Potato Salad and Ice Water: What Nonprofits Can Learn from the New Crowdfunders | npENGAGE

Potato Salad and Ice Water: What Nonprofits Can Learn from the New Crowdfunders

By on Sep 17, 2014


There have certainly been some creative projects out in the Crowdfunding ecosystem recently. From the phenomenon that was the Ice Bucket Challenge to the Ohio man who raised over $55,000 to make potato salad, we have a wide variety of Crowdfunding examples in the news. And, we know that many a non-profit board has charged their development team to, “Get us into this Crowdfunding thing.”

But, what is this “Crowdfunding thing”? Let’s start with a definition.

Crowdfunding, the practice of financing a cause or project by raising small amounts of money from a large number of people.

Wait? That sounds a lot like what non-profits have always done! Campaigns, appeals and grassroots fundraising efforts have followed this blueprint. In fact, we can go back through the past two centuries to find examples that mirror modern crowdfunding efforts.

Among the notable examples:

  • 1885: Joseph Pulitzer raised $150,000 to fund the park and pedestal for the Statue of Liberty
  • 1938: March of Dimes founded
  • 1988: 1st Team in Training team runs NYC Marathon

Interestingly, non-profits have been leaders in Crowdfunding and are on the forefront of the evolution as well. The tools and technologies that are now available are drivers of this channel of fundraising and now enable non-profits to take advantage of earning smaller donations efficiently on a larger scale. Today’s technology has also been developed to respond to a shift in how supporters want to express their personal relationships with a cause. It is this enthusiasm and creativity combined with the reach that today’s communication tools provide that have changed the equation.

Lessons Learned

Clearly, organizations are well positioned to utilize Crowdfunding as a strong pillar of their fundraising strategy, but can take some cues from the examples in the marketplace today. Here are a few lessons from the front lines of Crowdfunding today:

Messaging Matters: In general, successful crowdfunders make laser-focused requests supported with compelling visuals. Can you say the same? Make sure people can find you and when they do, that the connection is immediate. How strong is your call to action?

Urgency drives Action: Give your campaign a defined beginning and end date. Potential donors respond best when they know the timeline for action, especially when that call to action is a timely, need based request. Does your messaging communicate this urgency?

We have to say thank you: The reward systems that are part of most Crowdfunding campaigns teach us that our donors want to be and should be recognized. Be creative in your thank you programs. Use a tangible item such as a mug or decal or leverage social media and your website to recognize those who gave. And, always send a personalized message thanking that donor for their contribution.

Your Supporters as Crowdfunders

There is one element that leads us down another path. Technology has now enabled everyone and anyone to become a fundraiser! Your supporters want to create ways that they can contribute and now they can. From donating a special occasion to creating their own events, they want to fundraise for you! Provide them with a platform to tell their story, spread the word and accept those donations.

As we have seen with the Ice Bucket Challenge and the Potato Salad Guy, great ideas come from our supporters. It is your responsibility and your opportunity to go beyond acting as the Crowdfunder yourself, and to empower individuals to express their passion and creativity – on your behalf.

So be ready! The next great idea might just come from the Crowd!


Andy Welkley is the Sr. Product Marketing Manager for Blackbaud’s Peer-to-Peer solutions, the ideal combination of two of Andy’s long standing interests:  web development/online marketing and participation in fundraising events. As a regular speaker, author and the creator of the popular video blog series “I’m on Team Andy”, he shares the insights he has gained from his work with non-profits across all verticals to optimize the use of peer-to-peer technologies and strategies to improve fundraising results.

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