Live from DMA: Kickstarter Campaigns Require Traditional Fundraising Techniques

February 23, 2018       Paul Clolery      

Washington, D.C. – There are many reasons why nonprofits are considering — and doing — risky crowdfunding campaigns on Kickstarter. Some might be spurred to find new audiences. Others might have a zealous board member encouraging a project. Still others might have a project in need of restricted funding.

Ultimately, no matter the reason, a successful Kickstarter project can earn not just revenue for an organization, but provide significant value in driving brand and mission awareness with a community of more than 13 million avid users.

During the Data & Marketing Association’s Nonprofit Federation meeting (DMANF) in Washington, D.C., Yoon Lee, senior vice president at M+R, Rob Vernon, senior vice president at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), and Dana Weinstein, director of new audience engagement and membership at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) presented the ins and outs of effective Kickstarter campaigns through their own recent experiences.

Yoon Lee presented an overview of expectations and best practices, including a few clear rules about what makes a good project, but even so, finding one is often times the most challenging part. Some rules to keep in mind:

It should be easy to understand. The concept has to be clear, with a concrete beginning, middle and end. You can’t kickstart an entire cause but you should be thinking about how to bring something specific to life;
It has the potential to attract media attention. It’s that important, timely, or interesting; and,
Stop and consider whether the project packs an emotional punch. Would it have broad appeal, enough to entice both your grandmother and your millennial co-workers? Would they like it enough to pitch in and wear the project’s T-shirt reward?

Once a project has been chosen, the timeline from start to finish can be six months or more. Organizations should consider the availability of staff time to accomplish the following:

Marketing and communications that includes daily social media, press pitching, video production, emails, blog posts, project updates, paid ads, answering comments and questions;
Invite the participation of your organization’s leadership, board members, major donors, members, staff, corporate sponsors, and celebrities;
Developing unique rewards, then determining how you will source them, how they’ll get packaged, and how you will deliver them to each backer; and,
Communicating with backers after the project is over – successful or not.

Budget considerations should include project funding requirements, but also the cost of running the Kickstarter campaign. All of these costs can be included in the overall Kickstarter project goal.

From the AZA and USHMM, two case studies provided some practical takeaways.

If you’re short-staffed or lack the in-house expertise, an agency can take on a majority of the campaign work, from providing overall strategy and guidance to producing email and social media copy and scripts for promotion;
Rewards can be experiential, tangible, or digital, but all should be germane to the project and customized when possible;
Strong promotion is crucial and every opportunity should be leveraged, including Facebook and Kickstarter Live videos, corporate sponsorships, and celebrity participation; and,
If you have a physical location with visitors, on-site promotion can be a major source of backers and revenue.

Once your Kickstarter project is over and you’ve reached or missed your goal, don’t forget to consider the ongoing communications with your backers. Updating them with news of the project is part of the Kickstarter experience – an expectation that Kickstarter creators take seriously and which backers appreciate. This will ultimately give you the opportunity to put project backers on the path to becoming supporters of your organization – the best ROI of all.