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On Wednesday 27 June we held the seventh event in our ASPIRE Fundriasing and Philanthropy series, this time on Crowdfunding.

As funding becomes scarce and competitive, cultural organisations must diversify their incomes, and many are beginning to look to crowdfunding as a way to mobilise their often significant fan bases for support. But with so many crowdfunding initiatives now out there, how can cultural organisations stand out from the crowd and garner support. How should not-for-profits engage with the incentives programme? Should cultural organisations be using established platforms like Kickstarter, or applying crowdfunding initiatives in a bespoke way?

We welcomed five fantastic speakers to help our 30 delegates from across the cultural sector explore these ideas.

Funding from the Crowd with DONATE

The day began with an introduction to DONATE by Olivia Mason from the National Funding Scheme. This online giving platform was set up to help cultural organisation utilise digital and mobile as part of their fundraising activities. DONATE can collect donations via mobile web, QR code, near field communication or text message, providing options to suit most mobile users. The National Funding Scheme can also process gift aid for organisations, and share donor details, if the donor opts to share them.

The group explored the growing importance of enabling mobile giving. While cash and direct debit still dominate as preferred methods for giving, in the past 6 months DONATE has seen a 30% increase in individuals giving via mobile, and a 62% increase in the amount given, with the average donation increasing from £7 to £40.

Olivia shared a few case studies, demonstrating that the most effective mobile giving campaigns are those limited to 3-4 months which aim to raise between £10-20k for a specific cause – research also shows that individuals are much more likely to give if they know exactly what difference their money will make.

Empowering donors with choice: how Sound and Music built a commercially inspired crowdfunding platform to great effect

This was followed by a case study from , Head of Development at Sound and Music. As part of the Arts Council’s Catalyst scheme, Sound and Music were fortunate enough to be able to take a ‘subsidised risk’ to experiment with crowdfunding, and build their own bespoke crowdfunding platform.

Adam was very clear that rather than starting by looking at the various platforms and what they could do, they began by looking at what their organisation had to offer that was unique, and what would appeal to their established audience.

On this basis they decided not to go with an existing crowdfunding platform, but to build their own. There were two main reasons for this. First, they did not have to work within the brand of the platform, but could rely on their own brand which they have carefully cultivated and targeted to their audience. Secondly, they wanted to give their donors a choice of projects to support – they could not find a platform that would support this. Sound and Music felt that this idea of choice would motivate potential donors to give, whilst enabling them, through analysis, to learn more about what the different segments of their audience were interested in supporting. This was another benefit of building a bespoke platform – full access to the analytics.

There were drawbacks to managing the platform – they had to deal with all the technical glitches, but overall it was a very positive and effective experience, not only in terms of raising funds: it was fun, the fundraising team learned a lot, and it was a great opportunity for the fundraising team, marketing team and the entire organisation to work together to push the programme.

Adam identified valuable learning from the project, in particular they will certainly use the ‘choice’ option again within their fundraising activity, and they learned a lot about what appeals to different sections of their audience. He suggested being careful with the projects that you selected – while this kind of funding works for smaller projects, they need to have a broad appeal to gain support.

Adam’s final piece of advice – plan for success based on your core audience, you can’t plan for a viral campaign. With that in mind, pick your platform based on your audience and objective.

Crowdfunding: new income stream and audience development tool for museums and galleries

After lunch we heard from , Senior Marketing Manager at the Art Fund about Art Happens, a completely free crowdfunding platform for museums and galleries. Thanks to generous funding, the Art Fund is able to offer this service without charging or taking a percentage of funds raised. They also work closely with the partner museum or gallery to develop ideas that will work for crowdfunding as a platform, to develop the pitch video, and to develop the all-important rewards. In addition, the Art Fund covers the costs of the pitch video, the production and fulfilment of the rewards as well as marketing assets required by the museums and galleries.

To date Art Happens has had considerable success, with 9 out of the 11 campaigns reaching their goal. This is based on the significant help that they provide, and their established audience of 117k loyal members as well as hundreds of thousands of art lovers across the country, which can be added to the stakeholders of the cultural organisation. Nevertheless Kerstin stressed the importance of mobilising people beyond your network, making contact with groups that might have a shared interest to promote the campaign through their network. While it may only take a few hundred donors for a project to be successful, the campaign must be seen by thousands to generate that interest.

Rewards were highlighted as an important feature of a crowdfunding appeal. While many people do give philanthropically through crowdfunding platforms, people who are on the fence can be swayed if there is a reward that grabs their interest, and a quality reward can significantly increase the amount of money that an individual might be willing to give. As can be seen in the slide below, the Chapman Brothers print was especially successful in encouraging people to give more in return for the reward, and it is surprising how popular designer toilet paper is!

Another key lesson from Kerstin’s talk and the day as a whole was that crowdfunding is a difficult way to fundraise, and is in no way a quick win – Kerstin suggested that you need to invest 3-4 hours of work for each day of the campaign, for preparation, launch and maintaining momentum. But as well as a fundraising opportunity, crowdfunding is a significant audience and donor development opportunity, and it is important to invest in developing those relationships after the campaign.

Kerstin left the group with some top tips for running a campaign.

Bringing Blodwen Home

Next we had a case study from a successful crowdfunding project for Llandudno Museum in Wales run by Helen Bradley, Heritage Development Officer for Conwy Council for Blodwen.

is an ancient skeleton found in North Wales in Llandudno’s Little Orme in 1891. Blodwen was taken to Lancashire by its discoverer, and only returned and offered a permanent home in Llandudno Museum after 123 years. The return caused significant interest among the public and the press, so the museum needed to raise money quickly in order to develop a new display for the treasure.

Helen was faced with the prospect of raising money for this display with little resource beyond her own time. Seeing the public interest in Blodwen, Helen thought that the project had good potential as a crowdfunding campaign, and she set one up through, as this worked well with the minimal resource she had to invest. You can see the campaign page here.

The campaign got off to a good start, but it was by no means easy. Much of the core audience interested in Blodwen were older people, who were wary about online giving. Several called to offer a cheque donation, but unfortunately there was no way that these offline donations could be added to and contribute to the £3k target there. There were also a number of technical glitches, such as when lower level rewards were sold out individuals could not just give at this lower rate.

Nevertheless the project was a success, but involved a lot of work – Helen notes that this was not the quickest way that she could have raised the funds. Helen negotiated contributions from a few larger donors before launching the campaign, encouraging these individuals to give as soon as the campaign opened so that there was some momentum already when it got into the public eye. It was also a great way to gain press interest – in fact the museum won a Welsh marketing award for the work. The public support also gave Helen what she needed to leverage funding from other sources.

For Helen, never having undertaken this kind of campaign before, she learned ‘on the job’. Her top tips:

  • Target major donors to line up pledges early, and go live with them before going live with the public in order to make sure the campaign starts with momentum.
  • Have a communications strategy before you begin that aims to maintain momentum throughout the campaign, and maximises the new relationships after the fact.
  • Give yourself enough time – there is more ‘off line’ work involved than expected, and small things around setting up can take longer than expected.
  • How confident are you? This type of fundraising is a risk, both in terms of not raising the needed funds, and reputational. Pick a project that you are confident will have a wide appeal.

The Spitfire: Crowdfunding or Public Subscription

Our last speaker of the day was , Director of Development at Birmingham Museums Trust. Rachel shared her experience of raising £5,000 match funding towards the £250k Spitfire Gallery at Think Tank. She considered crowdfunding as a way to raise awareness of the new gallery, and because of a pride within the city in its association with building Spitfires, which suggested it would be of broad public appeal.

There were a variety of rewards, but key at the £75 threshold was becoming an ‘oppo’ (RAF slang for friend) of the Spitfire Club, which included updates on the project, a certificate of membership, and an invitation to see the gallery before the public opening.

They successfully reached their £5,000 target, but not in the way expected. Despite significant social media support from the local digital community, they raised only £750 online – the remainder was given offline.

It seemed that the gallery and the offered relationship with the Spitfires appealed especially to older audiences, who had memories of their parents working in the Spitfire factory. Many of these donors chose not to give online – this is not necessarily because they are not IT literate, but rather older people seem not to consider this the ‘right way’ to give funds, preferring to send in a cheque with a letter. This, however, had the added benefit of giving the museum the opportunity to build relationships with these individuals, and hear their stories, which could be included within the interpretation of the gallery.

Lessons Learned

We ended the day with a panel discussion which highlighted some key lessons from the day.

  • Crowdfunding is not an ‘easy win’ in terms of fundraising – it takes a lot of time and energy, and can be more time consuming than approaching trusts or major donors. However, it provides a significant audience development opportunity, enabling not only the cultivation of new audiences, but also of potential new donors, and increase our knowledge of those donors, their interests, and giving habits, which may be useful in converting them to higher level supporters of the organisation.
  • It is important to pick the right project. An organisation can only run so many crowdfunding projects in order not to cause funder fatigue, and it is important to pick projects that lend themselves to crowdfunding as a model, that will have a broad public interest and give the donor a clear understanding of what their money will be used for.
  • Crowdfunding is not that different from other types of fundraising, and should be donor led in terms of placing what will appeal to donors at their heart, rather than the fundraising platform. But the counter to this is that crowdfunding is transactional as well as philanthropic and museums need to be conscious of this as it can alter the relationship between them and their donors.
  • Crowdfunding offers a significant opportunity to entice new funders who may not have thought of giving before, or funders to give more, through the rewards scheme. 
  • Crowdfunding is the beginning of a new relationship with a donor – invest the time in cultivating that relationship.
  • Crowdfunding should be seen in the context of an overall long-term fundraising strategy - as museum audiences become increasingly digitally savvy, crowdfunding as a fruitful income stream could gain greater significance. 

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