Philanthropy & Funding

Crowdfunding for Nonprofits

Answers to five common questions about launching a crowdfunding campaign.

Crowdfunding—the collection of finances from contributors, usually online, to fund an initiative—can be a powerful tool across the social sector. Organizations have used it to fight malaria in Africa, build a sloth sanctuary in Costa Rica, and open schools in Afghanistan.

Used strategically, crowdfunding helps nonprofits build meaningful engagement, inform their work, spread their messages, and expand their donor base to increase their overall funding and impact.

Crowdfunding is still a relatively new concept, and many nonprofits face the same questions when considering it for the first time. Here’s a look at some of the most common questions:

Should my organization run a crowdfunding campaign?

Running a campaign is difficult and time intensive. Doing it well requires buy-in from the full organization if it is going to generate the momentum it needs for success. Nonprofits should only run campaigns that both forward the organization’s goals and get significant organizational buy-in before launch. Since donors are more likely to give to projects that look successful, it’s also helpful to build in early wins for your campaign. That means securing early support for your campaign from existing donors by:

  • Laying the groundwork: Socialize the campaign with your current network for at least a couple of weeks before launching it, and appoint a host committee to your campaign team who feels real ownership over the success of the campaign.
  • Setting a realistic goal: Aim to reach 30 percent of your goal in the first 48 hours (via your existing network). And refrain from launching a social media or new audience strategy until surpassing the 30 percent mark.

One great example of a campaign that got off to a strong start is the University of Virginia’s Rotunda Ball campaign, which launched with the team’s personal friends and family, and raised a third of its goal before it even reached out to the Rotunda Ball’s internal membership list. The campaign raised more than $22,000 to restore the historic UVA Rotunda, a 200-year-old building Thomas Jefferson designed as a library at the heart of the university.

What role should existing donors play?

Existing donors can do more than participate in early, direct funding of a campaign. Crowdfunding amplifies the value of your current donors’ diligence and uses their connections to mobilize a larger crowd of support. Donations by existing donors serve as proof points of an organization’s value, helping to more quickly recruit new contributors from those who trust your donors’ decisions.

One great example of amplifying current donations through crowdfunding is the recent campaign by the Parkinson’s Institute and Clinical Center. The organization asked donor and prominent Venture Capitalist Bill Draper to make his annual contribution publicly via a crowdfunding campaign, where he pledged to match every donation up to $100,000. The Parkinson’s Institute also asked the entire Draper family to share their personal stories of living with Parkinson’s on video. The videos rotated on the campaign page, each targeting a different audience segment.

The campaign launched on #GivingTuesday and raised more than $200,000 in four days. This initial success inspired a board member to gift another matching grant, and the campaign closed after raising $550,000 from more than 450 donors.

How can I motivate new donors to give via crowdfunding?

While all campaigns and donors are unique, people generally contribute to campaigns for four main reasons:

  • Participation: They want to be part of something bigger than themselves.
  • People: They care about and believe in the people running the campaign and want to support them.
  • Purpose: They believe in the campaign’s goals and want to help move those goals forward.
  • Perk: They want a reward in exchange for their contribution.

Every successful campaign employs each of the four “Ps” effectively to some degree. One great example is App Camp for Girls, a campaign to raise funds for a new nonprofit camp in Portland where girls brainstorm, design, and build iPhone apps. App Camp focused on its purpose and the participation of its funders, and reached its goal of $50,000 in three days. Realizing that the demand for the camp was greater than it imagined, the organizers asked contributors to suggest locations for future chapters of the camp. This motivated donors and made them feel part of the bigger effort. At the end, the campaign raised more than $106,000 from more than 1,000 people.

Are there benefits to crowdfunding beyond raising money?

Crowdfunding enables nonprofits to leverage support from a wide variety of stakeholders, including beneficiaries, donors, board members, and staff; it also provides space for testing what motivates different groups to give. In addition, it creates an opportunity to communicate with donors directly and describe the positive impact of their support. Increasingly, we’ve also seen nonprofits use successful campaigns as proof of demand when pitching foundations and philanthropists for larger donations.

Save the Children recently held a crowdfunding campaign featuring a popular YouTube celebrity. This opened up a new, younger donor network of givers who live on social media and are comfortable with online giving. And as a result, its PewDiePie campaign has raised more than $340,000 from more than 6,000 funders to help Save the Children provide food, shelter, clothing, and schoolbooks to kids worldwide.

How do I get started with a crowdfunding campaign?

You can launch a campaign at any stage of your work, whether you are starting a new organization or expanding existing programs, but it is important to put time and effort into the campaign and to set attainable goals.

Running a successful campaign takes a lot of preparation. Nonprofits can do their homework by:

  • Checking out free resources such as Indiegogo’s Campaign Field Guide and Cause Handbook
  • Speaking to other nonprofits that have run successful crowdfunding campaigns
  • Putting together a draft campaign and sharing it with the teams at crowdfunding organizations such as Indiegogo, Crowdrise, and Causes to get feedback before going live

Crowdfunding isn’t a quick fix for the social sector’s funding issues, but it is an increasingly critical component of the fundraising toolkit; allowing nonprofits to connect with and solicit support more efficiently than ever before.

Tracker Pixel for Entry


  • BY Natasha at StartSomeGood

    ON May 30, 2014 06:46 AM

    Hi there!
    Tash here from - the crowdfunding platform for social impact projects. We’ve hosted hundreds of successful crowdfunding projects for nonprofits, charity, social enteprise, community groups and changemakers. Recently a nonprofit,  the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, raised $153,000 for a new initiative!

    We’ve put together our top tips for nonprofit crowdfunding here:

    If you’re looking to crowdfund for your nonprofit we’d love to hear from you! Our Venture Support team work one-on-one with ventures to give them the best chances of success.

    Natasha at StartSomeGood

  • Erin Morgan Gore's avatar

    BY Erin Morgan Gore

    ON June 7, 2014 02:20 PM

    Thanks Tash!

  • Really good. Your point about laying the ground work is really important.  Although crowdfunding can create a buzz, it is often more effective if you have already taken the time to build a community and THEN launch your campaign. That way your community not only supports you but also passionately advocates on your behalf , increasing the campaign’s reach.

    There are also some principles that nonprofits can also learn from successful for-profit campaigns.  This blog post looks at a couple of successful campaigns, from Solar Roadways & New Matter:

  • Erin Morgan Gore's avatar

    BY Erin Morgan Gore

    ON July 11, 2014 05:34 PM

    Thanks Jane!

  • Helpful article! I especially like your tip of reaching 30 percent of your funding goal in the first 48 hours - and to hit this goal before you roll-out a social media launch

  • Erin Morgan Gore's avatar

    BY Erin Morgan Gore

    ON September 11, 2014 08:02 AM

    Thanks Meg!

  • BY Marc Rahlves

    ON September 17, 2014 08:21 PM

    Hi Erin,

    Small world smile. Spoke with Breanna a few weeks back and just now read the article smile. Let’s catch up before I head out to California.



  • True! It is not easy for non profits to leverage crowdfunding option since it is an entirely new concept which yet to make its roots stronger. But it is a good way to raise funds.

  • Mo Karunaratne's avatar

    BY Mo Karunaratne

    ON January 29, 2015 08:52 PM


    I am Social Entrepreneur from Sri Lanka, and am working with a few Fair Trade projects, producing crafts and food for markets in the EU. My concern is that in 2015 the economic crisis in the EU has seen a sharp drop in sales and we would like to explore the markets for these goods in the USA.

    I need about USD 3000 for a promotion focusing on the North American Fair Traders. I hear that the US Fair Traders have their annual Members meeting in March, and I believe that is a good place to display our Fair trade merchandise and get the attraction of the buyers.

    Based upon my plans will make contacts with other buyers in US too.

    Can I raise some funds through your portal for this action?

  • Felicia's avatar

    BY Felicia

    ON March 16, 2015 09:36 AM

    I would like to use your site to fundraise. I work for Non-profit and charity. I would like to know if Nigerians can fundraise from this site.

  • BY Ammy Wilson

    ON November 14, 2015 01:41 AM

    Now a days crowdfunding is hottest topic among the world.. its easiest way to raised the capital.

  • Crowdfunding is utilized by many organizations. Thrinacia works with many non-profit organizations from all around the world. The software allows nonprofits to run their own crowdfunding website within minutes.

  • BY Daniel Whitton

    ON April 13, 2016 07:08 AM

    Hello Erin, most refreshing article.  My future non-profit the aural hematoma corrective treatment for canine is progressing too slow to allow me to transition from my blue collar profession into the auralsplint full time.  I wil read and research from the sites you give and hopefully the four years I have been providing the treatment to the public in the form of a voluntary participation in an ongoing study for the effectiveness and viability of the product in the market will boost it’s interest.  Thanks again for your efforts to inform us.

Leave a Comment


Please enter the word you see in the image below:


SSIR reserves the right to remove comments it deems offensive or inappropriate.
If We Want Our Funding to Change the World… - Thumbnail
Philanthropy & Funding

If We Want Our Funding to Change the World…

Featuring Donors Forum

Grantmakers and nonprofit leaders at the Donors Forum—an annual convening in Illinois to advance social change institutions—discuss the real cost of running an effective nonprofit and why it is essential for grantmakers to support indirect costs.

Great Management Creates Great Impact - Thumbnail
Philanthropy & Funding

Great Management Creates Great Impact

Featuring Josh Beckenstein

Philanthropist Josh Bekenstein of Bain Capital explains how philanthropists unwilling to cover nonprofits’ indirect or overhead costs are missing the opportunity to completely support that organization’s mission.