How to launch a successful GoFundMe campaign

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Guess which of these three videos raised the least amount of money:

Video #1 — One of my earliest ‘client’ projects (totally unpaid) for a non-profit where I actually used lighting for the first time, and generally had proper framing and a somewhat decent background and somewhat of a script.

Video #2 — Probably my first “Client” project — the video was shot using a crappy microphone in a room that was way too echoey, poorly edited and color-corrected, had no real script going into the video, and mostly just patched together at the last-minute. Oh, and it took me like 20+ hours to edit the video even though it was less than 2 minutes.

Video #3 — A video concept that was shot by an award-winning director in Denver, attached to a non-profit that was super stoked about the idea, and edited and voiced by me. Easily one of my favorite videos, like, ever.

If you guessed no. 3 — I hate you.

Seriously.

That’s correct, but I hate you.


The painful part about trying to help non-profits is that even though a lot of your efforts are unpaid, you still feel like you failed massively when things don’t go well.

Right before I left Denver to (hopefully) live in Japan for forever, I had this brilliant idea: “What if, instead of just getting rid of my bike to some pervert on Craigslist who’s likely just going to rub his nuts on the handlebar, I, uh, instead — what if instead I tried to use it to raise money for a charity?”

That charity was Project Helping — an organization that aims to tackle mental health through massive volunteer opportunities around the country.

Here’s the video that I created about the bike:

I had so much fun making this video and nobody got to appreciate it.

This was my second effort in trying to help them through some sort of weird idea, and the first effort didn’t go particularly well either.

About a week into the fundraiser, I thought to myself, “fuck.

By the time it’d wrapped, we’d raised a little over $300 — here’s the part where I have to shamefully admit that $100 of that was actually contributed by my mom, I think.

So maybe a little over $200 from strangers around the internet.

F**k. Me.

Here’s what I learned from that, and some advice on how to actually raise money through fundraising campaigns from previously successful ones:

What didn’t work.

For the Project Helping campaign, I’d love to tell you that we went into with a clear vision, a clear marketing plan, and a rough picture of exactly what we wanted to get out of it and how we’d accomplish that.

But the honest answer is that the campaign was just a last minute tie-in to a video that was mostly just an ode to my bike that I’d owned for a few years in Colorado and nothing more than that.

I could have just left the video at, “Here’s a fun little project I put together about my bike,” and not tried to shoe-horn it into some sort of fundraising campaign, BUT NO, DAMMIT!

I’M GOING TO SHOEHORN IN WHATEVER THE HELL I WANT!

Here’s what didn’t work…

No clear story.

There’s no reason why the voiceover (and video) could have done a better job to tie Project Helping and my bike together — I just simply got lazy, and became far too stubborn.

I wanted it to be about the bike, how cool the bike was, and why you should want the bike.

I don’t think I did a particularly good job with that, either — it was a $300 bike, new, so, at best, its resale value was probably just north of $100.

Beyond that, there was no clear reason why anybody should donate towards winning the bike — for them, it’d mean that they’d get a few cool prizes and a bike-ass bike that they probably didn’t need.

A good video should do an excellent job of highlighting a problem, telling a story to help intensify that problem, and provide a clear takeaway for the viewer.

The video provided little more than, here’s a cool bike and here’s some funny clips and I think this is funny and interesting but honestly everyone I showed it to was like, “what the fuck was that?!” and I probably should’ve taken that as a, “let’s rethink this!”

No clear promotional campaign.

I have an email list of just over 400+ people, a decent-sized LinkedIn following, and a few more people on a bunch of other random channels, and certainly people in my network that I could’ve reached out to.

What the marketing campaign actually looked like was no more than, “here’s a link to a video I made, you should donate to it,” in an email, posting the video to my LinkedIn network, and leaving it at that.

That’s not a real strategy for success, there, pal.

A terrible call-to-action.

I’d argue that there was actually NO reason for anybody to donate towards winning this bike.

Sure, the money would go to a good cause, but really? Is that it?

A strong video will help someone highlight a problem that’s incredibly painful — either to the audience, or for the community or organization the video is trying to promote — build upon that pain point until the viewer is like, “yeesh, I get it already, take my money!” and then provide them with a crystal-clear call-to-action.

Like, “click this link and help us raise $3,000 so Johnny can go and buy some shoes!”

I did none of that.

It’s like I basically threw everything I understood about what makes for a successful campaign out the window and just said, “fuck all that noise, let’s see if this works anyway!”

No wonder it didn’t.

How to actually create successful fundraising campaigns.

The two campaigns that I highlight above that actually worked did so because even though they weren’t anywhere as ridiculous or interesting as the bike video, they painted a story, had powerful promotion behind them, and clear calls-to-action.

This video, that I did for an organization called Lady Coders, helped Elaine raise a little over $12,000 in about a week for the conference.

The next campaign, for Global Orphan Prevention in Colorado, also helped Katie raise over $5,000 in about a week by providing a sense of urgency for their specific fundraising goal, and giving people a clear call to action:

Not the prettiest video, but it worked!

Both of these videos worked because instead of making the viewer guess just what the hell they were both about, I told them.

Were they as technically proficient as the bike video.

Hell no!

Am I even proud of them, stylistically — uhh, hell no!

Frankly, if I never have to make another boring talking head video again that’ll be too soon.

But!

They worked.

Exceptionally well.

And that’s a dope thing.

And so, if you’re thinking about creating your own fundraising campaigns for a non-profit or otherwise, here’s what I’d actually recommend doing for said thing…

GoFundMe rules of the road.

Step 1. Identify a problem.

That problem should be big, and something that your audience might resonate with. If you’re tackling diversity in tech, lead with that. Talk about the numbers, how many people it impacts, and why it might be relevant to your audience. How does it impact them?

For example: in Elaine’s case, we highlighted how a massive percentage of the female workforce in tech leaves the world of tech in the first year.

And in Katie’s case, we spoke about how young girls who weren’t able to attend a school program in Nepal were often at risk of being abducted.

Those are both massive problems that people could certainly empathize with.

Step 2. Highlight a clear outcome.

I wouldn’t say that Elaine or Katie’s campaigns were particularly unique, but they were specific: Elaine needed to raise money in order to make sure that her conference was able to launch successfully without putting her into massive heaps of debt.

And since the timing was right around the period when the #MeToo movement was just getting off the ground, it was an issue that really resonated with a lot of people.

So, the video and the promotion of that video really focused around the issue of women being underrepresented in tech, and Elaine’s story. With her as the leader, it was easy to create something that people resonated with, and with the very clear goal of raising $10,000 in about a week’s time, it was clear what the outcome would be for people who contributed.

The same could be said of Katie’s campaign: her goal was to raise $5,000 in about a week’s time in order to be accepted into a global accelerator program for non-profits.

Beyond that, we were able to break down individual donations for the kids that it would benefit as such (this is an example):

Donation amountWhat it got one student
$50Books for a year
$250Tuition for a year
$1000Lodging for a year

This just helped individuals visualize what their money was going towards, and how their contribution might ultimately be used. It gave them an anchor for that.

Step 3. Create a dope video.

Once you’ve highlighted a specific problem and a clear outcome for the campaign, the next step would be to share that story in a short video.

I would highly recommend scripting this out and hiring a videographer to shoot this video for you. Even a $500 investment will pay off massively if you market the fundraiser well.

Here’s what a script might look like:

TimingWhat to discuss
First 15-30 secondsHighlight the problem that you’ve mapped out above. Keep it short and concise, and where possible, mention specific statistics.
Middle 30-60 seconds.Tell a short story about why it’s relevant to you and the organization, and why you want to solve that problem. This should build upon the problem that you have highlighted in the beginning.
Next 15-30 secondsIntroduce your solution. How whatever it is you’re trying to create will address the problem that you’ve highlighted in the beginning of the video.
Final 15-30 secondsThe ask. Tell people exactly how much money you would like to raise, what it will be used for, and give them specific directions on how to contribute.

Even if the video is purely a talking head piece, as long as it is concise and the message is powerful, a video will do infinitely more than text ever could.

Step 4. Market the shit out of that video.

Here’s everything I would recommend doing in order to market your GoFundMe campaign (and it’s a lot, trust me). Most of this should be done within the first 24-48 hours of you launching the campaign, and the rest should be done towards the end of the campaign.

GoalHow to
Send it to 20 big donors.Make a list of your 20 biggest donors or prospects, and send them a link with the video and ask them if they would be willing to discuss donating over the phone. If yes, hop on a short call with them and sell them on why.
Email your list.Send a link of the video to your list and ask them to consider a specific donation amount – maybe $25 or $50. And if they can’t, ask them to share the video with someone in their network.
Share on social media.Make sure you get the video captioned using a service like Kapwing.com (free), then post it on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. The update should read, “We’re launching our most aggressive fundraiser to date, and trying to raise [$x] to battle/fight/tackle [specific problem you’re addressing]. Tag as many people as you can with the video. And make sure you upload the video natively on EACH of these platforms in order to maximize reach.
Share each link with 10+ people.In order to gain as much traction on LinkedIn, Facebook, and other channels, you’ll want that video to reach as many people as possible.
Reach out to potential partners.Ask them if they’d be willing to share your campaign with their list, if they would have you speak at an event or a summit, or if there are any other partnership opportunities. You’d be surprised.
Re-post to social, send to email.In the middle of the campaign, where you’ll start to see the least activity, send another email out to your list(s), share another update on social of where you’re at, and create a sense of urgency for people.
Followup with everyone from step one.Anyone who hasn’t responded, anyone who did respond but who hasn’t donated yet, and anyone else who you think might be good to talk to. Reach out, be personal!
Final 48-24 hour stretch.Post again on social, reach back out to big donors, re-share on social media.
Final 24 hours.Keep pushing new updates on how much you’ve raised until people either get tired, or say, “fine!” It typically takes 7+ connects with people before they’re willing to buy or donate. So keep at it!

Step 5. Profit. (Hopefully.)

And rest. Fundraisers are exhausting and difficult. Even if you’ve done everything above, there are a lot of factors that might not be in your favor, including timing, other world events, and so on.

But with a lot of hustle, luck, and good timing, fundraising campaigns are a great way to raise $1000s for an organization in order to accomplish specific goals.

Still —most of these campaigns take an inordinate amount of work — for a good video, expect to spend at least a half-day (if not more, depending on the level of production quality) for something that’s worthy of raising a few thousand dollars.

Multiply your effort accordingly depending on how much you’re trying to raise.

And know that even if it doesn’t work — even if all of your time and efforts result in little more than a few hundred dollars raised, that it might be a good jump start for another event or launch later down the road.

At the end of the day, the only thing you can really control is your output.

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