, and offering an easy way for them to be in touch with you, but the actual donation still comes from an old fashioned person to person ask. The tangible crowd funding campaign gave us the reason and setting to make the ask, which leads to the next thing I learned: to ruthlessly make use of the charm and contacts of staff, volunteers, trustees. The successes we had came from when we armed ourselves with the facts of the project and promoted it at every opportunity, and if you ask enough people in a charming enough way, someone, sometime is going to say yes. We had two or three really active staff members who grasped this at once, and while everyone else did some, I’ve learnt something about everyone in the team bearing fundraising in mind in all their dealings. Actually, the most successful task was writing personal letters to 50 prospective donors, which produced one large donor, and a sponsor for an exhibition next year.

Putting the project to a crowdfunding test crystallised the project for us into a very tangible picture that could be put across easily, it offered the chance for interested people to contribute, easily, something small or big, and it very definitely gave us a kick about going out and making links with the local business community in particular. But, it was hard work, I would allow at least an hour a day from the month or two beforehand to the fortnight after it finishes (I’m still chasing my tail!) to properly look after donors, solicit, communicate, and think of new things to say on facebook. The bottom line return on it in financial terms is low in comparison to the Trust and Foundations we are more used to doing, but it has brought us new friends, goodwill, phase one of a project to use to match fund, and it has given us some invaluable experience and confidence in how to find individual donors.

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Ros is NCVO's lead in Sustainable Funding, promoting a more sustainable, suitable and strategic approach to generating income of all kinds - donations, grants, contracts and trading. @RosJTweets

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