Lessons on Building Lasting Revenue and Relationships through Crowdfunding Campaigns
By Josh Stearns
Crowdfunding has become a big business. Just do a Google search for crowdfunding tips and you’ll find thousands of blog posts, guides, and consultants ready to offer their services to take your crowdfunding project from start to success. While there are some clear strategies for running a successful crowdfunding campaign, less has been written about what you do with that crowd once they have pledged their support. Put another way, how do you turn a short-term crowdfunding campaign into a connected community that will support your work over the long term?
This question may be less important for people crowdfunding a new gadget or product, whose primary concern is delivering something at the end of the campaign. But for people using crowdfunding to support ongoing work in journalism, the arts, and social change, we should look at crowdfunding as a catalyst for community building.
From 2014 to 2016, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation supported two crowdfunding campaigns with local newsrooms and studied a number of others. This guide looks at each of these campaigns and pulls in lessons from other newsrooms that have been successful. The guide also looks at how to convert the community that supports your crowdfunding campaign into ongoing contributors, allies, and friends of the organization.
A great example of this idea is the most recent campaign run by the podcast collective Radiotopia. After two record-breaking campaigns on Kickstarter, the Radiotopia team took to a different platform a year later because they wanted to focus on sustained monthly donations instead of one-time gifts. Radiotopia — and especially Roman Mars — had been excellent at building a super-engaged fan base before this effort, and it paid off. They received 19,500 donations, and an amazing 82 percent were recurring donations. They also built engagement into the rewards structures through small items like a “challenge coin,” which functions as a secret handshake for Radiotopia fans, and a “Pilot Fund” donation level that lets people have a say in the kind of shows Radiotopia produces.
In the sections that follow, we’ll look more closely at how Radiotopia set itself up for success through its earlier Kickstarter campaign and look at two other case studies from local newsrooms. Finally, we offer tips from other journalism projects and a checklist you can use to help plan and execute your crowdfunding campaign.