SXSW Update: Tips From Experts on Running a Great Crowdfunding Site

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The Chronicle of Philanthropy | By Cody Switzer | March 8, 2014

SXSW_2013_LogoAustin, Tex:  The keys to running a successful crowdfunding platform sound simple: inspire people with great stories, make donating simple, and then show what the gift has accomplished.

But those ideas into practice requires a lot of testing and reworking.

That was one of the takeaways from a session here at the South by Southwest Interactive festival today with representatives from four nonprofits who have been working on their crowdfunding sites for years: Katherine Woo, chief product officer; Katie Bisbee, chief marketing officer at DonorsChoose.org; Kevin Conroy, chief product officer at GlobalGiving; and Paull Young, director of digital at Charity: Water.

The four regularly work together—at the behest of their CEOs—and call each other once a month to share their successes and failures so they can all improve their sites.

"We're trying to grow the pie. We aren't trying to fight for the same sliver," Mr. Conroy said.

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Their advice for running a great crowdfunding site:

Recruit new donors to be fundraisers. A normal crowdfunding campaign on Charity: Water brings $1,000 and 13 first-time donors to the organization.

"The real goal is how do we get one of those 13 new donors to start their own crowdfunding campaign," Mr. Young said.

The panelists agreed that focusing on word of mouth and converting donors to fundraisers is key. Ms. Bisbee, from DonorsChoose.org, said she would like to spend the largest part of her team’s time identifying the people who bring in new donors and give them all of the tools they need to recruit new fundraisers.

"Crowdfunding and crowdsourcing—it's 'crowdmarketing,' really,” Mr. Conroy said.

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Pay attention to less popular campaigns. Mr. Conroy said he’s always concerned that crowdfunding could become a beauty contest, where only the campaigns with the best photos or descriptions will get attention.

He suggested putting a spotlight on those campaigns that are lagging and make sure they get enough attention.

Ms. Bisbee said DonorsChoose.org tries to collect as much information about a donor as it can so it can personalize the campaigns it thinks the donor will be interested in. With 25,000 or more campaigns on the site at any given time, it’s easy to overwhelm them with choice, she said.

Show donors what their money accomplished. That builds trust and helps spread word of mouth.

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