Making a Splash: A Different Way to Think About Your Crowdfunding Story

Are you clueless about how to make your story stand out in the crowd?

Do you worry about how your campaign will fare against the heavy hitters?

Do you currently fret that Don Cheadle is ruining crowdfunding for the rest of us?

Because he’s not. Nor did Zack Braff, Kristen Bell, Spike Lee, Whoopi Goldberg or Joaquin Phoenix, the most recent celebrity to throw his hat in the crowdfunding ring.

As we have come to see, crowdfunding campaigns—those run by celebrities as well as established brands—are frequently used as a buzz-creating tool. Savvy marketers are counseling clients to use crowdfunding as the newest tool in their publicity-seeking arsenal.

If this is not an option for you, as it’s not for most of us, don’t be disgruntled about it. Remember crowdfunding is a democratic method of raising capital, which means that it’s a tool equally available to the well-heeled as it is to the guy living under the bridge—assuming the bridge guy can get access to the Internet. And here’s an example of one who did.

You still have the power to inspire. It’s just that your process and path will by necessity be different. First, let’s look at the VIP-fueled campaigns.

I never saw an episode of Veronica Mars, didn’t contribute, and haven’t seen the movie. But I did see the documentary Whoopi Goldberg directed and produced about Moms Mabley and I will be forever indebted to Goldberg for introducing me to this phenomenon in a housecoat.

If you’re interested in the history of TV, social justice, or gender politics, if you love watching some of the most renowned minority (women and people of color) comedians of our time talk about their influences, or if you just want to laugh, cry, and shake your head that someone so progressive lived, worked, and made such an important impact on society and all you knew about her was her name—vaguely—“I Got Something to Tell You” will be available on Netflix soon. You’ll want to get it.

Mabley’s is a story that needed to be told, and only someone with Hollywood connections like Whoopi Goldberg could have brokered access to the rare footage and lineup she managed to snag. For fun, here’s a short clip. Then we’ll get back to the point.

Unless you get really lucky it’s going to be tough to attract a lot of celebrities to your campaign because they’re busy people with a firewall of minders shielding them. Also, they tend to reserve favors for friends and colleagues. The recent news that Seth MacFarlane, the folks behind Veronica Mars, Pebble Watch, and Ouya are kicking in to producer, director, actor LeVar Burton’s campaign Reading Rainbow is testament to that. (For those who don’t know, Burton famously played the young Kunta Kinte in the miniseries “Roots”)

Not having McFarlane’s cell phone number on my speed dial, it’s not going out on a limb to say that even if I ran an identical campaign to Burton’s, McFarlane wouldn’t have his checkbook open and ready to double each pledge that flowed into my campaign coffers.

Yet most of us see this behavior and it leaves an unrealistic and inaccurate perception of the average person’s fundraising potential.

By all means tweet your campaign out to famous folks you believe would support your idea if only they knew about it. Just don’t spend a lot of man-hours chasing after Oprah.

So while it’s true that the greater your base of support and your network, the likelier you are to rake in the big bucks, it’s time to rethink your strategy with an alternative approach to getting there. (Clue: it involves how you tell the story.)

Celebrity campaigns unsurprisingly cast themselves as the hero of their story. (Goldberg excavates Mabley’s work and saves her from anonymity. Or Burton makes it his duty and destiny to bring back with a 21st century burnish the success of his ‘80s PBS children’s series.)

So, if you lack a charismatic figurehead to attract a broad audience, begin to think of your idea and campaign goal—be it a social enterprise or a product—as the protagonist of your story.

That means dial back your approach and think in terms of  how to tell your story that will differentiate you. Say, for example, you want to raise funds for an aquaponic farm. I just did a quick search on Indiegogo and there are at least 24 current campaigns about aquaponic farming. If you simply focus on the benefits, you will not stand out.

So make it your priority to learn as much as you can about the community you hope your aquaponic farm impact. Find them, ask them questions, solicit responses, and then learn the best way to tell that story while balancing it with the campaign’s need.

So, rather than making your story about all the benefits of aquaponic farming, which I know are many, make your  hero the aquaponic farm and the story focus the people, groups, and communities you believe will benefit. Offer them an opportunity to join you by coming together through the power of crowdfunding.

Then, think in terms of incremental success.

Once you’ve established that mission, and maybe have a more modest crowdfunding campaign success under your belt, you can think about scaling up the next time. But don’t go for the big bucks too soon; it will only defeat you.

After all, Moms Mabley began her show business career at 14, in the year 1908. It wasn’t until 2014 that her story got told to the masses. Your campaign success won’t take that long, but just remember to do your homework and practice patience and you could have as good a shot as the big guys.

Note: I recently wrote a post entitled “What it Takes to Create a Crowdfunding Movement,” which could be described as Part 1 to this post’s Part 2. If you haven’t read, you might want to.

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