Crowdfunding Dos & Don’ts

When campaigns fail to meet their targets, people cry ‘crowdfunding doesn’t work!’. But it all comes down to good planning and execution...

People mistakenly think that crowdfunding is simply a case of uploading a project and sharing a link. But there’s a bit more to it than that! Indeed, running a crowdfunding campaign takes a similar amount of time and effort to applying for grants – with the advantage that you have more control over the outcome. Unlike a grant application, which, once submitted, is in the lap of the Gods, crowdfunding gives you the chance to modify your plan in response to feedback and influence donors throughout the process.

DO pick the right project!

It might sound obvious, but not everything lends itself to crowdfunding – ask yourself, ‘would I support this project?’. If the answer is ‘no’, then think again. Crowdfunding works on the basis of lots of people giving small amounts, therefore your aim is to encourage donors to not only engage with your project, but also to feel moved to share the link with friends and family. In the same vein as the John Lewis Christmas advert, or funny cat videos, your messaging either needs to tug on heartstrings, make your audience chuckle, or get them excited about the opportunities your project offers.
Success breeds success, so if this is your first campaign then it’s even more critical that you choose something your community will want to see happen. Consider the amount of funding this project requires – a successful launch project will enable you to follow up with subsequent campaigns in the future, so keep it modest.

DON’T be too ambitious when setting a target

Unsurprisingly, setting a larger funding target will reduce your chances of success. But neither should you set a low target and expect to raise lots more – most successful projects raise no more than 10% over their target. Set a funding target that allows you to complete your project. If this is your first campaign then a project costing £10,000 or less is recommended. The most common bid amount is around £20, which might help you anticipate the amount you can raise based on the support you feel you can expect from your community. Use previous fundraising appeals as a guide.

DO build a support base before your project goes ‘live

There are two main groups to consider – your inner circle and the wider donor base. Gather around ten stakeholders to form your core team – once your project is ready to go live, ask these people for feedback in case anything needs honing. Before you launch, ask this core team to each send a personal email to at least five people in their networks, asking those people to share it with their networks, make a donation, or both! Your wider support base can be identified more easily by running a mind-mapping exercise. Segment these people – parents, businesses, community groups, education colleagues, local press, etc. – so that your messages can be targeted using appropriate language and the most relevant communication channels.

DON’T be too negative

Everyone knows that schools are short of money, but writing a long diatribe about the state of the nation is likely to switch people off. Your key message should be about the impact your project will have – what problem do you need to address and how will your project achieve this? If pupils’ lives will be transformed by this new resource, illustrate how these beneficiaries will prosper. Be positive! And when crafting a compelling story, remember to ask yourself whether people will want to share this with others.

DO create good-quality, eye-catching visuals

A picture paints a thousand words, but a video does even more! Crowdfunding’s meteoric rise as a fundraising model is largely because it allows sponsors to engage with projects and their creators, and experience their enthusiasm. A video is your opportunity to get this across, and is far more effective than even the most elegant prose. It can convince your sponsors that you are serious about carrying out your project and making it a success. Even if you can’t be funny or don’t even want to be seen on-screen, just doing a voiceover video of screenshots and/or photos about your project can be enough as long as you explain what your idea is, what you’ll do with the money, and what rewards are available to donors. You should also prepare a range of branded visuals, with different messages, for use across your social media channels.

DON’T forget to shout about your campaign (a lot!)

When mind-mapping your support base, consider which communication vehicles work best for each sector, for example LinkedIn for business leaders, Facebook for parents, etc. Word-of-mouth, posters on noticeboards, flyers to neighbouring households or distributed at school events can also be effective. As well as your planning schedule, draw up a promotional plan, then create collateral that will engage the largest possible audience. Marketing should begin before you launch – announce to your community that your crowdfunding campaign is coming on xx date to start building some hype. Maintain a buzz about your project with regular updates (again, prepared in advance), such as letting people know when you reach milestones, eg ‘we’ve achieved 50% of our target’, or share behind-the-scenes photos or interesting facts about your project. If there’s something newsworthy about your campaign, then let the local newspaper, radio and online magazines know about it.

DO keep your campaign short and snappy

Maintaining momentum throughout your project is vital, which is why projects with a shorter timeframe tend to be more successful. When your campaign first launches you’ll be excited and will push it out to your community. Then things go quiet. As your deadline approaches, you start to panic! Promoting your project more vigorously and stressing the deadline often works, but isn’t good for your blood pressure! Aim for your campaign to be live for between four and 12 weeks – better to put more energy into your campaign than spread the effort out over time.

DON’T expect donations to flood in

On the day of launch you want a flurry of donations, but this doesn’t happen without some pre-planning! Aim to get commitment from a number of people who will all add their donations as soon as the project launches. Challenge your core team to secure ten donations, or around 30% of your target, before your project goes live. Once the rest of your community sees that your project is gathering support, they are more likely to pledge.

DO show that your project is credible

Donors want to know how their hard-earned cash will be spent, and that they can trust you. No matter what your funding target, you’ll need to justify it and demonstrate that you are well-placed to deliver the project. A sensible plan shows sponsors that your project is feasible. You should also build in a contingency should you exceed your target or fall short – so explain what you will do if your project is over-funded or if you don’t achieve your target.

DON’T underestimate how much time it takes

Executing a successful crowdfunding campaign requires a good plan and a solid communication strategy. There are several factors to consider when planning a schedule: Do you have a set deadline by which your project funding needs to be in place? How much time will it take to collate information about your project, ie supplier plans/quotes, feedback from stakeholders/beneficiaries? The amount of time you need to allow will depend on the size and complexity of your project. As a rough guide, the process can be broken into four stages:

  • Plan (allow four to ten weeks) – define what you want to achieve, prepare full costings, gather evidence to show the impact your project will have, create a database of potential donors, prepare visuals, compile a promotional plan and contemplate what rewards you can offer as an incentive.
  • Recruit (allow one to two weeks) – appoint a core team, run a soft launch to get feedback and adjust messaging prior to launch and engage supporters before launch to create hype.
  • Engage (allow six to twelve weeks) – using a bank of pre-prepared messages, communicate with different contact lists using different channels, review supporter engagement and adjust messages accordingly
  • Finish (allow one to two weeks) – have a final push in the last week, post daily social media messages (keeping them positive). Once your campaign has ended, thank supporters, post updates, fulfil rewards and keep donors updated on your project’s progress.
    Allocate a chunk of time each day, from pre-launch to campaign completion, to dedicate to the crowdfunding process.

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