Ken Goldstein, MPPA

Ken Goldstein has been working in nonprofits and local government agencies from Santa Cruz, to Sacramento, and back to Silicon Valley, since 1989. He's been staff, volunteer, board member, executive director, and, since 2003, a consultant to local nonprofit organizations. For more on Ken's background, click here. If you are interested in retaining Ken's services, you may contact him at ken at

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Crowdfunding Roundup for Nonprofits

It seems that with the rise of Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, crowdfunding is on everybody's minds these days, but what's a nonprofit to do?

First, let's clear up what we mean by crowdfunding, and how it differs from traditional online fundraising. Crowdfunding generally refers to grassroots efforts to raise money for a project or product that is in development, directly from the eventual purchasers.

An example would be a musician who raises money from fans to produce his next CD (bypassing the traditional record company investment relationship). Rather than wait for the CD to come out, and then buying it, a fan will contribute $10 or $20 toward its production in exchange for a copy of the eventual product at some later date. In this way, crowdfunding is just an internet spin on the old subscription business model.

For nonprofits, it is distinguished from traditional online fundraising in that it is focused on distinct, separate campaigns for specific purposes. Whereas traditional online fundraising is continuous (the "donate now" button that's always on your website) and for more general usage, you would use crowdfunding for a time-limited, specific dollar goal, for a particular project or special use.

Before you begin crowdfunding, consider what projects or needs you will be raising money for, and think about which story you want to tell.

The Organization's Story: This is the most like traditional fundraising. The story is about your organization itself, your mission, and all the people you serve. A typical crowdfunded story might be, "By helping us purchase a new van you enable us to feed more hungry, home-bound seniors by doubling the number of meals we can deliver each day."

The Donor's Story: The real power of the internet comes from the ability of individuals to connect directly with each other. In crowdfunding, this is usually seen in the form of turning donors into fundraisers and helping them tell their social networks why they support your nonprofit. A typical story might be, "I'm going on a 50 mile bike ride to raise funds and awareness of this cause that affects my family." (Here's my fundraising page for the Alzheimer's Association Walk.)

The Client's Story: Even more powerful than the donor's story is the story of the end beneficiary: the clients you serve, and the person directly helped by the donation. Surprisingly, of all the crowdfunding sites I've found, only focuses on telling these stories. A typical story might be, "I am graduating from a job training program, but need to purchase tools and a uniform before I can accept a job; your donation helps me reach my goal of providing for my family."

Of the hundreds of crowdfunding websites that have launched over the last few years, here are the 20 I have found that are either specifically for nonprofits, or most adaptable to nonprofit use:
  1. - nonprofits create low-dollar campaigns (up to $700) tied to client needs and stories
  2. - primarily for petitions, but can people/orgs can fundraise as well, Facebook widgets
  3. - organizations create custom fundraising sites
  4. - organizations or individuals can set up fundraising campaigns of any size
  5. - teachers set up campaigns for classroom needs
  6. - users create campaigns for nonprofits or "projects" 
  7. - fundraising for "individuals, non-profits, schools and political organizations"
  8. - organizations get supporters to set up personal fundraising pages
  9. - create social media fundraising campaigns, payments through PayPal 
  10. - individuals create campaigns for their own projects or favorite charity
  11. - "dedicated to launching early-stage innovations in health care"
  12. - basic furniture needs for those leaving homelessness (Silicon Valley only)
  13. - raise funds for projects of all types, not primarily for nonprofits, but could be
  14. - raise funds for projects of all types, mostly creative (art, music, publishing)
  15. - raises money for micro-loans, mostly in developing countries
  16. - users volunteer to do small tasks for buyers in exchange for donations to charity
  17. - organizations or individuals can set up campaigns; good widgets for web & Facebook
  18. - raise funds for any use (business, social, arts)
  19. - "ventures" (not all nonprofit) fundraise for social change
  20. - organizations set up campaigns for specific projects

When choosing a platform, remember that each of these sites has to cover their own overhead costs, from credit card fees to web-servers to programmers and staff. Read the fine print carefully to understand their fee structure.

Also, if the site itself is not run by a nonprofit, and if the funds do not go directly to your organization, there may be a question of tax-deductibility of the donation. Again, make sure you read all the FAQs.

Finally, you do not need to limit yourself to using just one platform, but be careful not to over-extend yourself and set up on so many that you have lots of half-funded campaigns that never complete.

1 comment:

  1. HI Ken

    Thanks for some very good thoughts, I do think you are correct that the "clients" story is important, it is the basis of the whole thing!! But on the other hand, what is powerful about focusing on the personal story in charity crowdfunding is that it is easy to fund that crucial non-earmarked money a charity needs. When the focus is on "I'm running a marathon" there is already plenty of good communication, and the focus can be moved away from the charity, and thus it is easier to crowdfund non-earmarked money (which sets charity crowdfunding other areas where the project is in focus)

    For those charities that are based in mainline europe the above site is not of much use. So for those besides I will leave a link to interview with BetterNow at about crowdfunding charities in Europe