Crowdfunding: my best advice

I get an unmaneageable volume of emails and messages from prospective crowdfunders who are looking for tips on how to put together successful campaigns. Most of these messages are long and winding and lovely, and my failure to respond to them all is a pretty constant source of guilt! I’ve been meaning to put together all my tips in a blog post that I can just direct people to, instead of re-hashing them (or failing to) every time I’m asked for advice. I’ve finally got round to doing this.

Please bear in mind, when reading the following, that I have no way of knowing whether the exact approach I took helped my cause. Obviously the more people you contact, the better. However, when it comes to the other stuff, who knows. Undoubtedly, just as important as my style of email (and almost certainly more so) was the fact that I was already connected to a large network of people, as well as the fact that my story made headlines. This happened when I was at £16K. Clearly, now that so many people try to crowdfund their degrees, crowdfunding ventures are no longer as newsworthy. I was lucky to be the first degree crowdfunder to be picked up by the tabloids.

  1. Email (or contact) EVERYBODY you’ve ever had a positive interaction with. I think this is the most important piece of advice I can give. Don’t hold back from getting in touch with people you haven’t spoken to for years. People who get all snooty and disapproving of you contacting them “just to ask for money after all this time” are clearly people you don’t need in your life anyway. Think of it as a filter. If somebody I hadn’t heard from for ages got in touch with the fantastic news that they had been offered a place on a postgraduate course, and they thought I might be interested in being involved in their being able to accept, I’d be uplifted not just by this but also by the prospect of reconnecting with an old friend. In fact, a rekindling of friendships from my past was one of the best things that came out of my crowdfunding project. I’ll say it again: anyone petty and mean-spirited enough to snub you for asking for their help because you (and they!!) haven’t kept up with friendship duties for a while is worth identifying as such. Real friends don’t have a shelf-life, and besides, you’re only asking for a quid, so….
  2. Put focus on the value and importance of small donations. The power of crowdfunding is in the crowd. Crowdfunding par excellence would be tens of thousands of people giving one pound each – taking a burden that is very painful for a single person to shoulder and breaking it into lots and lots and lots of tiny pieces that are practically unnoticeable when shared out. I made this point emphatically in all my emails and letters, stressing that I was only really asking for £1, that just having the recipient’s name on my sponsor list would be an honour, and that any extra would be a bonus.
  3. Be prepared to make crowdfunding your full-time job, and to work overtime! I got up early every day and worked on my campaign until late in the evening. Your project won’t build itself and what I hear from my friends at Hubbub is that a lot of people don’t understand this.
  4. Enlist the help of family and friends. My mum was amazing. A lot of her friends and colleagues made donations as a result of her getting in touch with them.
  5. Email public figures who have inspired you. “Celebrities”, I have learned, tend to be shielded by an impermeable multilayer of staff. The reason this is there is precisely to deflect requests for money. I sent about 20 hand-written letters to people, some of which I followed up with phone calls or emails to secretaries and PAs. In some cases, I got a note through my letterbox indicating that the intended recipient would not be given my letter. In one case, I had an unpleasant telephonic encounter with a woman named Emilia. In others, I got polite fob-off emails. In one case, I had my letter sent back. Only one of my hand-written letters resulted in a donation – that was from Philip Pullman. However, several of my emails resulted in donations. Emails are quicker to write than hand-written letters, and my feeling is that unless a public figure has a public email address, they probably aren’t going to get involved in your campaign. However, there will be exceptions, and if you think you can find them, then do.
  6. Be bold. Be fun. Be sincere. People give to people, not just causes. Flaunt your plumage. Be yourself. Again, people who disapprove of your approach, or find your attempts at comedy crass or unsavoury are exactly the kind of people you don’t need in your life. You want to attract people who think you–and not a made-up concept of you–are worthwhile. This general point is relevant in various ways. Here are the ones I can think of:
    • In your correspondance. I’ve never been one for formalities, so that’s just who I am. If you like “best wishes” then I guess go with it but whatever you do, don’t write boring, card-board cut-out messages. I wrote personal messages to everybody. When it was a public figure, I thought very carefully about how to express the influence they had had on my life. There is an art to this, obviously, and it takes a while to master. I didn’t have a template email that I altered according to who I was writing to. I wrote from scratch each time, sometimes copying and pasting one paragraph from the previous email, and invariably making alterations to it, so that my email style got better and better as the campaign went on. Of course you need time-saving techniques, but remember: generic correspondance is easy to spot, and is a major turn-off.
    • In your video and on your profile page. Make your video snappy and aim to make people smile. To make mine, I collected clips from YouTube and interwove them with what I was saying, for comedic effect. ABSOLUTELY DO NOT look at the image of yourself on your screen when you record the video. Look at the lens!!! Videos of people talking to their own reflection, and not to their audience, have a weird, disconnected feel.
    • In any publicity you might get. Which, by the way, you should try to. When you feel you’ve raised enough money to impress people, get in touch with your local newspaper (I contacted my local Guardian). See if they’re interested in telling your story. If they are, this could lead to wider publicity.
  7. Be prepared for your project to bring out the worst in people. Some people will admonish you for “begging”. Some will call you “entitled”. Some will say much, much nastier things. They are small-minded idiots; fuck them.
  8. Have rewards. According to Hubbub, these greatly improve your odds of success. You should have several evenly-distributed tiers, in order to attract donations from
    people spanning the full economic spectrum. Thinking these up takes a long time, or certainly did for me.
  9. Set a “minimum needed” target. This is a sum that must be raised in order for any money to actually change hands. Hubbub advised me that this gives donors a sense of security that their money will definitely be used appropriately. Since there was no way I could accept Oxford’s offer without proving I had 14K in the bank to pay the fees, it seemed obvious to make that my minimum target.
  10. Definitely have a video. Again, according to Hubbub, not having a video vastly diminishes your odds of success.


Good luck!


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