How to help your Crowdfunder take off

– Fiona Thompson

Many of you have been involved in our project with Fine Cell Work, and many more contributed to the Crowdfunder for our book Threads of Time, which smashed its target (thank you!). But what was the secret to its success? Fiona Thompson reveals all.

Earlier this year, I helped produce a Crowdfunder site to raise money to fund Threads of Time, a book that celebrates 25 years of the charity, Fine Cell Work. We hit our initial target of £12,500 in just a few days and after three weeks had reached 208% of our target, bringing in over £26,000. This meant that we were able to fully fund the publication of the book and donate additional money to the charity’s work.

How did we do it?

A fellow 26er got in touch recently to ask how we managed to achieve our target so quickly. I scribbled down a few thoughts, then decided they might be worth sharing with other potential fundraisers. So here they are.

First, choose your fundraising platform

We considered various crowdfunding platforms including JustGiving, Crowdfunder, Kickstarter, Go Fund Me and our own 26 website. Suzanne Wilcox, our brilliant accountant, put together a spreadsheet that weighted different criteria, such as the facility to offer tiered rewards, the strength of the platform brand and the ability to claim Gift Aid on donations for the charity.

Crowdfunder came out as the clear winner, with the additional bonus that they were waiving their platform fees for charities during the pandemic. The platform also gave us the option to keep any funds that we raised if we didn’t reach our target, rather than taking an ‘all-or-nothing’ approach.

Crowd-source your team

We were lucky to be working with Fine Cell Work, a charity that trains prisoners in needlework skills, enabling them to build fulfilling, crime-free lives. The team at the charity played a fundamental role in making the Crowdfunder a success (huge shout out to Katy Emck OBEVictoria Gillies, Katie Steingold, Clare Cowburn Baker and Georgina Barber).

We planned the launch date of the Crowdfunder together and the Fine Cell Work team provided a fabulous array of rewards to tempt people to donate, as well as supplying high-res photos and keeping tabs on donations behind the scenes. Crucially, the charity also reached out to its supporters to let them know when the campaign was going live.

In addition to the 26 editorial team, which included me, Elise ValmorbidaSue Evans and Wendy Jones, we drew on the strengths of many people within the 26 network to make the Crowdfunder a success. (Special thanks to Lisa Andrews for sharing what she learned on a previous 26 Crowdfunder, to Suzanne Wilcox for financial nous and wizardry, to Maeve O’Sullivan for sterling PR support and to Jamie Delves for leading the social media team.)

Ask yourself these questions

When it comes to your team, ask yourself:

  • Who will provide the content – words and pictures?
  • Who will produce a video for you?
  • Who will appear in your video?
  • Who are the main people you want to quote in your copy?
  • Which supporters / contacts / people in your organisation might be able to provide attractive rewards for your Crowdfunder?
  • Who can give you good advice on the money side of things and establish whether Crowdfunder is the right platform for you?
  • Who will promote your Crowdfunder – to your existing supporters and on social media?
  • Who will keep track of donations and ensure that people receive their rewards?

Look at what other people are doing

Before you start planning your content, look at Crowdfunder pages that people in your sector have put up. How much information have they included? What have they said? How have they inspired people to donate? It’s just as important to look at the pages that have raised zero pence as those that have raised squillions. Both will be instructive and will give you some ideas on what works to raise money in your sector.

Tell your story with a video

Crowdfunder allows you space for a video at the top of the page, and it’s really worthwhile making the most of this option. We were fortunate because a professional in the film industry donated her services to the project free of charge. However, even a short film shot on your phone should allow you to get your main message across. Ideally, it should be around 1.5 to 2 minutes long and cover: what the project’s about, why you’re raising money for it, why people should support you, and what they’ll get in return for their support.

If there’s someone prominent involved in your project, ask them to record a film for you. Author Tracy Chevalier, who has written a chapter for the book and is a long-time supporter of the charity, kindly agreed to appear in our video.

By all means, give people bullet points you’d like them to cover, but don’t script it, don’t use an autocue and keep it natural. Your supporters are probably used to seeing hand-held, slightly shaky, ‘real life’ promo films. You could even make a virtue of having a homemade film, saying that you’re saving all your money for the cause, rather than spending it on a fancy production.

Make your title work hard

Grab people’s attention right at the top of the page with a title that presents what you’re doing in a clear and engaging way. Elise came up with our title: ‘Stitching stories of hope and beauty from prison’. We felt this was an evocative title that gave enough details to intrigue the reader.

Make your intro para work equally hard

The same goes for your intro para. Don’t waffle, get straight to the point. If the reader only gets as far as the end of the first paragraph, they should have the gist of what you’re doing. Like your video, this para needs to say what the project’s about, why you’re raising money for it, why people should support you and what they’ll get in exchange.

If people are just browsing Crowdfunder, they will simply see a picture, a title and the beginning of an intro para (as above). On a mobile device, the text is truncated still further. So you need to pick your words wisely.

Ask someone who knows nothing about the project to look at the combination of your picture, title and intro para. Then ask for their feedback on the following questions:

  • Does the picture make it clear what the project’s about?
  • Is the title clear and engaging?
  • Does the start of the intro para tell the reader why you’re fundraising and how they can help?

Add tantalising rewards

One of the reasons why we chose Crowdfunder is because it allowed us to offer a range of rewards. It’s a good idea to give people the choice of a variety of rewards, from a low-cost entry level reward at maybe £10 – £20 right up to much higher options for more lavish rewards.

Our entry-level reward was £35 for a copy of Threads of Time; 150 people chose this reward, making it our most popular option. Our highest-value reward was £1,500 for lunch with one of the renowned writers who contributed to the book – Tracy Chevalier, Louis de Bernières, Esther Freud or Isabella Tree – together with two copies of the book, two invitations to the launch party and various stitched works. One person chose this reward.

In between £35 and £1,500, our rewards included a copy of Threads of Time plus a specially-designed bookmark, a Fine Cell Work swag purse, a geometrics cushion, a limited-edition Hope is the Key art cushion and a full-day stitching workshop for four people at Fine Works Hub, the charity’s community workshop in London. Several people also took up the opportunity to receive a copy of the book themselves and to donate a copy to a prison library.

It helps to think laterally about rewards. Ask yourself what your supporters might particularly value as a reward. Can you give them access to someone from your organisation or a part of your organisation that would normally be out of bounds? For example, if you’re raising money for a theatrical production, could you offer people a Zoom session with the designer who will discuss the maquette, a virtual tour of the backstage of the theatre, or a Q&A with the playwright, director or actors?

Be aware that once you’ve set the description of the cost and reward that appears on the right hand side of the page and launched your Crowdfunder, you can’t change this description. So make sure it’s accurate before you press ‘go’. We chose to add more information about the rewards in the body of the page, to encourage people to support and donate.

Use detail to bring the project to life

As far as we can tell, there’s no limit on how much information you can add to the body of the project page. Think about your audience of potential supporters and what is most likely to interest them about the project.

You should answer the following questions:

  1. What’s special about this project? Why is it important? Why should people care about it?
  2. Why do you need to raise funds now? Is there an urgent need or a deadline? What will happen if you don’t raise this money?
  3. Who’s involved? Include information that will help potential supporters to trust you to deliver. Give some background on the people and organisations involved, together with any track record of previous successes. Add quotes from high-profile people involved in the project.
  4. Who will benefit? Describe who or what will benefit from this project. Include quotes and pictures where possible.
  5. What rewards are you offering? Take the time to describe the rewards in detail, making clear what makes them special and how supporters will benefit from them.
  6. What’s the timeline? Is there a deadline you’re working to? Make it clear what the project is hoping to achieve and when. Also, let people know when they can expect to receive their rewards.
  7. What do you want people to do? Include calls to action throughout the copy, but make sure they are there at the start and at the end.

Convey your message visually

Scatter plenty of photos around your copy to make your Crowdfunder page stand out and convey your message through images. Make sure that you have the right to publish these pictures online. Add credits where possible. Minimise your pixels so your photos don’t take ages to download and slow down the experience for readers.

Get some early pledges

It can be intimidating to visit a Crowdfunder page that hasn’t yet attracted any support. No one wants to be the first to make a donation. So before you publicise your Crowdfunder to the world, tee up some early supporters to make some early pledges.

A couple of days before the ‘official’ launch, we shared our page with the large team of 26 writers who’d been involved and Fine Cell Work shared it with people on their team and a few close friends and supporters. This meant that when the page went live, we already had a few donations under our belt.

It’s not too late
If you’ve been reading this and thinking, ‘Damn, Threads of Time sounds amazing and I’ve missed the boat,’ there’s still time to order a copy! Head over to Fine Cell Work and pre-order the book, which will be published in Spring 2022.

– Fiona Thompson

Images kindly provided by Fine Cell Work

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