From September 4 to October 3 2013 we ran a fundraising campaign on StartSomeGood.com, one of more than 40 crowd funding sites that have emerged in the last five years. This blog is a review of how well we achieved our three objectives for this campaign, which were,
- A financial objective to raise at least £10,000 to fund the engagement work we need to do;
- A social objective of building our online social media profile; and
- A business objective of having a focused conversation with key stakeholders.
This chart summarises our campaign for the first two of these objectives.
We collected data everyday and matched this against our outreach and communications strategy which was designed to cover each day of the campaign. We were advised to have pledges for the project as early as possible. We needed three for the campaign to remain live on the site for example within 48 hours. On reflection, we got this wrong and actually we needed to have already raised £10,000 or very close to that. This is why.
We missed our financial objective. Crowd funding can in some cases be a channel to finding new donors. For commercial projects in particular there is a growing community of people that look for opportunities on crowd funding websites. Take a look yourself on Kickstarter for example and you will find several that stand out and make you think “That’s a great idea, why didn’t I think of that!”
Arguably for social ventures it is a little different. Though there are people who will certainly give large amounts to social campaigns, they need to be reached and taken to the site. For both in fact, this is the main activity, reaching people and taking them to the site in some way. In our case, what these figures do not show is another £2,500 of pledges which were not made. The reasons given included,
- I had never used this way of giving and didn’t find the process straightforward. It is true that to pledge you needed to be both a member of the site and have a paypal account. People expected just to be able to pay with their credit card;
- I wanted to wait and use my bid strategically to help you tip; and
- I didn’t like the format/platform of the giving.
With these pledges we would have had more to talk about, more to share, and could have encouraged more pledges because of the backing we have for the idea. However it is still unlikely we would have reached our tipping point and therefore would still have not been able to access these funds. For example with pledges of £3000 in total we would still have been £7000 short.
Whereas we spent hours producing a video, and designed an outreach campaign for every day of the campaign, on reflection what was needed was outreach in the months before the campaign launched. We never got that feedback or advice, that was what we learned. When we received feedback about our poor quality video, we changed it within 24 hours for a slightly less poor quality video! Whereas we thought the diversity of pledge rewards was important and spent considerable time gathering these locally, this effort was wasted because the pledges were not generated by awareness raising. We could have used this time doing more outreach and awareness raising pushing for pledges not rewards for pledges.
During the campaign we received positive advice from people with expertise about social media. They advised investing a small amount during the campaign to boost our reach. By the end of the first week our awareness raising had, according to Facebook, reached over 50,000 in our target groups. Our “engagement” statistics went positive. However again, the objective of the campaign is to secure pledges. The benchmark we set for “engagement” was a pledge of $50. Our investment in boosting led to awareness raising and “engagement” of 3 extra likes that day. This is what we learned,
- The only way to guarantee hitting your tipping point is to have those pledges agreed in principle and to use your early outreach to get them on the platform (you may have to accept gifts separately and load them yourself);
- Outreach and preparation for a campaign should therefore be front loaded in the months before you run the campaign;
- Social media and other media articles can raise awareness, but the level of engagement are looking for is higher than this i.e. people pledging their hard earned money.
A few people asked me if I had had the £10,000 pledged beforehand would I have run the campaign. I would. We could have tried to leverage that money and the success of the campaign in our other objectives cannot be ignored. Running a crowd funding campaign is topical and can be useful marketing for your cause, drawing attention to it with a useful structure.
Success in our other objectives
- A social objective of building our online social media profile;
We didn’t set a target for “Facebook likes”. We new we wanted to have a popular Facebook profile so that over time we would be able to use it to communicate with people quickly. In this area we launched a Facebook page before the campaign, when we should have been generating pledges! We launched with a handful of likes. Throughout the campaign people used their “friend” networks to increase this and the diversity of those networks started to get some organic engagement and at the time of writing we have 148 likes. In four weeks, plus our awareness with 50,000 through Facebook boosting, this has been a useful exercise and we will aim now to keep the site alive and build the community. As far as boosting is concerned on the face of it we were impressed with the ability to use market segmentation (however the more you pay is key here). In Cyprus we believe this will have more effect than abroad, because of the discreet area and demographics.
Twitter was a different experience. Again we launched it in the weeks running up to the campaign and had a handful of followers including one that organised an excellent outreach opportunity for us in London (more below). Twitter grew more slowly and got no where near where we thought it might get by the end of the campaign. Our target through the campaign was to get to 250 followers. We expected approximately 50 of these to be the Cypriot NGOs around the world that at the outset of the campaign we believed would be a channel for us to communicate with those communities. Actually only ONE of our followers is from that group. We expected the others to be made up of those pledging and influential bodies interested in Cypriot developments. Obviously the pledgers do not make up a large group. Some of the followers are from the influencers group and we need to build on that, embassies, newspapers, politicians, business people, entrepreneurs etc. We followed celebrity Cypriots with large followings. We were unsuccessful in encouraging them to retweet and so enabling us to reach their audience. Too much of this led to our account being frozen – beware.
- A business objective of having a focused conversation with key stakeholders;
Up to this point fundraising has been targeted at international donors and impact philanthropists interested in innovation. A desk-based process with very limited opportunity to be build rapport with real people. It is one of the characteristics of funding that FutureBridge will change. Building rapport, we think, is a missing link when working with change makers and what better reason and opportunity than in the funding relationship? For good reasons like efficiency and distance, rejections are received by email, applications forms are like a dissertation and even success lacks much of a human dimension. It’s transactional. Our objective in this campaign was to have conversations with key stakeholders. Take the opportunity to explain a complicated idea, a breakthrough idea, which by its nature is difficult to understand immediately. We wanted to meet the people that may become partners, the agencies that we would work with daily, understand perspectives, listen to people, test our language and most importantly inspire and build some trust and credibility.
In our research we identified 51 NGOs around the world based in locations where the Cypriot population has settled. We tested this list and found that actually only 27 of the organisations were alive. We consolidated the list and wrote to these NGOs three times during the campaign. This included a short story of what we were about, links to information, contacts details etc. The language was positive and approved by our Cypriot advisors. We used MailChimp. This allows you to send email and follow it and access the statistics. You can even see where in the email people click first and most. Of the 27 organisations and 81 emails in total, 5 were opened and no one clicked on any of the links.
At their best NGOs are an expression of citizenship, platforms for advocacy and participatory democracy. We still believe that Cypriot NGOs will become an active part of the global FutureBridge panCypriot community. Before we can expect them to help us reach people, we need to reach them probably face-to-face and through personal referral. This will take time and money, which is why we launched the campaign. The exception to prove this rule was Embargoed! based in London.
We met the chair of Embargoed! in Cyprus after they had followed our twitter feed and wanted to know more. We liaised through their small London team, arranged the meeting and then they organised a fantastic outreach event for us in London, which we attended in the second half of our campaign.
The Embargoed! team approached and welcomed us in an objective way, constructively challenging and welcoming our idea and the programme. They are helping us to reach our to influencers. This is what we expected with another hand full of NGOs based in London at least and we were not able to achieve this during the campaign. Doing so remains a priority for us over the next 6 months. Not all NGOs are the same. Like in any innovation community, some are pioneers, like Embargoed! and others are early adopters and some wait for the majority. We need to find more pioneers and ideally we should have found them before we launched the campaign to be able to use it as planned.
Newspapers and media channels
We prepared press releases for newspapers in the Greek and Turkish speaking parts of the Cypriot community. We translated our basic information into Greek, Turkish, Arabic and French as well as English to be able to explain our campaign in all the main languages used in the region. We posted in 6 Linkedin forums with a membership in the tens of thousands between them. We posted in over a dozen Facebook groups and forums, related to the NGOs we had approached or other Cypriot groups. We sent press releases to international journals relating to philanthropy.
Kibris published a feature on the enterprise in mid-September, in their English language sister publication. We are though still waiting for a PDF copy because there was no online edition and we have therefore not been able to share the article. A key newspaper in the south of Cyprus, arranged to meet us in London but was unable to keep the appointment due to illness. Several further contacts were provided during the campaign but these came late and so will be engaged in the next few weeks. Alliance magazine will publish a short article in November, we missed the September and October deadlines due to internal priorities. We had a nil response from all online forums and groups. Media engagement is something we want to get right and there is a vacancy in our advisory group for these skills and networks.
This is something we knew would take time, getting appointments with busy people. We therefore started the process of reaching out, through NGOs which offered to introduce us at the beginning of 2013. In some cases we have more than one contact chasing the same person. It was disappointing not to be able to meet some key people in the UK, while the campaign was live, because we had structure and real focus for those conversations. This remains a top priority in the next 3-6 months because our network will become stronger once we have reached some key connectors.
Our review of crowd funding
Crowd funding is a great idea. For commercial ventures it is a breakthrough idea, because it is enabling the right people to access the right sort of finance and bypass the traditional and existing systems that put barriers in the way of innovation and enterprise. For social ventures it is a different picture. People donate to things they love, like and which convince them that a positive outcome is possible (even if in actual fact the impact could be negative e.g. T-shirts for Africa).
Crowd funding has the potential to reach more of the public and so as long as a social venture has already raised most of its tipping point and can communicate its good idea clearly, there is the potential to amplify their fund raising effort. For the same reasons fundraising is rarely equitable and some good projects will struggle to be funded, especially when they share a platform with the other ideas. This is another subtle difference with the commercial platforms. Arguably social ventures on the same site are competing more with each other than those products on a commercial site. On a social venture site, the ideas are competing for which is the idea that can do the most good. On commercial sites, the ideas are just competing for being a good idea in their own right. The work involved should trigger a question then about whether a crowd funding campaign is an efficient process. As it doesn’t replace the work of traditional fundraising it is not a replacement for it and is more of an extension.
Crowd funding is well suited to commercial ventures for a number of additional reasons we won’t go into here. We don’t believe crowd funding is designed for very innovative or breakthrough innovation at all. By definition these ideas may be complex and difficult to understand. Crowd funding provides access to millions of people and this is a positive change. What has not changed is the will of this audience, en mass, to fund breakthroughs and innovation. In FutureBridge itself we have come up against the same issue. To overcome it, we have been encouraged to continue to extend the opportunities for real investments not just donations. This will ultimately be one of the things that makes FutureBridge different and fundamental to its sustainability and actual success.
Part of this discovery was somewhat disappointing feedback from Cypriots in Cyprus that while they pledged support to the idea, would not support the mechanism of fundraising. This meant that not only would they not pledge, they would not encourage others in their networks to pledge either. Where the general population is not culturally disposed to charitable giving and volunteerism, then crowd funding also faces a fundamental hurdle. Crowd funding amplifies a certain culture. It doesn’t aim or have to much to offer to develop such a culture. In this way choosing crowd funding was a cultural mismatch for Cypriot society. This should not surprise us actually. The whole problem we are motivated to tackle, are these and other deficits in the conditions that would nurture innovation, support enterprise and encourage investment. In this way, we are struggling during start-up with the same problem as others. We share their pain!
In summary then, though there are many things we need to learn and things we could have done better, three things stand out about why only some of our objectives were met from the campaign.
- A cultural mismatch between crowd funding and our target group;
- A mismatch between crowd funding and funding for breakthrough innovation, which by its nature is less straightforward and easy to communicate clearly; and
- Overestimating the “crowd effect” and in reality needing to have already secured the majority of our tipping point goal or all over it before we launched the campaign.
If you are planning a crowd funding campaign we are happy to share more of our reflections, how we planned and what we did. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org