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Crowdfunding : lessons learned from last year’s campaign

(Version française de ce texte)

In the last few months, at least three of my friends have indicated they were considering initiating a crowdfunding campaign to raise the funds necessary to turn a project they are passionate about into reality. All three wanted to get some feedback and advice based on my experience from my Spring 2013 Indiegogo campaign “In the footsteps of Abraham Ulrikab”. I thought now would therefore be a good time to take a few moments to share some of my lessons learned.

But first, since two of these friends have actually gone forward and launched their campaigns, let me introduce them to you :

Dr Shelley Ball’s Creating a generation of change : The Youth Environmental Ambassadors Program (YEAP). Shelley has a wonderful opportunity to test the concept of her new expedition-based environmental education program this summer on a Students on Ice expedition heading to the Canadian Arctic. Over 80 students from all around the world would then have the opportunity to learn how to use photography and videography to document their expedition, showcase the natural environments they are experiencing, and illustrate the human impacts on those environments. Shelley needs funds to cover the costs associated with the expedition (she will not be renumerated for her work and must pay the regular fare for being part of the expedition).

and

Claire Charron’s Swifts in Distress! campaign. In the summer of 2013, unaware that swifts had been using Shawville’s school’s chimney for generations as a roost, the school board hired contractors to shorten the structure, insert a metal liner (preventing the swifts from clinging on) and cap the top of the chimney. Claire and her colleagues want to build a new chimney in time for the swifts’ return this spring.

Both Shelley and Claire are working countless hours on their respective campaigns and as all three of us have learned, running a crowdfunding campaign is no less than a full-time job!

I decided to use the Indiegogo platform for two main reasons: the platform was available in both English and French and it gave me the possibility to keep the funds collected even if I was not to reach my financial goal. But, Indiegogo is a “merit-based platform” meaning that they will give your campaign some visibility (by either featuring you on their site, in their newsletter or blog or in their press outreach) based on what they call the “gogofactor” (an algorithm to measure the overall activity of a campaign along based on the number of shares, of news items posted and funding raised). Indiegogo says : “We use gogofactor as our key measure because we find that there is a direct correlation between campaign activity and fundraising success”.

From my experience, the campaign activity on the Indiegogo page was in no way an accurate reflection of the amount of effort put in to try to raise interest for my campaign. I think Shelley and Claire will agree with me. For 40 days, I was sending emails to my contacts and community, using social media (but sparingly so that my community would not get fed up), trying to get in touch with bloggers, journalists or other people on Twitter, for example, with an interest in my project’s subject area, etc. My project was the subject of six newspaper articles (2 in English newspaper, 4 in French ones, in 3 provinces). Yet, none of these efforts resulted in raising the activity level on the Indiegogo page. People were reading about the project and the campaign but they weren’t pushing the button to access the Indiegogo page. Local newspapers were enthusiastic to talk about Abraham’s tragic story but they weren’t always keen on mentioning the crowdfunding campaign. I ended up laughing about it as it just seemed hopeless to generate sufficient activity on the page to get a good enough gogofactor that would turn into some kind of help from Indiegogo in promoting the campaign. Of the 80+ contributors, only one made a contribution after noticing the campaign while browsing through Indiegogo’s site. Two contributed after reading one of the newspaper articles. All others were my own contacts or contacts of my contacts. I should also add that at the time, here in Quebec, people were not familiar with the concept of crowdfunding. Most of my contacts had no clue what it was all about. A year later, things are different. Many are happy to tell me that they’ve read about it or know someone else who ran a campaign.

As explained, raising interest for my campaign proved to be a major challenge and turning this interest into contributions was even harder. I quickly realized that I was in for a major deception if I expected the majority of my existing contacts to contribute, to help give a boost to the campaign on launch day, to share my campaign with their contacts,… Most of our contacts gathered through the years through work, social activities, sports, … have other interests, other priorities and may not feel compelled to give you the support you would hope for. That is understandable.

Would I run another crowdfunding campaign? Never again by myself! With a team? Maybe but not before I’d make sure to have gathered a BIG community of followers who have expressed a true interest in my project and are ready to support it and help promote it.

One thing I would certainly do differently is to set the financial goal to the minimal amount needed, not to the amount I would ideally like to raise. The main reason being that I would want to put all the chances on my side of reaching the financial goal and not have to pay a 5% penalty (Indiegogo charges 9% commission to campaigns that don’t reach their goal but only 4% for those that succeed). I was extremely lucky to have reached my goal. I would have barely made it to 50% of the goal if it hadn’t been for one person, Line Fortin, a total stranger to me who read one of the newspapers articles and took the project so much at heart that, on the very last day of the campaign, she contributed the whole amount needed to reach the goal. A totally unexpected and out of this world gift!  

One thing I would not change is to set the length of the campaign to a maximum of 40 days. Well! I might actually lower it to 30 days. After such a period of time of intensive efforts, you’re exhausted!

I would also ensure that the rewards offered do not imply an important amount of work in addition to what needs to be accomplished by the project. The priority has to be to deliver the final product and not to deliver various perks that eat up your energy and time.

If one of your friends is running a campaign, I can only encourage you to provide some kind of support to her/his efforts whether it be by making a monetary contribution, however small it maybe, by sharing the campaign with your contacts, sending a note of encouragement, etc. The person could very well be “struggling like a devil in holy water”. So, the slightly sign that you care and are behind her/him will be such a morale booster for all the time, effort and passion he/she is putting in to make his/her dream come true.  “Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike.” (J.K. Rowling)

As Shelley told me : ‘Crowdfunding never sounds like an easy proposition but it’s even harder than you think.’

If you’re planning on running a campaign yourself, I hope these few notes will prove to be helpful in some way.

Thank you! Go Shelley Go!! Go Claire Go!!
France Rivet

YEAPMartinets

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