Sponsorship is a great goal, and we encourage even first time event planners to go for it. (We recently published a helpful beginners’ guide to obtaining sponsorship). But what happens when you do everything right, but don’t score sponsorship for your first event- or your sponsor doesn’t cover the full costs of your event? More and more often, that’s where crowdfunding comes in.
Crowdfunding is an increasingly popular way to raise money for expensive projects like events, conferences, films, and more. It seems like everywhere you look, people are successfully raising money toward their independent projects and even businesses. Events have added unique challenges to fundraising, such as the fact that many event planners’ main source of revenue is ticket sales. Relying primarily on ticket sales make it difficult to make accurate projections to show potential sponsors. Because event planners can only estimate projected revenue from ticket sales based on data from promotions and past events, they often worry they won’t be able to pay vendors and speakers in a timely manner. Here’s where crowdfunding comes in- if you know how to do it right.
What we particularly love about crowdfunding is that it doesn’t take capital to get off the ground- it takes creativity, which event planners have loads of. Most crowdfunding platforms offer incentives on a tiered scale to backers. For example, filmmakers might offer T-shirts and mugs with the film logo to backers who make the smallest donations; however, they may offer exclusive onset experiences as production assistants or extras to people who make larger ones.
Whether you’re supplementing your budget or relying solely on crowdfunding to finance your event, this list has the know-how you need. Here’s how to get the most your of your crowdfunding plan.
1. Give Yourself a Head Start
This may sound like a no-brainer, but it can be hard when the pressure is on and you need money ASAP. We realize that event planners have deadlines, but there are a few very important reasons to take as much time as you possibly can to perfect your crowdfunding campaign. (Well, no campaign is perfect, but yours needs to stand out from a growing number of other campaigns by event planners).
2. Research Other Campaigns Like Yours (Both Successful and Unsuccessful Ones)
Before you begin designing your campaign, we recommend thoroughly researching similar campaigns. Take a comprehensive look at effective and ineffective campaigns like yours. What made the ones that worked best so successful? When it comes to the campaigns that flopped or fell far below their expectations, do you notice any recurring patterns that hurt them?
3. Choose the Right Crowdfunding Platform for Your Event
First things first: The platform you choose and make or break your crowdfunding campaign. You can create the most compelling, original campaign that ever existed, but if the platform is wrong, you won’t reach the populations who can help you pull off your event.
For example, Kickstarter was the first crowdfunding platform, and remains the largest one to date. Obviously, the advantage here is that users have the largest base from which to reach contributors. The disadvantage of using such a large platform is that you can potentially get lost in the crowd. For example, if someone has a similar idea and presents it in a similar way, your idea likely won’t reach nearly as many contributors and resources as you need.
Kickstarter makes it easy for backers to make donations without excessive commitment. This crowdfunding platform is so popular in part because it gives you a deadline to reach your projected fundraising goal. If you don’t reach it within that time period, your backers won’t be billed. You may not have a lot of money, but you will have lost time, which is of the essence.
Indiegogo is essentially uses the same model as Kickstarter, and its base is almost as large. However, Indiegogo gives you the option to choose between two fundamental campaign types. The first kind is called All or Nothing, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. You’re given an allotted time in which to meet your goal; if you don’t reach it, you end up without any funds at all.
The second type of campaign is called Flexible, and it’s also pretty self-explanatory. Even if you don’t meet your goal within the allotted amount of time, you still get to keep all of the money your efforts did earn.
We typically recommend going with the Flexible plan, but with a few cautionary considerations. Remember that you are legally obligated to provide the product, service, or experience that you promised your backers. Although a Flexible campaign means that you are very likely to gain more than what you started with, it might not be the best option if the perks you promised your backers are expensive- or directly involve your event, which won’t happen if you don’t raise enough funds.
Our verdict? All or Nothing campaigns are generally less risky than Flexible campaigns. But if you know you’ve got at least what you need to provide backers with the services you promised them on a tiered scale, we say go for it.
On a very noteworthy side note, Indiegogo has a broad enough base to cover just about any kind of project- but data shows that it does especially well in the tech and design fields. So if your event is a conference or workshop related to these industries, that might just be the selling point on Indiegogo. (That, and the option to go with a Flexible crowdfunding campaign if it’s feasible for you).
GoFundMe is a third crowdfunding option, and it works a little bit differently from the other crowdfunding platforms. The most fundamental difference is that it lacks an incentive structure, so backers don’t receive any value for donating to projects. Thus, GoFundMe campaigns are essentially charitable in nature, so backers need to feel personally motivated in order to donate. As you may have inferred, GoFundMe hosts as as many (if not more) personal campaigns as it does business campaigns. For example, event planners raising money for events will have to compete with families asking for donations related to medical costs of critically ill people. For businesses or event planners, this situation is neither desirable nor logical in terms of their goal.
Is your event related to a social cause or humanitarian agenda? If it is, GoFundMe could be very beneficial for you. However, there’s one caveat event for events driven by social causes: GoFundMe does not impose deadlines on your fundraising goals, which means it can become overcrowded with spam. Still, the lack of deadline is a great thing in terms of getting a head start and giving yourself enough time to raise the maximum amount of funds.
4. Create an Original, Compelling Narrative that is All Your Own
What really makes a successful campaign stand out, even among other, similar campaigns? A compelling story told it a concise, impactful manner, that’s what. In order to inspire people to give, your campaign has to have emotional appeal. Your narrative is what gives your crowdfunding base its first impression of you. It has to both intrigue potential backers and touch something personal in them.
For example, many businesses or event planners using crowdfunding campaigns have big dreams and humble beginnings. Sure, overnight successes catch the eye for an awe-inspiring instant, but they don’t tend to hold most people’s attention- and they don’t uniformly win hearts. So tell your crowdfunding platform what your event means to you personally, and how it stands to benefit your industry or community. Does your event have new ways to meet the needs of attendees? Will impact will it have on surrounding businesses or popular causes?
It’s always important to tell your crowdfunding platform why you’re original. If you’re holding a conference on holistic health in order to promote a product line, how are you addressing the subject in unique, innovative ways? Create a brief, impassioned description of your mission, and then describe the experience attendees will have at your event. Every event planner has a unique vision for their event, so find yours, and share it openly! The goal is to make the experience come alive for backers without boring them with excessive details or tangents. Your campaign should be cohesive and get straight to the point, packing a powerful one-two punch.
Last in this category (but certainly not least), your campaign should be animated by unique graphics and video content. Creative animated video graphics bring a slideshow of past events to vivid life, and they take backers on a journey. If this is your first event, you can include snippets of the event planning process, revealing the hottest details in a countdown. If this is not your first event, you might want to include personal testimonials in your videography of past events.
The idea is to go beyond giving backers an insider look at who you are and what your event is all about. You also want to make them want to be part of the exclusive experience your event offers. (And when event planners truly apply their talents, every event is an exclusive one on several levels).
5. Give Back to Your Backers
Yes, the basic idea behind crowdfunding is that backers give to you. However, when using incentive-based platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, you’ll want to make it worth their while. Sure, it’s rewarding to contribute to someone’s cause or dream, and the sense of community engendered by crowdfunding is one of its major perks. But you know what’s even more rewarding for most people? Getting something even more personal out of giving back. That may sound cynical at first, but this kind of incentive structure is really the cornerstone of crowdfunding.
Considering that many people interacting on crowdfunding campaigns are trying to fund similar dreams, incentive structures offer a way for independents to support each other. It’s sort of like buying locally or supporting fellow starting (and possibly starving) artists! Crowdfunding is a platform where communities can give back to each other.
So how should you give back to your backers? Well, it depends on the nature and specifics of your event. Giving away products can be great ways to incentivize backers and promote your brand. But if you can’t afford to go all out in this department (which is the case for most of us using crowdfunding platforms), invest in a series of smaller products emblazoned with your logo.
Now that we’ve addressed products, it’s a good time to emphasize that we recommend offering a combination of physical and experiential incentives. Experiential marketing is one of the biggest current trends in event planning, and for good reason. Increasingly, event planners are focusing on creating quality experiences rather than sales quantities. You might offer backers discounted tickets or VIP experiences and seating. In order to show support and make yourself useful to backers, you can also inspire backers to give by offering discounted sponsorship packages.
Do you have highly anticipated keynote speakers on the agenda for your event? If it can be arranged, entice backers with meet and greets or special demonstrations/interactive experiences at workshops. Unique learning experiences are invaluable tools to professionals starting out in tech, design, entertainment arts, sales, and many more industries.
If your event is a concert, see if it’s possible to arrange brief backstage “meet the band” experiences. (Just make sure you can definitely deliver on these promises when the time comes!)
Some campaigners offer backers fun roles in the event planning process. For example, you can make backers part of the creative set design (provided it is understood that you make any final decisions regarding your event). You’d be surprised at how many people are enthusiastic about taking even more mundane assistant roles in event planning, provided the event is an industry that is relevant to them and their careers. The entertainment industry in particular capitalizes on making backers a part of creative experiences.
They key is to really think about your attendees. Once you think you know what their needs, desires, and fantasies are, do your best to fulfill them in creative ways. Obviously, the biggest, most imaginative perks go to the biggest backers. Just make sure to include everyone on every kind of budget- no one likes to feel left out because they have less to give. And don’t leave wide gaps between tiers, starting very low and jumping several hundred dollars ahead to the next tier. If there are large amount gaps between tiers, the rewards are likely to swing from minute to major from one tier to the next. This could potentially make small backers feel left out or insignificant, which you definitely don’t want to do. To make your campaign more inclusive, give everyone a chance to gain something meaningful from giving to your event.
Last but not least, remember that not all backers will be local. So get creative when offering perks for those who can’t attend. Are there ways they can be part of the experience or gain exposure for their own businesses or events online? Maybe being associated with your event or brand online will give them exposure they need to progress their own brand or social media presence.
6. Create a Homepage for Your Event
Every crowdfunding campaign should be linked to a website or event page where backers can find out more information about your event and keep up with it as it unfolds. You don’t have to break your bank to create a website. (It’s a good thing, too, considering that many of us don’t exactly have a bank to break). Web-building platforms like Wix guide you step-by-step through the process of creating appealing websites with images, text, graphics, and animation.
7. Build a Complete Database
This is an important one, so pay close attention! Your database includes an extensive mailing list. Direct emailing allows for more personal, in-depth interaction with potential backers who want to get to know you better before investing. No campaign should lack direct emailing. But even more to your advantage, build a small, supportive community before launching your campaign- and interact with them throughout your campaign so they support you through the entire process.
Don’t worry that you need to become a top influencer with a massive following, or that small support systems don’t count. They absolutely do! In fact, while large communities have more reach, smaller ones tend to stick together, and members communicate more directly with one another. Of course, a large, loyal following is an invaluable asset, but small followings can work in your favor as well.
8. Include Backers in the Campaigning Process
You can really create excitement around your event by including backers in the campaigning process. We talked about incentivizing them with exclusive experiences at your event, but what about giving them rewarding ways to support our campaign? Reach out to social media influencers who have moderate followings and are aligned with the values and culture of your brand. Host product giveaways for one another on your Instagram pages. Make your campaign inclusive by linking it to a campaign sign-up form where you can collect details that help you get to know your backers. What are their special interests, and what do they care about? What resources do they have access to?
The more personalized your interactions with backers, the more motivated they’ll be to make their unique contributions. Recognize that everyone has something of value to bring to the table, and you’ll create a sense of community that gets everyone excited- and gets them talking about your event.
Once you collect contact information and start interacting with your backers, make sure to keep them in the loop. If you stop posting pre-event updates on your website and social media pages, interest will wane, and you’ll invariably lose supporters.
9. Take Advantage of Multiple Social Media Platforms
During your campaign, you should be posting about your event and interacting with your communities on more than one social media page. We know- this can get very redundant, very quickly. But your attendees are using more than one social media platform- and in order to reach them, you need to be, too. You know your followers and communities best. Take into consideration where they spend the most time on social media, and implement your campaign there. For example, professional events use all social media platforms for promotion, but they should always include LinkedIn. Entertainment events can probably skip LinkedIn- unless, of course, a large portion of their professional network and customer base is on or linked to the site.
No matter what the nature of your event, don’t miss out on Instagram. It’s just the visual platform you need to literally show backers who you are.
10. Always End on a Positive Note!
With crowdfunding, your event wouldn’t be under way if it wasn’t for your supporters. So be sure to thank your backers for their support in a personal, sincere manner- and don’t stop there. Keep in touch with them after your event, and keep them engaged by posting live content, pictures, and videos of your event on all your social media. It can be tempting to go back to using just your favorite channels following an event. But resist your urge to do this, and you will be rewarded by a broad support base across multiple communities. By cultivating and maintaining relationships with your backers, your future events are sure to be even bigger and better!