Crowdfunding in a crisis: Lessons learned
Full transparency: pre-COVID-19, HandsOn Hong Kong had pretty modest success with online donation appeals. In hindsight, we probably never embraced the collective spirit and conveyed the sense of urgency needed for successful Crowdfunding. Our appeals were usually quite vague and lacking a plan of action.
At the end of April HandsOn launched a COVID-19 appeal raising funds for relief Care Packages for vulnerable families and individuals including children with disabilities and their families, low income elderly, people with mental illness, vulnerable women, and other groups. Please click here to see the page. Service was of course at the heart of this effort with each pack ultimately being delivered or distributed by a caring volunteer.
We met our target within five days and by the end of our two-week campaign, we raised US$35,769 online plus an offline donation of US$96,153 from a foundation. Exceeding our original goal by 933%.
We learned many lessons along the way! We hope others may benefit from these too:
1. Focus on relief for the community—forget overhead's. Almost all charities are struggling and relying on donations, and many of us are also asking for these. To stand apart, focus your Crowdfunder 100% on relief—this will spotlight how critical your organization’s work is and ignite the interest of other funders. We adopted a 'build it and they will come' attitude with this campaign, trusting that the community of volunteers, corporate partners and foundations we fostered over the years would come through with the other kinds of funding support our team needs. For us, this seems to be the case.
2. Be incredibly specific. Our goal was to raise funds for at least 315 relief Care Packages for low-income households, based on those we knew needed immediate help. Each pack costs US$45 and is substantial enough for one week. We listed every single food and hygiene item we were including so donors could calculate the value for themselves. Interestingly, many donations came in these increments: $45, $225, $450.
3. Have a plan of action. We had already lined up five partner charities with disadvantaged service users in need of food assistance and hygiene items. We also knew need how many packs these households needed right away. All this information was published on our Crowdfunding page and in our eDM appeal. As soon as our first packs were ready to be distributed we immediately began recruiting volunteers, including our donors.
4. Run your campaign for 2-4 weeks. Industry-standard for Crowdfunding appeals is four weeks but this is a crisis and needs are critical and immediate. For an appeal providing immediate sustenance, it might seem odd to run for longer than 2 weeks—if you need to raise funds covering rent for a shelter then 4 weeks makes sense. We received donations throughout our 2-week campaign, peaking at around 1 week. Using Stripe as our payment platform allowed us to receive funds and start purchasing relief items while our campaign was still running.
5. Thank your donors. Every single one of our donors received a carefully-crafted, personal email thanking them, sharing our progress and reminding them of the impact they were allowing us to make. We added them into our donation tracker sheet and the directors in our team took turns to send a batch of emails every four days.
Photo credit: Kat Yukawa