8 Things to Re-Evaluate in Crowdfunding Campaigns in This Climate

The NBA season is cancelled. Broadway is now dark. The market is in decline.

With live events cancelling en masse, people are staying home, spending less and watching more. Which leaves many nonprofits wondering: “What are we going to do to keep our doors open, our people employed and our work going strong?” 

My prediction is that despite all apparent setbacks, we will see a great uptick in crowdfunding campaigns. However, to be successful, we will need to re-evaluate the best practices to keep your campaigns strong in the current climate. 

1. Setting a Campaign Goal

Setting an appropriate goal for your campaign is perhaps the most critical component of any successful crowdfunding campaign. A low goal signifies missed opportunity, while a goal set too high can create embarrassment if unmet. 

With the current market volatility, people are watching their wallets much closer. The last time philanthropy was on a similar decline was during 2008’s Great Recession. According to Stanford University, in 2008, total giving was reduced by 7% and by another 6.2% the year after.

In climates of crisis, people don’t stop giving; they just give less. 

What that means for anyone in crowdfunding is you have to lower your projected donation average. Set a goal by analyzing your modest to mid-tier givers. If you’ve done a campaign in the past, that would be the first place to look. If you haven’t done one yet, look at the last five years of your organization’s donation history. 

Determine the average gift size and multiply this by how many people you expect to donate. And my advice is be ambitious — and instead of decreasing your goal, increase your donor count. I have yet to meet a nonprofit that is actively tapping all of their donor demographics. This is the time and opportunity to do that. To reach out to all the people and communities you may have possibly neglected, and convert them into donors. 

This is easier said than done, but with professional guidance, a more rigorous planning period and a disciplined goal-setting analysis, you will be able to achieve success in your next crowdfunding endeavor. 

2. All or Nothing

When planning your campaign, especially a matching-gift campaign, there’s an option for a contingency factor. This can be done in one of two ways: 

  1. Matchers agree to only match funds if the rest of the goal is met by the crowd.
  2. The entire goal must be met to purchase land, a building or equipment, such as an ambulance truck.

And without the full goal, the acquisition cannot be completed. On a regular day, I’m a huge advocate for all-or-nothing campaigns to generate a sense of urgency, interdependence and collective achievement. However, in light of recent events, my advice is to refrain from setting an all-or- nothing challenge until we have more insight into the data and health of the market. 

This situation can easily change for the better over the next few weeks, allowing us to resume normal all or nothing contingencies once again. But, for the time being, hold off ― unless you have specific costs that must be raised now to avoid operational collapse.

3. Communication 

You have to talk about it. It doesn’t have to be your campaign brand or a headline, but you must acknowledge the challenges everyone is facing ― whether directly or indirectly. Even if you’re not raising money for coronavirus-related issues, you must include this awareness in your communications. Not doing so will make you seem out of touch. Even if it’s a closing line in your next email, acknowledging that you understand the challenges is crucial.

At the same time, don’t ambulance chase. Don’t use tragedy to leverage your fundraising, unless you’ve been personally hit by that tragedy. However, if you or your team has been affected by the virus, or you are sending relief goods to communities in quarantine… go crazy! When the need is real, people will unite. If a donor knows their funds will provide goods, testing and services to people hit by the virus ― they will respond well to direct and transparent messaging about the issue. 

4. Timing 

Here’s the deal: If your capital campaign is not timely and can easily be postponed, by all means wait. However, for the rest and most of us, our fundraising can’t be pushed off another week or month. If you need funds now, keep the timing in mind. Right now, people are working remotely and many schools are closed, so your typical “lunch break” and “after dinner” time slots don’t hold the same weight as before. 

Look at your specific demographics for guidance. If your donor base is primarily college students, and school is closed, you might actually be able to rely on students more because they’re not in the classroom. But if your audience is mothers, wait until the kids go to bed to make your ask. Like me, you’re probably juggling home-schooling and remote working ― a juggling act that we parents are made for.

5. Social media 

With our social lives on hold, social media is taking a huge uptick. With school and work moved to digital platforms, there are more of us on our feeds, spending even more hours than we’d thought possible following the news, looking for updates, and connecting with friends. 

This is the time to up your social game ― especially as events are on the decline. Be a voice of transparency. Use your time on your various channels to stay connected with your donor community, share important updates and even create live streamed events to bring everyone together, virtually. More on that in the next section.

6. Peer-to-Peer 

Asking your constituents to take on micro goals is a big part of crowdfunding. Whether asking someone to join a bikeathon, to take on individual sub-goals or to set up a personalized donation page, peer to peer efforts will be affected. This is especially true for activity-based peer-to-peer. Here’s how to make it work: You don’t have to put a stop to all activity-based peer-to-peer fundraising. For example, get your people who bike together in smaller, more isolated groups. You may not be able to hold a big event just yet, so strengthen participation and vision between people. Call them personally and thank them for volunteering. 

Another option is to take your peer-to-peer activities into digital space. I recently advocated for a midnight pajama party danceathon. People are home, bored and up late streaming Netflix. What better way to bring your people together than some novel, late night fun ― that you don’t have to get dressed up for. Encourage each dancer to share a photo or video of their best dance moves, and have them nominate a couple of friends by tagging them.

7. Call Centers 

This will be the area most impacted by the virus. If you do decide to keep call centers open, have sanitizer and soap on hand (literally), get your people tested and make sure everything is wiped down ― desks, screens, phones, etc. 

Incentivize participation by giving out items you have stockpiled, such as toilet paper. If anyone at any point shows signs of sickness, have them sent home immediately. And be sure to communicate the steps you are taking to ensure everyone’s health. 

8. Giving Direct vs Giving to Organizations

Your case for giving matters. Think about the stories that compel you to give and care. Most likely these stories center around a specific individual or “character.” It’s knowing that your $25 will provide direct support for a specific person in need ― be it food, housing, education or health care. For Millennial givers, giving to the individual is a critical mobilizer. This demographic craves transparency, knowing that their money is producing direct impact in the lives of those who need it most, rather than funding an institution. 

If you are an institution, fear not. It takes an institution to solve an epidemic. Only you can provide enough resources to help millions of people. In these times of crisis, we rely on institutional bodies to take a leading role ― performing mass sanitization and distributing testing kits and key relief items. As a result, there is a greater strength in making an “ask” for the institution over the individual in today’s climate. Still, you do not want to lose specificity to generalized messaging. Think about the ways you can personalize general operational costs to rally your givers.  It’s important that donors know what resources, programs or outreach they will be supporting, or which countries/cities you will be most active in. And if you’re raising for more individualized support of families or people in your immediate area, make sure your donors know that. 

What we can’t afford to do is to give up. We can’t stop running or fundraising for our organizations. With the challenges ahead, it’s going to take all of us to keep up the momentum. It’s a cycle that we need to keep turning. And it starts with you and me. If we, the people, keep giving and keep asking, we will inspire the larger givers to give, too. And if the larger givers keep giving, nonprofits won’t be afraid to ask. Rinse and repeat. *

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