As a fundraising manager, one of your ongoing priorities is to keep looking for the best channels to retain and acquire new donors.

It is no secret that there is no single marketing channel that will allow you to reach all of your existing and potential donors. This is mainly due to the diversity of demographics each of which requires a different approach.

For example, where appeal letters and cold calling are still effective with baby boomers and civics, this same outreach technique fails miserably with Gen X and Gen Y (aka Millennials).

As I explained in a previous blogpost, email marketing is still by far the best channel to reach out to your existing and potential constituents (see this blogpost in case you need to find out the email of any potential donor).

That said, it is realistic to expect this will not last forever, and as a result, it is prudent to start investigating more modern approaches, now.

Within the last few years, modern fundraising techniques have emerged. Amongst the most effective ones are crowdfunding, peer-to-peer (P2P) and mobile fundraising. These fundraising techniques have been proven extremely effective with Gen X and Gen Y (20-45 years of age).

Today, I will focus on crowdfunding.

Crowdfunding uses the power of the crowd to fundraise for a cause. I am emphasizing the word cause because younger generations no longer want to donate to an organization. They instead identify with a cause. The famous saying “people give to people” has been proven true within the last few years.

Crowdfunding is actually centuries-old. It is just that online tools rendered it a lot easier and extended its outreach. People living in small villages had often used the power of the crowd (in this case villagers and farmers) to help each other by, for example, donating to a fellow farmer in need of seeding or harvesting a piece of land.

Online technology has extended the power of the crowd to places no human being could have imagined possible. It is not unusual for North American based online crowdfunding campaigns to receive donations from far places like China and India (yes from developing countries).

Smart nonprofits have realized the power of crowdfunding and have adopted internal processes to make crowdfunding an important fundraising channel. They have also committed full-time human resources to work on crowdfunding and related fundraising techniques.

You might ask what makes crowdfunding very appealing to the younger tech savvy generation, in particular, and to the general population, in general? To answer this question requires highlighting how crowdfunding is different from traditional fundraising approaches.

Specific cause-based message

A crowdfunding campaign requires that you focus your organization’s message on a single cause-based objective.

For instance, if your organization is in the human rights field then a valid campaign would be to ask your supporters to cover the cost of having a political prisoner released from detention. If your organization is in the animal protection field then fundraising for a specific, abandoned pet that needs a surgery is another good example.

The example below highlights a successful crowdfunding campaign (where P2P was also used) by supporters of SOS Children Canada.

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SOS Children Canada not only helps orphans, of course, but in this example the message is extremely specific. The title makes “Ryerson’s Orphan Sponsorship Program: 30 Days for 30 Orphans” makes the ask very clear. This title is brilliant for reasons that will be mentioned below.

Fundraising target

Another way a crowdfunding campaign is different is with respect to the target amount raised. This amount is not chosen randomly by it is rather a genuine estimated cost of the total required.

It is important to take the time to assess the true cost as this may affect the credibility of your campaign, and ultimately the reputation of your organization. For instance, if you are raising money for a surgery for a pet don’t ask for $50,000. People will know this is rather an over exaggeration or worst they may treat it as a fraud.

There’s something magical about fixing a target fundraising number: people feel more motivated as they feel it is indeed achievable (and concrete). The progress bar (see example above) gives a visual feedback to potential donors that they still have a chance to contribute (but they must hurry before it is too late).

To those who have already donated, the progress bar gives them a sense of accomplishment. These techniques form part of the gamification theory that has been proven effective in motivating people to take action (listen to this podcast I hosted with a gamification guru).

Beginning and ending date

Choosing a beginning and ending date for the campaign is crucial. Why? Do you recall when you were still a student? When was it that you studied the most for your exams? Well, I confess I used to leave this until the last two days before the exam. Go ahead and call me lazy if you wish :)

A more relevant example that happens at the end of each year is with respect to philanthropic giving.

It is well known that charities raise the majority of their funds during the month of December! In fact, it is 31% of the year’s total, to be precise. What’s more: December 29, 30 and 31 are the days when people donate the most (12% of the year’s total to be precise). Why? You just have to ask Uncle Tax.

What is the secret? Well, fixing a date creates an urgency. Have you ever received an email promotion from Amazon or Dell? If yes, you must have noticed these promotions always had an expiry date, for a good reason.

Our brains are wired to respond to urgencies with a quick and immediate action. The fear of missing out (FOMO), a well-known factor that motivates people, is also made possible by fixing a date.

No wonder why crowdfunding campaigns raise most of the funds the day before the ending date!


At the core of any successful crowdfunding campaign is storytelling.

Storytelling reinforces the idea that “people give to people.” In other words, people can only relate to other people.

Donors can easily picture themselves in the shoes of others who are in need. This explains why people donate to strangers even though they know nothing about them. Emotions, irrational by nature, almost always win over logic in these types of situations.

There’s no better way to tell a story than by sharing a video of the people who are the target of the campaign. So if your organization helps people drink clean water in Africa, how about you share a 1-minute video from a recently built well where people of all ages now have access to clean water.

How donations will make a difference

Also, it is crucial to make the donor visualize how the various contribution amounts will make a difference.

In the example below, Water Aid UK clearly spells out how the various donation amounts could be used to help water projects in Africa.

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As a human being, it is extremely gratifying for me to know that my tiny contribution can concretely help save lives. How about if I reduce my caffeine intake and help other human beings drink clean water instead! This is the thought that would be going through my mind when I am about to donate to this campaign.

Myths about crowdfunding

Myths have developed around crowdfunding campaigns. These myths make it look like anyone can set up an online campaign and then see the dollar bills falling from the sky.

It just doesn’t work that way.

A successful crowdfunding campaign requires a long-term commitment from organizations. It requires at least a full-time dedicated resource. It also requires persistence and a willingness to test and try different approaches and messaging.

The most prevailing myth with respect to crowdfunding is the idea that donors are lining up online, ready to make a contribution to your campaign.

This is nothing further from the truth: you still need to promote the campaign on your social media networks. You still need to blast emails to your existing donor base and ask them to tell friends about it.

You may find a crowdfunding platform that offers you a bit of coaching, but that’s about it. You still have to do the bulk of the work yourself. But when done right, crowdfunding campaigns could significantly increase your donation revenue. It also raises your organization’s profile as some media may pick up your story (remember journalists love to write about stories).

Are you ready to crowdfund? Learn more about CauseSquare today and raise more money.

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