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The power of a story: crowdfunding success guide

By Tricia Brown

By utilizing the power of a story and the potential of social media, crowdfunding offers your church an opportunity to fundraise for special projects or missions that will make a difference in the world. It allows you to invite others to join you in making ministry happen. Crowdfunding is a pathway for your church to ask for gifts that are above and beyond the tithes and offerings already given through connectional giving.

Through attractive pages, an easy process and an efficient plan, churches can use crowdfunding to raise designated funds by garnering many (often smaller) online donations.

Churches can use crowdfunding to raise funds by garnering many (often smaller) online donations. Learn how. TWEET THIS TWEET THIS

Is it easy?

Perhaps the biggest misconception about crowdfunding is if you put a request out there, people will just gravitate toward it. Though crowdfunding raised $34.4 billion in 2015, it's not easy money. According to statistics from 2012, only about 50 percent of global crowdfunding campaigns meet their goals. So, unless you have a need to extend beyond more traditional fundraisers, crowdfunding is not the answer.

The tool requires significant work to be successful, but if the required work and effort is done well, it can pay off in many ways beyond raising funds, such as growing awareness for your project, building your email list, increasing your church's social media presence and informing potential volunteers about your ministry.

What's your story?

Before you begin a crowdfunding campaign, you must identify a project or ministry opportunity that needs special funding so it can be accomplished. It could be the youth group's upcoming mission trip, equipment or building improvements or a backpack program that benefits a neighborhood school.

Developing a marketing plan is perhaps the most important part of the crowdfunding campaign, requiring sufficient time and effort. While similar to content marketing, crowdfunding marketing has some differences and you have to be ready to tackle them to fulfill your goals.

One of the driving forces in crowdfunding campaigns is the story. Once you have identified your project, you will need to create excellent content that explains the need in a clear, compelling and engaging way. Givers want to know why you need their gifts, what you are going to do with them and, most importantly, how their giving can make a difference. Don't forget, by choosing the right images, you can add even more life to your story.

What's your goal?

Crowdfunding works by setting a goal, which is measured, monitored and adjusted with each gift. Many sites use a thermometer or some other visual to show the progress being made toward the goal. Of course, every need is different, but according to fundable.com, the average successful crowdfunding goal is about $7,000.

While there are no guarantees, there are some important crowdfunding stats that may help you get started. If you want to see if you are in the right ballpark, crowdfunding.io offers a list of questions that can help predict how much you will actually raise. But, remember, setting an aspirational goal is just as important as setting a realistic one.

Who is your audience?

Givers will not just flock to your crowdfunding campaign. If your church chooses to crowdfund, it is your responsibility to create the network of givers. The provider you choose will give you the technical support, but you have to do the work.

According to Dana Ostomel, Vice President of Nonprofit Industry Development at Firespring and founder of Deposit a Gift, most money donated will likely be given by people who are already somewhere on your church radar. Your objective then is to inspire the congregation to become advocates who will spread a love for your cause to others.

How do you do that? Communication is key. You have to get the word out about your campaign. Start with the people you already know will give their support. You can do this by sending emails, posting information on your church website and Facebook pages or sending out announcements. You can even mail postcards or send mass texts with the URL address for your campaign. Personally approach your best givers, and encourage them to give as well as share the information with their friends.

Experts call the first phase of communication a "soft launch" and recommend you raise at least 20 percent before trying to reach the "masses." People want to know that they are giving to something that matters, and many new givers will only feel that way if others have already given before them.

Like most labors within the church, crowdfunding is a team effort. You cannot go it alone. If your church embarks on a crowdfunding campaign, you will need a team of people who will help you develop and implement a marketing plan and a team of givers who will help spread the word and promote more giving.

I'm ready. Now what?

To get started, select a crowdfunding platform. When choosing between vendors like Deposit a Gift, FundRazr, Indiegogo or Go Fund Me, churches should consider a few things:

  • How much is the fee? Typically, a percentage of the donated money will be required and you will want to be sure you secure the lowest rate possible.
  • How will your church acquire the given funds? When and how will you actually draw the money given? Do you have to wait until the campaign ends, or will you receive the money in given intervals throughout the campaign? Will you receive the funds by check or direct deposit?
  • Is this company conducive to the needs of your church? There are various types of crowdfunding providers. For example, some sites, like KickStarter, are generally used more for entrepreneurial projects. Others are geared toward religious nonprofits and churches. Some, like forafriend.com, are primarily for individuals, not organizations.
  • Are the services you need offered? Some crowdfunding programs offer services beyond simply gathering financial donations. For example, faithlauncher gives donors the opportunity to donate their time and services to your church, not just financial gifts. Other companies offer the ability to donate very small amounts for specific gifts. For example, someone can give $20 to purchase a Bible for a teen or $15 for a new backpack for a child in need.
  • Does this service make giving easy and easy to share? The giver should be able to give quickly (in two minutes or less) and easily without having to read excess information or without having to click or scroll unnecessarily. When they are finished, givers should be able to quickly and easily share their experience on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, encouraging their friends and loved ones to give as well.

Once you have chosen a provider, there are basically four steps in the process:
1. Use a set-up wizard to create your site.
2. Begin a marketing campaign to encourage giving.
3. Collect and acknowledge the funds.
4. Redeem your money and put it to use.

And since there are many tips to consider, you may also want to check out a crowdfunding guide.

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Show your appreciation

The campaign doesn't end when someone gives. Immediately after you have garnered a donation (not after the campaign has ended), you should express your appreciation to the giver. Again, crowdfunding campaigns are driven by givers sharing their experiences with others to encourage more giving — you don't want any of your givers to experience "giver's remorse."

Be sure to email or a send a text thanking the donor for their gift and provide a simple way that they can share their experience by including tweetable quotes or Facebook links. Remember, a successful crowdfunding campaign runs from preparation through appreciation.

Tricia Brown

Tricia Brown has been a freelance writer and editor for more than twenty years, ghost-writing and editing for individuals as well as for health, education and religious organizations. She enjoys reading, writing and public speaking commitments in which she teaches and encourages other women.