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Welcome to the New World of Fundraising

March 15, 2013

(Dave Boyce is the chief experience officer at Fundly, a widely adopted crowdfunding platform for social good that to date has enabled more than thirty thousand nonprofit organizations, volunteer groups, and individual fundraisers to raise over $300 million.)

Headshot_david_boyceMeet NaaLamiley, a fifteen-year-old sophomore at Chapel Hill High School in North Carolina who describes herself as a "sea nerd and a shark geek, pretty much more at home on the water than on land."

When NaaLamiley learned she was accepted to the prestigious Class Afloat program, which  exposes academically gifted high school juniors and seniors and college freshmen to a rigorous, one-year curriculum at sea, she was both exhilarated and disheartened. Exhilarated, because this was a dream opportunity to advance her future career in ocean conservation. Disheartened, because she knew that even though she had made it through the rigorous selection process, neither she nor her family could afford the $50,000 tuition.

But NaaLamiley is a member of a new generation -- one that simultaneously distrusts traditional institutions and places great value in social networks. No scholarship agency was going to swoop in and hand her a check for $50,000. She couldn't depend on her public high school, a federal grant program, or any other institutional source of support. Without sufficient family resources, she was left to her own devices.

Enter crowdfunding.

NaaLamiley was so proud of being accepted to the program, she was ready to shout it from the rooftops. And when teenagers shout, they use social media. NaaLamiley knew that if she told enough people about her incredible opportunity, they would rally to her side. So she set up a crowdfunding campaign, worked diligently for several months to promote it, and successfully raised the $50,000 she needed to set sail with Class Afloat.

Why did it work?

Because on the giving side of the equation, donors have also changed. Next-generation donors distrust traditional institutions. They're dissatisfied with the lack of information they typically receive regarding what happens with their donations and are demanding more transparency and an opportunity to give directly to causes.

So crowdfunding was perfect for NaaLamiley, and for her donors as well. She was able to make her case directly to friends, family and friends of friends, set up a fundraising campaign page that accepted credit cards and connected to her e-mail, Facebook and other social media accounts, and become her own one-stop teenage marketing department. Her donors were just as satisfied with their experience. Donors who never would have given to a general Class Afloat scholarship fund were happy to support an inspiring young person who was demonstrating tremendous initiative. There was no ambiguity around where their money was going, and they received regular updates on the campaign's progress and when NaaLamiley victoriously declared that her campaign had crossed the $50,000 finish line.

And NaaLamiley is not the only remarkable young person to take matters into her own hands:

  • After seeing a disturbing photo of two young boys with heavy stones strapped to their backs, nine-year-old Vivienne Harr set up a virtual Lemonade Stand and raised over $150,000 to help free child slaves.
  • Nine-year-old Jack Pullman created a campaign that raised more than $26,000 for the pediatric infusion unit where he was treated for cancer.
  • Nineteen-year-old Ryan Reed, a NASCAR driver diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes, is using a crowdfunding campaign to raise awareness and money for the American Diabetes Association.
  • Students at St. Ignatius School in the South Bronx raised $15,000 so they could take a once-in-a-lifetime educational field trip to Washington D.C.

The list goes on. But if there's a common theme behind all these campaigns, it is this: Fundraising has changed forever. We may not be willing to acknowledge it yet, but ask anyone in the rising generation and you'll soon understand. Kids today depend on their social networks for pretty much everything. They crave direct opportunities to make a difference. They don't understand the concept of writing a check and sending it off in the mail to a faceless fundraising officer. They get that fundraising is social.

I know this firsthand from my six kids, who range from preschool to high school and are involved in music, sports, and scouts. They are constantly asked to fundraise -- from bake sales to car washes to selling cookie dough, holiday wreaths, and candy bars -- with each of them raising $3,000 a year on average for their various teams, clubs, and activities. Not surprisingly, when given a choice to fundraise online versus door-to-door, they jump at the former.

So what can nonprofit organizations learn from this new generation?

  1. We have to give our donors more. When people give to our organizations, regardless of the amount, we owe them updates and information about the impact of their donations.
  2. People want to give to people. If we can get our individual supporters to fundraise for us (as Vivienne did for the anti-slavery nonprofit Not for Sale), we'll have greater success than if we limited our efforts to direct mail or e-mail campaigns.
  3. Our supporters' social networks are the single largest untapped source of new donors for us.
  4. The next generation is generous, but they are also demanding.
  5. The next generation is powerful, and they know how to wield that power.

Cutting-edge nonprofits are already seizing the opportunity to put the above knowledge into practice. Teach for America raised $450,000 last year by letting their corps members (recent college graduates who spend a year or two teaching in underresourced schools) raise the money themselves. Habitat for Humanity recently launched what is turning out to be the fastest-growing fundraising program in its history. What's behind that success? Crowdfunding. Every volunteer about to head off on a Habitat Global Village build trip creates their own fundraising page, asks their networks for support, and, typically, raises $2,000 to $5,000 for the effort.

I am encouraged and inspired by the NaaLamileys, Viviennes, Jacks, and Ryans of the world and convinced that they and thousands of passionate, tenacious young changemakers like them are changing the face of fundraising forever. Now it's up to us to learn from them.

-- Dave Boyce

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