Crowdraising

Running a Successful LoudSauce Campaign for Uniting NC

Advertising can be a great vehicle to make a real, emotional connection with our audiences and to raise the visibility of a campaign or organization. But the expense of buying ad space can be a barrier to many nonprofits. Ads aren’t worth a thing if no one seems them, and ad prices are based on the number of eyeballs that will see them. That’s why Super Bowl spots are obscenely expensive while you see ads for local furniture stores in the middle of the night. It’s how the system works and it’s a conundrum.

Social media may now provide an answer. A new online platform calledLoudSauce is looking to change that difficult advertising equation by introducing a simple way for individuals to amplify ideas they like. Using a model similar to platforms like Kickstarter or IndieGoGo, LoudSauce’s users are putting their money where their mouths are by crowdfunding ads from good causes that highlight smart ideas, get people thinking, and change hearts and minds.

Last fall, I had the chance to pilot the service by helpingUniting NC, an organization working to make North Carolina a place that respects and values immigrants. For an exciting, statewide billboard campaign, we raised $3,500 through a combination of online crowdfunding and old-fashioned in-person fundraising. At least as important as funding this unusual campaign, were the additions to Uniting NC’s email list: a 5% increase, exclusively from people who had already demonstrated their willingness to open their wallets. And when the billboards went up, they attracted huge attention from local and regional press, vastly expanding the reach of the campaign and enhancing Uniting NC’s stature statewide.

This is how we did it.

The Players

The Uniting NC campaign was a natural outgrowth of work I’ve been doing for several years withWelcoming America, a national organization that works at the local level to weave immigrants into the social fabric of their adopted hometowns. In 2011, I created a set of core messages and a communications plan for them, as well as a series of ads they made available to their local affiliates.

Uniting NC is one of those local affiliates, and typical of them: small but mighty. The organization was founded in response to a real uptick in dehumanizing, anti-immigrant rhetoric and actions around the region. With a single paid staffer, they’ve done great work to remind their neighbors of the contribution immigrants make to North Carolina. The billboards my colleague Julie Munsayac and I created for this campaign focus on the essential humanity of immigrants and the importance of building an inclusive community.

Uniting NC had tried fundraising for billboards before—without success. Then Kristin Collins, the Uniting NC director, and a local Muslim American leader discussed their shared vision of a campaign highlighting the positive role his community plays in the state. And LoudSauce seemed like the perfect way to overcome previous fundraising challenges. Though it was brand new, it had already proved its effectiveness raising money for organizations like The Story of Stuff Project. By combining the online platform with offline support from individuals and the national Welcoming America organization, we were hopeful that we could raise enough money for a statewide billboard campaign.

The Campaign

Early on, we decided on a few key aspects of the campaign, based largely on the experience of a gentleman named Craig Mod. He published a book using Kickstarter and, thankfully,took the time to write an instructive case study about it. It’s well worth your time if you need guidance or simply want to learn more about the Kickstarter and crowdfunding phenomena.

Based in part on Mod’s advice, we decided:

  • On a shorter campaign—just three weeks
  • To provide premiums for our donors so they got something in return for their donations
  • To go with an ambitious fundraising goal of $3,500, which would allow us to run a statewide campaign rather than a single billboard.

A couple of other factors contributed to our decision to go big with our goal: 1) we had the commitment of a dedicated leader in the Muslim American community to do in-person fundraising in mosques around the state, and 2) we also had a commitment from the national Welcoming America organization to backstop the campaign to the tune of $1,500, if we needed it to reach our goal.

As you’d expect with a new platform like LoudSauce, we did run into a few issues– potential donors had to use Facebook to log in, for example (that’s no longer the case), and a hiccup with the donation processing system meant that our donors had to reauthorize their payments. But we always felt like LoudSauce founder Colin Mutchler and his team were very responsive, and almost all the challenges we ran into have been addressed at this point. LoudSauce is still a new platform, but it’s maturing quickly.

Pledge Tiers

After deciding on the shape of the campaign, we needed to define our fundraising tiers. A large majority of contributions to the 20 LoudSauce campaigns that took place in 2011 have come in at the $25 level, and as you can see in the graph below, that tier also represents the largest share (almost a quarter) of the total funds raised. While there are far fewer donations at the second-place $100 tier, they account for a similar proportion of the funds raised, as does the $50 tier. No other pledge level represents more than 10% of the total funds raised in LoudSauce campaigns. What this means is that most people are willing to donate at least $25 to your campaign. Enough will be willing to throw in $50 or $100 that it’s worth your while to include those in your pledge tiers, but it’s probably not worth going lower than $25.

Our experience on the Uniting NC campaign was quite similar, though the percentage of funds raised in $25 increments was even more striking—more than 40% of our total, with $100 donations accounting for another 30%. Here’s what we promised our donors as rewards for their contribution:

  • Pledge $25: Small-format poster of one of the ads
  • Pledge $100: Your picture on the billboards
  • Pledge $250: Recognized by name at the media event, and quoted by name in the press materials

We didn’t end up getting any $250 donors, but that’s okay. That tier was there to make the $100 tier seem more manageable. If I had it to do over again, I’d probably flip the $25 and $100 level rewards. Offering a greater number of people the chance to have their smiling faces associated with the campaign gets closer to its true purpose—demonstrating public support for immigrants.

Promoting the Campaign

To promote the LoudSauce campaign, we used:

  • Emails to Uniting NC’s list, and our personal contacts
  • Personal emails to our contacts
  • Twitter and Facebook
  • Media outreach

Uniting NC sent an initial email to their volunteers on September 19, followed by a blast to their full list on September 20, campaign launch day. It also figured prominently in their regular newsletter, which went out on October 3, and a final email went to the full list on the final day of the campaign, October 10.

As you can see in the graph below, two of our biggest days for donations coincided with the beginning and end of the campaign—the days Uniting NC sent emails. The second biggest day of fundraising, however, was September 27, the day after I sent an email to my personal and professional contacts with what’s known in the business as “the hard sell.” The subject line of that email—“I need your help.”—caused one colleague to write back in alarm, thinking there was something wrong. It also caused her to donate. They don’t call it the hard sell for nothing.

Using Twitter and Facebook, we also made sure to keep our friends and supporters updated on the progress of the campaign. You can see a full list of our tweets and RTs about the campaign onTopsy.com, and Uniting NC’s Facebook page shows the kind of updates we posted there. They were focused on the message of the billboards, the progress towards our goal, and the way people could show their support for a campaign that shared their values.

One area where things didn’t quite go as expected was with earned media. Despite some concerted outreach to local press and bloggers in North Carolina, we couldn’t get folks to cover the campaign for the billboards. Several reporters told us that they thought the billboards themselves were the real story, and that they’d consider covering them when they were up.

That turned out to be different from many Kickstarter projects that get good coverage during their fundraising phase. In this case, the message is the story, not a new product that people can pre-order for themselves, which is certainly less interesting for bloggers. And many of the journalists we reached out to did indeed end up covering the launch of the billboards.

Results

When the billboards were unveiled in December during a news conference beneath one of them, the campaign received a huge amount of media attention. Stories appeared in theHuffington Post,Fox News Latino,the News & Observer, theAsheville Citizen-Times, theCharlotte Observer, and theWinston-Salem Journal. AnAssociated Press article was widely picked up across the region, in addition toradio andtelevision coverage in North Carolina and blog posts at theAmerican Prospect, theProgressive Pulse andFinding Atlas, among others.

The earned media generated by the billboards vastly increased their reach. The greatest impact, however, was that the kind of dialogue Uniting NC works for every day appeared in the comments sections of the various articles. Not all of the comments were favorable, of course, but many were, and they helped reinforce the values Uniting NC stands for.

Perhaps most important, more than half of those who donated through the LoudSauce platform were new supporters of the organization. Those individuals’ email addresses represented a 5% increase in the size of Uniting NC’s list, and every one of them connected with the organization for the first time as a donor.

What We Learned

We were tremendously gratified with the response to this pilot project in North Carolina, and there were several lessons I took from the experience:

  1. The campaign isn’t the story, the ads are. We had hoped to get some press about the campaign itself, banking on the new platform marrying social media and fundraising for a good cause as a hook to get journalists interested. That didn’t work out as we had planned, but many of the journalists who passed on our initial pitch covered the news conference launching the billboard campaign.
  2. Campaign promotion is an inside game. The people most likely to donate to a crowdfunding campaign aren’t necessarily already on your mailing list, but they are probably on one of your allies’ lists. The single biggest bounce we got on social media was when Progressive State Newswire tweeted about the campaign. Getting the campaign in front of your allies’ supporters, via email and social media should be a key, early focus of your planning. Start thinking about who you’ve retweeted and might be able to return the favor, and who might be willing to send an email on your behalf.
  3. Champions are key. A sizable proportion of donors to the campaign came through my direct personal connections, and my willingness to make clear to them that this campaign mattered a lot to me. When you start planning a crowdfunding campaign, identify the three to five key ambassadors in your orbit you think would be willing to go to bat for you. Then give them what they need to make the ask: a template email, images of the planned ads, and suggestions about how they can best ask their friends and colleagues to support the campaign.
  4. Combine online and offline fundraising. One of the interesting things about the campaign was the way that online fundraising and offline fundraising came together to get the job done. Don’t think that you have to raise every dollar through the crowdfunding platform. There may be in-person opportunities—at community events or religious gatherings, for example—to show the ads, make your pitch, and get folks to write you a check right there and then. It’s also a good idea to set your goal so that you know you can backstop the campaign with additional funds if you come up a little short of your goal—LoudSauce, like other crowdfunding platforms, doesn’t collect any money if a project doesn’t hit its goal. You don’t want to lose all the money people have committed because you didn’t quite make your goal.
  5. Have an inspiring message. This one might seem obvious, but it’s incredibly important to have an ad that people can get excited about. They’ll be publicly associating themselves with it (in some cases by putting their faces on it), so it’s got to be something that reflects well on them and makes them feel proud.

Above all, remember that a campaign like this is about more than raising dollars—it’s about engaging new supporters, and giving them a way to demonstrate their support for your message publicly and concretely. While Uniting NC will have some work to do to keep those first-time donors engaged, they’re starting from a much stronger position than if those people had first connected with them via a Facebook like or a Twitter follow.

Engaging new supporters online and turning them into donors is a critical task for any nonprofit organization, and a LoudSauce campaign can be a great tool to help them achieve it.