Wow. Was it really two months ago when I launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds for my trip to the 2017 Iceland Writers Retreat? Now, the “promotional” period is over (it ended this past Saturday), and thanks to people’s generosity I raised $2274. This falls short of the $3500 goal – but you know what? That’s still really good. It means that a dream-come-true overseas adventure and investment in my writing career is financially within reach for me. That is enough to say I’m DEFINITELY going now. 😀
To celebrate, I thought I’d offer insights on running a crowdfunding campaign. Because, well, it was one of the most intimidating things I’ve ever done – more than writing a novel! But it was also one of the most unique and rewarding learning experiences in my life. So, let me share six tips based on what I learned – some practical, and some attitudinal. Because in many ways, your mindset and definition of success might be more important than how close you come to your fundraising goal.
#1: Research Your Options Before Choosing a Crowdfunding Platform
Each platform – Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, GoFundMe, and others – is unique and will better serve some projects better than others. So, before you launch your campaign, take some time to review the differences between these platforms. That way, you can make an informed decision about which site best fits your needs, timetable, and preferences. Here are some of the things I noticed when researching “The Big Three” last fall:
- Purpose: Kickstarter is geared toward business-oriented ventures (e.g., films, video games, album recordings, innovative technologies / devices), while GoFundMe is a better choice for personal projects (e.g., medical costs, fire / disaster recovery, sports teams, education costs). IndieGoGo can be used for either, but I’ve typically seen those campaigns lean more toward the business side.
- Deadlines: Kickstarter and IndieGoGo both require deadlines for their campaigns. GoFundMe, on the other hand, allows users to run their projects for as long as they want.
- Fixed or Flexible Funding?: Kickstarter offers only fixed funding, meaning that if you don’t mean your campaign’s goal, the money will be returned to pledgers. GoFundMe uses flexible funding, which allows campaigns to keep whatever money they receive. IndieGoGo allows users to choose either fixed or flexible funding, depending on what users think will be best for their project.
- Online vs Offline Donations: GoFundMe is the only platform that allows online (credit card) and offline (cash, personal checks, direct PayPal) donations. Kickstarter allows only credit card pledges, while IndieGoGo supports credit card and PayPal donations but discourages offline donations.
- Perks or No Perks?: Perks (or incentives that donors that receive for pledging certain monetary amounts) are mandatory for Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, but optional on GoFundMe.
- Fees: All three platforms deduct a percentage from each donation on the user’s end (not the donor’s end) for platform use and payment processing. IndieGoGo charges the highest fees, while Kickstarter’s and GoFundMe’s fees are roughly the same. (No fees are deducted from offline donations on a GoFundMe campaign, though.)
In my case, I chose GoFundMe mostly because of the personal nature of my campaign. Plus, I preferred the flexible funding concept over fixed funding (I was determined to go to the retreat, no matter what), and I wanted to give people the option of donating offline if they wished. And for the most part, I was pleased with GoFundMe. It was easy to navigate; and I had little trouble setting up and editing my campaign page, sharing on social media, and sending updates to donors.
If you’d like a more in-depth comparison between Kickstarter, GoFundMe, and IndieGoGo, as well as links to other crowdfunding sites, check out this post at Grasshopper.
#2: Offer Relevant and Beneficial Perks
When two of my friends suggested that I crowdfund my retreat trip, my first answer was, “But… what would I offer for perks?” We then brainstormed for a few minutes and came up with fantastic options: listing donors’ names in a thank-you page on the blog (which you can visit here) and in my first published book, critiques of a manuscript’s first chapter, custom loose-leaf tea blends inspired by my story, writing coach sessions via Skype, and access to a private photo album of my trip on Flickr. I even had a perk level for three scarves I had knitted years ago – and sold two of them!
Did you notice what most of the perks had in common? First, they tied in with writing, publishing, and travel – themes that matched those of the campaign as well as my personal platform as a fantasy writer. In fact, I had offered tea and first chapter critiques as past giveaway prizes, so I felt qualified and/or comfortable offering them again as campaign perks.
Second, donors could benefit from the perks in useful or fun ways. Writers, readers, tea drinkers, and travel photo enthusiasts (and yes, even scarf-lovers) could get something in return for their contribution, depending on how much they donated. So, in the end, everyone involved in this campaign had the chance to benefit from it.
#3: Be Strategic But Not Invasive When Promoting Your Campaign
Once you launch a crowdfunding campaign, you can use your in-person and online networks to spread the word and post updates. Family and friends, co-workers, your website / blog, Facebook, Twitter – however and wherever you want to share your endeavor, it’s up to you. This also means you should be careful with how you approach your campaign’s promotion, especially if yours is a personal one.
When I launched my GoFundMe for the Iceland trip, I knew what I felt comfortable doing to promote the campaign. I also knew what I didn’t feel comfortable doing, and I didn’t want to come across as intrusive. So, I set these parameters to help me run my campaign in an enthusiastic, honest, and integrity-based manner:
- Do an overall launch on the blog, Twitter, and Facebook. This would inform all of my “audiences” of the trip and the GoFundMe campaign. (Twitter is my main “hug” for writing and blogging contacts; while Facebook consists mostly of family and personal friends, with writing / blogging pals mixed in.)
- Include a GoFundMe image widget on the blog’s sidebar that links to the campaign page.
- Offer updates in my blog articles as appropriate (but not in all of them).
- Share the campaign link on Twitter once a day so that it’s mixed in with live Tweets and other pre-scheduled link-sharing of blog articles (my own articles as well as sharing other people’s posts).
- Share the campaign link on Facebook three times each week, for similar reasons as with Twitter.
- Encourage friends and donors to share the campaign link and spread the word online or in person.
- Avoid emailing people directly for the sole purpose of promoting the campaign. Instead – and as appropriate – let the discussion of the retreat come up naturally, then casually inform the recipient of the campaign, post the link, and move on to the next topic.
- With each share, make it clear that donors can benefit from the campaign by receiving perks for specific donation amounts.
The point was, I wanted to let people know about the campaign, but I didn’t want them to feel obligated to donate. If they didn’t want to or couldn’t afford to, I respected their decision. I also wanted to ensure variety in the links or topics I shared or discussed online. (In other words, I didn’t want to talk about the campaign all of the time.)
Whether this strategy was a “recipe of success” might be debatable. But it allowed me to run the campaign in a way I felt comfortable with and that fit my limited online schedule. And in hindsight, I’m glad I stuck to it.
#4: Express Your Gratitude – and Do It Frequently
I’m a believer in practicing gratitude. So, whenever someone submitted a donation via GoFundMe, I sent them a personalized thank-you email. If they donated in person, I said my thanks then and there and often gave the donor a hug. And whenever I sent a campaign update, I made sure to express my thanks again before the end. Not once did I worry about sounding like a broken record, either.
The thing is, when someone donates to your crowdfunding campaign, they’re making a financial investment in you and your product or cause. This can’t be taken for granted. Plus, people like to know that you appreciate their help. It makes them feel happy to have done so, and it puts you in a favorable light.
So, take the time to thank your contributors when they initially donate to your campaign, and continue to express that gratitude as the campaign rolls on. It’s one of the few sentiments that never gets old, because everyone enjoys knowing that their efforts and thoughtfulness are valued by others.
On a related note, I also wanted to make the campaign fun and interesting for donors after they made their contributions. So with every update, I included a “fun fact” about Iceland, from landmarks and tourist-y bits (the Northern Lights, the waterfall Hraunfossar) to culture. (Did you know that almost all of Iceland’s electricity comes from hydropower and geothermal energy? Or that one of their beloved Christmas traditions is Jólabókaflóð, where the country’s publishing industry puts out a “flood” of new titles before the holidays and then families read books on Christmas Eve?) Sharing this and other trivia with donors not only gave them a chance to learn about the country I’ll be visiting, but also was an extension of my gratitude to them.
#5: If You Run a Personal or Flexible Funding Campaign, Be Positive and Cautiously Optimistic, But Don’t Obsess Over the Outcome
I knew early on in my campaign that I might not make my goal of $3500. It was an honest estimate of the trip’s overall costs. But since I had never run a crowdfunding campaign before, I knew I was better off being content and grateful for whatever donations I received.
But trying not to be emotionally attached to the “big goal”… That was difficult at times. Early on in the campaign, I questioned why I was doing this and whether people thought I was crazy or selfish for trying to crowdfund a writing-related trip. (One person did tell me privately that I shouldn’t consider going on the retreat if I couldn’t afford it on my own.)
When January began, I had a “heart-to-heart conversation” with myself. It went along the lines of, “You’re going to Iceland no matter what. This retreat will be a dream come true – and the trip will be that much more affordable for you because of any donations you receive from here on out.” This changed my attitude for the rest of the campaign. I stopped worrying about the end goal and started enjoying the process more. As a result, the last 4 weeks of the campaign were less stressful and more fun than the first 4 weeks. And today, I’m so thrilled with the final total that I could turn cartwheels. (Except I’m not a gymnast, and I’d likely hurt myself!)
Keep this in mind if you ever run a crowdfunding campaign, especially one that’s flexible funding or more personal in nature. Just because you don’t reach 100% funding doesn’t mean that your campaign is a failure. There may come a point when you’ve done all you can, and you’ll need to a) remember that every donation you do receive will bring you one step closer to reaching your goal, and b) accept that you may need to invest some of your own money to finish the job.
This is another reason why practicing gratitude and thanking every donor is so important: It’s good for your overall peace of mind, and helps you to not obsess over the campaign. Even on days when you don’t receive donations, be proud of what you’ve accomplished so far, and look forward to the moment when you can say, “Hey, look what I did, and with the help of so many generous people who were willing to help me get this far.”
#6: Never Underestimate the Generosity of Others
It takes a LOT of bravery and faith to ask other people to help you make a dream become financially within reach. So when I started the GoFundMe campaign, I had no idea what to expect or how other people might react. And in the end, I was blown away… and sometimes brought to tears.
Many donors will be receiving perks like first-chapter critiques, hand-knit scarves, and custom loose-leaf tea blends in the coming days and weeks. Others, however, donated without wanting any perks in return – and several either met or exceeded the top perk level amount. Plus, friends and family willingly shared or retweeted the campaign link or spread the word in person; and some people offered to let me borrow items I’ll need for the trip (backpack carry-on, universal plug adapter, laptop lock, etc.). And all of the well wishes, encouragement, and excitement that people expressed for this trip, regardless of whether they donated – they both humbled me and made my heart sing.
If it weren’t for any of these individuals and the financial and moral support they offered over the past two months, I know I wouldn’t be going to Iceland. But now I am… and all of the thank-you’s I’ve said and all of the perks I’m planning to fulfill don’t do enough justice for the magnitude of people’s generosity toward this campaign. I can only hope that someday I’ll be able to repay each person, in some way.
What Happens Now That the Campaign is Over?
I’ve decided to keep the campaign page open for a few more weeks. That way, I can communicate with all of my donors as their perks are fulfilled. This also means that, due to GoFundMe’s “deadline-less” set-up, the page will still collect donations until I formally remove it from the site. So if you missed your chance before but would like to submit an “after-hours” donation, you can do so here. But I won’t actively promote the campaign at the blog or on social media anymore now that my personal deadline has passed.
Several people have asked me if I’ll also blog about the Iceland Writers Retreat after I come home. The answer? YES! I’m already discussing the trip with DIY MFA and Writers Helping Writers so I can cover different angles of my experience for both sites. I might do a Field Trip report here as well, though I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ll need to split it up into at least two posts. 😉 So, you’ll get to hear plenty about the trip after I’m home.
Once again, thank you all so much for your support and belief. It means more than words can adequately express. ❤
Have you ever held a crowdfunding campaign, or considered having one? If you did hold one, what did you learn from the experience? What was the easiest part about running the campaign? What was the most challenging part?
Original photo credits: Paul Morris (banner)