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Cash In

Christopher Silas Neal

1. Success Strategy: Work the Press

Clarke Community High School in Osceola, IA, was long overdue for a new football scoreboard. Going on 35 years since it was first installed, the bare-bones structure often stopped working mid-game, and the staff weren't even sure the manufacturer still made lightbulbs for it. A new board would cost close to $60,000—money Clarke didn't have. So while school representatives contacted local businesses for corporate sponsorship, Robin Linskens, then president of the school's athletic booster club, attempted what might be considered a Hail Mary pass on Deposit a Gift, a crowdfunding site. A few minutes later she had created a dedicated fundraising page. Once she shared the link on Facebook, word spread quickly. "It became the talk of the town," says Robin, noting the campaign not only attracted coverage in the local newspaper but also reached alumni who had moved away and heard about it through their social networks. Over the course of the summer, the effort raised close to $20,000 from more than 100 online donors. (The rest came from corporate sponsors and the school.) Last fall the football team kicked off its first home game of the season with a brand-new digital scoreboard. As an "extra point," the new one celebrates touchdowns with animation.

2. Success Strategy: Cast a Wide Net

First-time teacher Destiny Ghergich was given a budget of only $80 to furnish her new second-grade classroom last year. She planned to supplement that with her own money, but there still wasn't enough for all the supplies she needed: books, paper, pencils, scissors, wall posters and so much more. Many of the students at the New Orleans–area public school were low-income, so she didn't feel right requiring them to purchase the items. Instead she turned to the crowdfunding website Generosity, a social causes spin-off of Indiegogo. An army brat who had grown up in 20 different homes, Destiny wanted to reach out to her far-flung network. Setting a goal of $1,500, she sent the link to friends and relatives through social media, email and text messages, and asked them to pass it on. She vowed that if she surpassed her goal, she would apply the funds to other items, like recess equipment. In just eight days she raised $2,455, with supporters nationwide donating as little as $5 and $10. Initially she worried that no one would respond to her campaign, but she quickly realized how unfounded those fears were. "People really do care about kids in our country," says Destiny. "They cared enough to support us."

3. Success Strategy: Get Kids Involved

Last summer the high school boys' soccer team from Highland Park, IL, spent 10 days in Italy training, playing in tournaments, touring Saint Peter's Basilica and checking out the Ferrari museum—thanks in part to a crowdfunding campaign that brought in $11,000. In recent years the team had organized an assortment of fundraisers, from selling candy bars to cookie dough. But coach Blake Novotny thought it seemed contradictory for an athletic group to peddle junk food. It also required a lot of legwork for him and the parents, and usually netted a few hundred dollars at most. Plus securing enough funds to subsidize the trip would require multiple fundraisers. So Blake launched a campaign through Piggybackr, which allowed the entire team to play a role. He drafted a letter that students could customize, and tasked each of them with sending out a minimum of 20 emails. To guarantee success, he also reached out to local businesses and groups for sponsorship. For many of the players, it was their first trip out of the country. "Not only did it help the kids bond," Blake says, "it gave them a once-in-a- lifetime opportunity."

4. Success Stategy: Play Up Perks
Laura Bodensteiner discovered the power of crowdfunding a few years ago, when her child's elementary school in Carlsbad, CA, lost its art teacher. Through an online campaign on Deposit a Gift, she raised enough money to hire a new part-time art teacher for Poinsettia Elementary School. Now Laura, president of the PTA, uses crowdfunding throughout the year. She and the PTA came up with a smart twist: incentives for financial contributions. With a $25 donation, for instance, parents can broadcast a message—such as a happy birthday to their child—on the school's marquee for the day. The PTA still holds fundraising events, such as an annual silent auction, but it no longer has to rely on smaller, less lucrative efforts, such as selling coupon books. Crowdfunding does take work, says Laura, noting the time required to manage the campaign website. But because it reaches more families, it's worth the investment. Before the PTA started crowdfunding three years ago, it raised less than $10,000 during the annual fund drive. Last year it raised $35,000 through online donations, covering the cost of field trips, library books, a P.E. coach, the spelling bee and more. "We all want the best for our kids," she says. "This is one way we can make things better for them."

GETTING STARTED

You don't have to be a computer whiz to crowdfund. Anyone can set up a successful campaign with these tips that prove it's all in the ask.

Tell your story visually. Give potential donors a reason to contribute using a dynamic presentation that includes photos and video and you'll reap the rewards. Campaigns with a pitch video typically raise four times more than those without one.

Calculate the cost. Most crowdfunding sites take a 3% to 5% cut of the amount raised and collect credit card fees. Some charge for additional features. Be sure to do the math to decide which site is best for you.

Rely on your circle. The bulk of contributions will come from people you—and your group—know. So target your appeals accordingly.

Make it a team effort. Campaigns run by a group raise three times more funds than those run by an individual.

Request a share. Even if people don't have the means to donate money, encourage them to help the cause by forwarding the link to or sharing the post on their network.

Send out regular updates. Keep your campaign active. On average, successful campaigns post at least four updates over their duration. Consider a midway push to continue building momentum.