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Nonprofit Crowdfunding Storytelling Tips

Nonprofit Crowdfunding: 7 Storytelling Tips for Successful Campaigns

Crowdfunding is a method of raising funds from many people in order to fund a project or other venture. Although it is widely used in for-profit entrepreneurial projects, it also has great applications for nonprofits as well. When campaigns are run correctly, non-profits can realize great returns, including increasing funding and growing their supporter community.

This concept predates the Internet, beginning many years ago in a variety of capacities, such as authors advertising book projects and the sale of war bonds. The modern online version first gained popularity online in arts and music communities. ArtistShare was launched in 2003, followed by IndieGoGo in 2008, Kickstarter in 2009, Microventures in 2010 and MobileCause in 2014.

The industry as a whole raised $16.2 billion in 2014, $34.4 billion in 2015 and may have topped $60 billion in 2016. It’s an industry that has continually grown in leaps each year.

While there are great successes, roughly two-thirds of projects fail to raise their intended funds. Success often pivots on careful planning, and that begins (and ends) with storytelling.

Why Non-profits Must Tell Great Stories

As with every aspect of communications, non-profit crowdfunding has to incorporate effective storytelling.

  • Stories help people connect with and remember things
  • Stories have the power to help make decisions
  • Stories help to inspire a sense of generosity

People are likely to support those with whom they most identify. Showing abstract numbers, no matter how impressive or relevant, doesn’t inspire people as much as the plight of an individual. Telling your story (or that of your cause’s target beneficiaries) from a sympathetic perspective, can sway people to support it and take action. When people are presented with the story of an affected individual or group, they are likely to give twice as much as they otherwise would have.

Seven Non-profit Crowdfunding Storytelling Tips

1. Answer the five Ws and H

As with any good story, you need to include who, what, when, where, why and how. Who are you trying to help with this campaign?

  • What do you hope to accomplish and use funds for?
  • When do you need to do this by?
  • Where are people affected?
  • Why is this cause important to you (and to your supporters)?
  • How do you plan to make it happen?

2. Make it personal

As noted above, it’s important to tell the stories of individuals. Use examples of people that you are already helping or who are you currently trying to help. Details and specifics will have more of an impact on donors that you’re hoping to attract.

3. Make it specific

Focus on a specific goal to achieve a specific result. Write about what you’re planning to do with the money and what you’re hoping to achieve. By having a specific goal in mind, more people will be inspired to donate.

4. Make it visual

Pictures and videos will make people want to spend more time reading about your campaign, while greatly enhancing the personal connection to your cause. Make sure to use quality, relevant images and videos. According to IndieGoGo,

“Campaigns with a pitch video raise 4 times more funds than campaigns without one, so it’s clear that the crowdfunding community enjoys videos.”

For more on the power of visuals and suggested uses, see our article, Visuals: A Nonprofit Storytelling Superpower.

5. Make your donors the heroes of the story

Express how important donors are to your cause and your success. You literally can’t do this without them. That makes them the true heroes of the story that you’re writing. So make them feel important and part of a winning team.

Show that you appreciate them and the time they are taking in learning more about your cause. There may be a place built right into the platform that you’re using. Make sure to thank donors individually because this will really show how much you care.

6. Show why your organization is the right one for the job

Demonstrate why your organization is the right one to take on this cause, and why – with supporters’ help – you are the best-poised to succeed. This is a great opportunity to highlight your experience, expertise, access and proven track record.

7. Provide a compelling call to action

In order to turn a potential supporter into a hero, they must take action. While most crowdfunding platforms have a request for donations built in, your campaign will work better if the hero’s call to action is built right into the story and gives the reader a clear instruction (e.g. “Help us give students like Matthew a fighting chance, with a tax-deductible donation.”).

Action Steps: Start Your Story

Determine if Crowdfunding is Right for this Cause or Project

Crowdfunding isn’t right for every occasion when a nonprofit wants to raise money. Our infographic can help you decide if this is the right project and the right time to run a campaign for your cause.

Pick the project to get started with

Your nonprofit may have multiple projects that could use funding. Choose the one you feel is the most important to start with and has the greatest chance of success. Focus on raising money for that cause before moving onto others.

Start crafting your story

Use the tips above and begin to write your story. Focus on the individuals that you’ve helped and the reason behind why this cause is so important. Once you convey those reasons, it will show readers the importance behind it as well and inspire them to help.


This article originally appeared on dotOrgStrategy.com, where Boris shares frequent digital strategy advice for nonprofits.

Boris of dotOrgStrategy.com
Boris is the founder of dotOrgStrategy, a platform for teaching nonprofits how to effectively use technology to achieve and expand their missions, without over-stretching their resources; and Speed of Like, a boutique digital agency focusing on small businesses, startups, and nonprofits. A storyteller and entrepreneur, Boris is excited to combine his passions for technology, storytelling, and making a positive difference in the world by helping organizations increase impact locally and globally, through digital tools including websites, social media, email, advertising and crowdfunding.

What I Learned about Jewish Entrepreneurship at Interfaith Camp

There I was in the craft store parking lot. Twenty-four, clueless and trying to budget for enough tack and glitter to make this a day camp that was recreationally appealing, let alone worth attending.

But there I was. Dreaming of craft supplies and the opportunity to coordinate an interfaith children’s camp.

I was excited and terrified.

I had almost nothing and everything.

I spent that summer in a periodic haze of mucking up and making lemonade from my professional lemons. The task? Creating a viable day camp that taught peace education to pre- and early teens.  I was the Program Coordinator, who would build it in a room on a public university campus. Housed at one of its Christian colleges.  A camp not only conceived by people who had never created a camp, but now, made by a person who never coordinated anything, let alone a summer camp.  The odds were not exactly in our favor.

Did I mention I’m also a Jew? Though I was exposed to years of experiential programming during my time at Jewish summer camp,  I had never worked explicitly in a Christian setting. Professional Jewish mother that I am, I began (badly) by creating an eight page medical form.  Meanwhile, I got to explain to concerned colleagues that, at Jewish camp, our medical forms were quite literally the length of a Torah scroll because health, safety, and Jewish parents.

I also grappled with how to make a solid program. Youth-centeredness versus passive participation.  In my years working with immigrant and neighborhood youth, I had heard from these young people first-hand of the tendency for adults to command cities, streets and policies to the exclusion of the youth who lived here. Given these obstacles, I wondered if it would be possible to design a camp in which children worked in partnership with influential adults to design peaceable projects, all the while championing the right of children to think for themselves.

Still, I persisted, because the moral imagination of children is a frequently untapped – but instrumental source – of wisdom and change. So, I invited a Holocaust survivor and an aging yoga instructor to speak to twelve to fourteen year olds. And, the summer after that, an AIDS survivor. And a student studying Peace and Conflict Studies that was dying of cancer. I still remember how she read the notes the campers gave her after she received her terminal diagnosis, as if she knew her story would live on long after she had left this world.

The children listened, asked questions, confronted and dialogued, then they would design their own strategies, approaches and initiatives to make the community prosper. A multi-generational peace movement, that was ever-growing and grounded in continuous hard work and collaboration.

The miracle of this work was that surprise lurked around every corner. It was the place where I learned children should be trusted to teach. It was the place that I learned we all have a part to play in peace, from the design of our children’s programs to the feeling of welcome in all of our institutions and peace endeavors.

It’s ironic that it took two summers at a peace camp for me to understand the Jewish concept of justice (tzedek). Here, I learned that tzedek is about making the world right.  To do right by yourself, but also by your neighbors.  Because justice, as it happens, requires the just contributions of every last one of us. And the moral righteousness to listen and include.

This summer, the camp I was privileged to coordinate for its first two summers turns five-years old.

Though, at times, I wax nostalgic about that 24-year-old in the parking lot, camp, like Jewish entrepreneurship, is an enterprise that is bigger than any one of us, in which others should rightfully be at the fore.

I recall the time the mother of a camper came to me and shared that her daughter was badly bullied and hadn’t laughed in months. That is, until she spent her summer with us at camp. And another time, in which a former camper came up to me for a hug at the mall. At camp, he had discovered and was now pursuing his passion for human rights laws. And then another time in which  a Muslim student, moved our staff and campers to tears with the story of his grandfather’s decision to hide Jews during the Holocaust.

Five years later, and camp is flourishing.

It’s no secret: The success is in the campers and their stories.

 

Devon Spier
Devon Spier is a rabbinical student and spiritual entrepreneur. Over the last decade, she has made her home in the small suburban shtetl of Kitchener-Waterloo, where she supports the leadership of Jewish young professionals, children, new mums and donors so that they may lead in innovative ways that raise up the institutions to which they belong.
Decorated bags for care packages
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The Healing Path of Career Polygamy

Sally Mundell is the founder of The Packaged Good, a non-profit focused on cultivating volunteerism in children. Located in the suburbs of Atlanta, the Packaged Good offers families the space and programming to assemble care packages for various non-profit community partners. The packages include anything from toiletries to school supplies, as well as personal notes of encouragement and care. The Packaged Good opened its doors in July 2016 and has produced over 16,000 care packages during its first year of operation. It also became a great source of healing for Sally and her kids after a tragic loss.

You recently gave a talk at an Emory University Alumni gathering titled “The Case for Career Polygamy: Turning Passion Projects into Profit.” What’s a career polygamist?

The title came from my frustration that LinkedIn only allows you to list one career path on your profile. When I list my career path, I have to choose between my start-up career and my work in the non-profit world. It’s unfortunate, because ultimately I don’t fit into one profile. I am equally invested in both my career and my passion work.

What’s your story? What is your passion work?

I had always worked in the start-up world, helping build businesses from the bottom up. I had a particular career trajectory and worked my way up to an executive position at Spanx, helping Sara Blakely develop the e-commerce side of the business.

Four years ago, my husband, Grover, passed away just a few weeks after getting suddenly  sick. This was a critical point in my life and the lives of our two daughters who were 2 and 5 years old at the time.

When Grover was sick, he knew that he might not survive, probably before I did. He shared with me that he wished he had done more to give back to the community. At the end of his life, Grover had this clarity and he said, “Don’t wait.”

Initially, I was just focused on getting through the grief and taking care of my girls.   As a single parent, I had to find ways to give back in the community together with my kids, or it would never happen. I was surprised to learn that there are almost no volunteer opportunities with little kids. Now, my passion work revolves around creating the space and the programming for families to volunteer together with their children.

How did you come up with the idea for The Packaged Good?

After Grover died, my kids and I often went to the Purple Hippo, a local art studio for kids. It was a place of respite for me when I needed a break.   Just as I was formulating my thoughts about a non-profit, the Purple Hippo was moving to a new location. I loved their space and concept, but assumed that I couldn’t afford the rent.   I decided to meet with the landlord who believed in my idea and wanted to help. It all lined up. I thought of the concept for The Packaged Good in January. By February, I was incorporated. The storefront was opened for business by June. I didn’t wait. I moved fast!

What was the adjustment like moving from a place where profit rules to a non-profit start-up? How do you measure impact today?

Instead of valuing money, the focus has shifted to valuing people and measuring how people’s lives are transformed by their volunteer experience. In the first year, we have made and delivered 16,000 care packages. I often get letters and messages of gratitude from people who receive our packages. There is an impact on our entire community.

Research shows that the more kids volunteer, the less they are susceptible to making bad choices. Volunteerism cultivates empathy and a sense of responsibility. For me, personally, volunteering has been a path toward healing and I am able to share that with others. When I talk about my pain, others feel more open about sharing their pain. It’s all about connection, despite differences in background and culture.

What does being Jewish have to do with your non-profit venture?

Of course, there is the underlying value of tzedakah that runs through what I do.   Interestingly, I became more connected with the Jewish community as the result of starting The Packaged Good. It was a path toward integration. Being Jewish is all about supporting each other. The more I was healed, the more I could connect with others and give more.

Is there anything you wish you knew before you started The Packaged Good?

Yes. Don’t focus so much on what can go wrong. Have a start-up mindset and do not be afraid of creating new models. When I first started, people would scare me with worst-case scenarios or say things to me that would deter me from going forward.   I wish I had pulled them aside and said that I was not going to worry about that right now.

What have you learned through the experience of launching a non-profit, while working and single-parenting?

First of all, I learned that you need space and time to be creative. It wasn’t until I shifted my schedule to working part-time that I had the mind-space to actually come up with the plan for The Packaged Good. You have to have time to work on your inspirations.

Secondly, I have had to shift my strategic planning away from 5-10 year goals toward more manageable plans. I have had to let go of having answers for everything and become more comfortable with not knowing. Now, I am more open to the unfolding of the experience. When I first launched, I did all of the administrative and staff work. I had five people on an executive board. Over the last year, I have hired an executive director and my board is a diverse thinking group of 20 people with varied talents. I could not have predicted this development at the beginning.

I am constantly networking and I throw a wide net without a purpose in mind. It amazes me how many unexpected connections I make with surprising outcomes. For example, I was introduced to someone who is a day-trader by profession, but his personal passion is video streaming and online video sharing.   He is now creating much of our video content and helping us with Facebook Live.

How do you take care of yourself?

I grew up in a “do-it-yourself” household and asking for help was viewed as weakness.   It took me a long time to get comfortable with asking for help. I have had to get really good at formulating requests and allowing people to support me.

Running a non-profit is a lot of hard work. To get people involved and passionate takes tremendous effort. Volunteer burn-out is a real thing. I have learned to raise my hand and lean on my board. We recently hired an executive director to run the day-to-day operation, so that I can focus on marketing and brand-development, which is ultimately what I am good at.

Do you have any advice for social entrepreneurs?

It’s all about collaboration. There is not need to replicate what someone else is already doing. Partnerships are key.   For example, we have partnered with Pebble Tossers, a teen volunteer program that has become our source for teen participants. We also partnered with Creating Connected Communities, which helps Bar and Bat Mitzvah kids in Atlanta organize meaningful mitzvah projects.   It’s easier for us to plug into their programming, than have to create it from scratch.

What do you think Grover would say about The Packaged Good?

As a surviving spouse, my biggest challenge has been to keep Grover’s story and values alive for my kids. My kids are getting to know what was important to their father. The Packaged Good is a model of volunteering that is sustainable for families with kids. It shifts the experience from showing up to volunteer once per year, to having an engaging space where they can make a difference on a regular basis.   I don’t know if that is what Grover had in mind, but that is what is sustainable for our family.

Marita Anderson is a chaplain, freelance writer, educator, and parent.
She currently lives in Atlanta.