Jul
13

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I’m a fundraiser. Crowdfunding. How hard can it be?

Earlier this year I launched a crowdfund to get an idea off the ground. I’ve called it the Lucidity Network. I thought it might be helpful to share my experience and tips just in case you ever decide to launch a crowdfund, either as an individual or on behalf of a charity.

The key thing that I learned is that is really hard!

Where it all started

I had the idea for the Lucidity Network because as a consultant helping individuals, teams and organisations to get better results, I noticed that people kept coming to me with the same problems; too busy, constantly fire fighting, no time to think and focus on the areas that can make the most impact, overwhelmed, lacking confidence and not getting the results they want. I’ve noticed that these are problems that can affect everyone regardless of seniority, sector or role.

My experience has shown that with a relatively small amount of help and support, we can overcome these problems and achieve much more than we think possible. As budgets are always tight, especially for training, I wanted to develop something that was also affordable.

And behold – the idea for the Lucidity Network was born! It’s an online and offline learning and support network for anyone wanting the confidence, skills and knowledge to get better results.

I toyed with the idea for ages as I didn’t have the cash flow to set anything up, until one day I met the brilliant Vanessa Longley, Director of Fundraising and Communications at Havens Hospices for coffee. I love meeting Vanessa I always come away feeling inspired and that I can conquer the world. I told her about my idea and she said ‘You’re a fundraiser aren’t you? – crowdfund for the set up costs and test the concept at the same time’.

Genius I thought, raise the money and test the concept! (Some things are so obvious when someone else says it!) That’s part of the value of having a trusted network – they can see things that you can’t because you are too close to the topic. I launched the Lucidity Network crowdfund campaign in January. Here’s how:

Get a team

I was all geared up to do it on my own until I told Stephanie Harvey, Head of Fundraising at Providence Row. She said ‘really?’ with such a look of shock it forced me to have a rethink. She offered to be my social media manager for the campaign and I snapped her up. I’m so glad I did as there is no way I could have run a crowdfund on my own. Physically there is a lot to do and it’s relentless as you have to respond really fast, and emotionally it was a rollercoaster.

Choose a platform

This is a moving minefield. I even think it is more difficult than deciding on a new mobile phone contract. There are a lot of sites and what’s on offer is constantly changing as the marketplace changes and technology develops. I choose Indiegogo because the campaigns it featured were entrepreneurs starting ventures – and not charity focussed. I also thought it might be a way to get my message out further than my current networks. (It wasn’t!)

Develop your pitch

If you are a fundraiser this feels like the straightforward bit; tell the story, inspire people with your idea or project, tell them the difference it will make to them and others if they help make it happen. Explain exactly what it is and how the money breaks down and provide as much evidence as possible, like testimonials, facts and figures and research to show it’s likely to work.

Confront the elephants in the room, the objections and the reasons why people might not sign up here too.

You need to have a good video and my major learning was how hard it is to speak to camera. And how much I hate watching it back. It is only due to the patience of by brother who works in film that the video exists at all. I’m not saying you have to get a professional in – but you have to make your film as good as it can be, and if it’s not your forte then get help.

Set a target

I set the target at the absolute minimum I needed to get something off the ground. With a crowdfund you have two options, you can go all or nothing, or keep however much you raise. We opted for the all or nothing campaign because if we’d raised some money, but not all, on my shoestring budget there wouldn’t have been enough to build anything. Also I believe that all or nothing builds more momentum and people rally around as there is more at stake if you don’t make target – especially for those that have already backed it by buying membership.

With hindsight (marvellous thing) I’d have gone for twice as much but I honestly didn’t think I could raise it. I usually advise fundraisers to aim high and if you fall short it's probably better than if you had gone for an achievable target, but in an all or nothing crowdfund I didn’t feel confident enough.

I would still advise when it comes to crowdfunding to set a target that you believe you can achieve based on some thought about the size and value of your network. I’m sorry that I underestimated mine.

Going live

You’ve a fundraiser so I know you know this. Start with your close network to build at least 20% of your total target before you go public. This way your wider networks feel like they are contributing to something that will succeed rather than a fledgling idea that might not work. You have to be prepared to REALLY chase people more than feels comfortable and help them
understand the importance their early backing has on the success of the rest of the campaign.

The ‘actual’ launch was exciting. I launched in January for 30 days with a ‘What results do you want this year and how are you going to get them?’ message. This worked well – it also gave us second chance as people were cash-strapped after Christmas and contributed near to the end of the campaign after the end of January pay-day.

Every time a contribution came in it was super exhilarating and emotional. I cried. A lot. And danced around. Then the cold fear set in. It was only when I pressed go that I realised what I’d done. I’d told the world about my idea. All of a sudden everything got personal. It also wasn’t a crowdfund to help a charitable cause. I was asking people to fund my business idea. It felt very
different to any other fundraising I had done before.

The critical voice in my head took hold and started gnawing away. ‘People might not like the idea (some people didn’t) some people might be offended at being asked (some people were) we might not make the target (we could have failed) maybe it’s a bad idea (maybe it is) ‘people won’t fund a business idea (some people said no). It was hard to keep that critical voice in check.

That’s why I was also very lucky to be introduced to John Powderly who coached me through the campaign from an emotional perspective.

Then about 10 days in we had a day when NO MONEY CAME IN AT ALL.

And I started to panic. Steph was great and keeping my spirits up but it was so slow. I knew that for a typical campaign 42% of the income comes in the last 3 days. Knowing and feeling are two different things. Emotionally seeing no income coming in felt awful. I remember spending a lot of time refreshing the page and checking if there was something wrong with my internet connection. (There wasn’t).

Perks

Best practice says that you’ve got to have perks to encourage people to contribute. Given that we wanted to test the concept our perks were different Lucidity Network membership packages. We also gave people the option just to back the campaign with a donation for nothing more than the good feeling of having helped. We made much more in pure donations than we were expecting.

We changed the perks as we went along depending on what was popular. We hadn’t planned to do this at all. Upgrades worked well, for example, if you bought a month, you then got offered to join for two months for just another £16.

Audience and channel

Our audience was anyone that wanted to get better results. And because that is so broad, within that we had discrete groups which included middle managers, chief executives, freelancers and mums going back to work. Each audience had different messaging. Thank you to Dawn Newton for helping us to refine the core audiences and messages.

We told people about the crowdfund though me contacting practically everyone I’ve ever known personally, my email newsletter as well as social media (Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn). And we just learned and adapted as we went along – if something got no response we changed it. And we just kept testing. It was relentless.

Have an event

The campaign coincided with the launch event of my Innovation Leadership Launchpad. The research in the report re-confirmed the things that I’ve noticed in my work about the barriers stopping people getting the results they want. I made a personal pitch to the people in the room to get involved in the crowdfund. The event was 10 days before the campaign closed and I remember looking round the room and thinking ‘we’re not going to make target’. I kept smiling though.

Reaching target

Beating the average campaign we reached target 3 days before the campaign ended. It was a joyous day and a massive relief. By the time the campaign closed we’d exceeded target by just over 60%. It might seem like small fry compared to some fundraising campaigns, but like anything it’s all relative. It had been exhausting and looking back now I didn’t give myself enough time to
recover. I just started getting on with developing the Lucidity Network straight away and it went live at the start of May.

My most important crowdfunding tips

Choosing a platform – research what is available now. Think about the site that is most suitable for the type of campaign you are launching. Check things like downtime and customer service. I found Indiegogo customer service lackluster at best and they are based on West Coast America which meant further delays in response.

Targets – remember to work credit card fees, platform fees, transfer fees into your bank and VAT (if payable for perks) into your target.

Develop your pitch – get good at video content.

Know your audience or audiences – know who they are, and why they might back your campaign, your core message for each audience and what channels to best reach them on. (And most people use more than one channel so make sure the messaging across all channels work together.)

Team – don’t even consider doing this solo. Get the right people on board with the mix of skills and experience that you need – and include strong emotional determination as a skill as well as the practical things like social media skills.

Adapt as the campaign grows – for example adding different perks, or if something is not working be ready to change it quickly.

Allow enough time – it’s a full-time job, you have to be able to respond quickly and know that there is no time to dither in making decisions if you are not on target.

No-one is sitting around waiting to fund your campaign – you need to bang on about it until even you are bored with it. (which you definitely will be at
times) People need to be reminded a lot of times.

Don’t expect anyone to get your idea – or like it when they do get it. Expect to have to explain it in different ways. Have a portfolio of stories, analogies, testimonials and research so you cover every objection and learning style.

Build your networks before you need them – we did this too late in the day, there were people I’d liked to have had on board that I should have been
building relationships with months before. I missed a trick there.

Find an excuse to have a face to face event – where you are either getting your close contacts to contribute early – or towards the end when you are asking people to contribute to get the campaign over the finish line.

Everyone has different advice – do your research, listen to the advice and then focus on your campaign. Follow your gut and do your own thing.

And finally, crowdfunding is really hard. It’s tough emotionally and tough physically as you have to keep your motivation and adrenaline up for the duration of the campaign. Think very carefully before you leap into crowdfunding. It’s not easy money or a quick fix.

If you backed the Lucidity Network crowdfund campaign thank you, I’m delighted that it now exists!

The Lucidity Network is open for new members a few times a year.  Sign up to the waiting list to be the first to know when the Network is open. In the meantime you can join the Lucidity Community free Facebook group  for clearer thinking and better results.  

This blog was first published at UKFundraising. 

Jul
10

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If we are all the same how will we ever innovate?

Recently I was interviewed about innovation in the charity sector, and I’m sorry to say that when asked, I struggled to name any campaigns or services that I’d seen that had inspired me, or I that I thought were creative or stand out. I could only think of variations on a theme.

I’ve got my fingers crossed that I’m wrong and that there is a wealth of different thinking and new ideas in progress that I’m unaware of.*

Right now, when I look at fundraising I see a lot of the same. Similar mass participation events, mud, obstacle, beer challenges and more recently membership offers for example from Scope and Mind. When one product is successful others copy, the market gets saturated and then it starts over again.

At the moment there seems to be more talk in the sector than usual about diversity. And diversity is important. I don’t just mean race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age or physical abilities. I mean diversity specifically in terms different beliefs and values. Because from an innovation perspective when we all think the same it’s hard to develop fundraising ideas that are different and therefore stand out.

I’ve just finished reading the excellent book Friend of a Friend by David Burkus about understanding how your networks affect your life and career.

Burkus talks about something called homophily. The phenomenon that in both our personal and professional lives that we are attracted to people like us. It talks specifically about how in business we recruit people like us, from a pool of people like us. It’s reminiscent of the phrase ‘birds of a feather flock together’.

Burkus tells the story of when Gimlet Media (an award-winning podcasting company helping listeners better understand the world and each other) realised that the lack of diversity in their team was a problem. They were growing fast and needed to recruit new people to the team. They looked at their current staff and noticed 24 of their 27 employees were white and many had got the job through shared networks and a background in radio broadcast. Essentially the people who made up their staff team were very similar. Given the nature of their podcast of shining a light on the world and each other, troubled by the lack of diversity and inspired by their commitment to transparency they decided to do a series of podcasts with their staff to explore and highlight their homophily issue.

While interviewing an openly gay colleague a question arose; beyond the surface did they lack ideological diversity? They discussed that the vast majority of staff were not politically or religiously diverse. For example, no one had any strong feelings about religion. During the interview the producer sitting outside asked if he could join in. He said he went to church every Sunday he would class himself as religious but because no one else spoke about their faith he kept it to himself.

I have a hunch that this also happens in other organisations, (perhaps even in yours?) that even when people are different those differences are played down in order to fit in with the thinking and beliefs of the majority.

Why is it so hard to develop diverse teams in fundraising?

In fundraising we tend to recruit from a small pool of people already working in fundraising. We advertise in and recruit from the same agencies specialising in charity sector recruitment, charity recruitment pages of national papers, sector press and the same online groups and forums.

More often than not you must have experience of the same type of role to get your next role. So, you join a new organisation and replicate what you learned before with some additions and often you even bring your creative agency with you. No wonder I see similar looking campaigns over and over again.

We end up operating in an echo chamber.

If it is a human condition to flock together, and we flock to other people who think and act like us we have to work very very hard indeed to recruit diversity. Then when we do recruit people with different backgrounds and beliefs how do we stop people diluting their difference in order to conform to the majority homogony?

If we truly wish innovation in our fundraising to flourish we need to work really hard to overcome this homophily effect so we don’t have a situation where we all think and act the same. It takes a massive effort to swim against the strong current of similarity. Whether as an individual or as an organisation, if you can do this then you have a fighting chance of being different, standing out and raising more money for the causes that need you.

Join the Lucidity Network 

One of the reasons I’ve set up the Lucidity Network – an online and offline network with exclusive content and practical tools is to create a diverse network to help people to think differently and get better results. Already we have members from a mix of sectors from around the world.

The Lucidity Network is open for new members a few times a year. Sign up to the waiting list to be the first to know when the Network is open. In the meantime you can join the Lucidity Community free Facebook group  for clearer thinking and better results.  Don’t tell your friends though.

*If you are working on something innovative please do share in the comments

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