This Story Won’t Teach You How to Succeed With Your Crowdfunding Campaign

This story won’t teach you how to succeed with your crowdfunding campaign. But it will give you a chance to avoid the mistakes that waste time as you are facing World Cleanup Day 2018 as a national leader, team leader or a bystander who could play a role in the organising team.

By Kadi Kenk, Head of Partnerships

Last week I presented at the first Fuckup Night held in Estonia with my learning from the first crowdfunding campaign for the World Cleanup Day. This is a summary for the World Cleanup Day leaders and teams to understand better where I, as a leader of the campaign, failed and why it is relevant in the light of the Clean World Conference.

Mostly Estonians

Today we are a network spread to more than 100 countries and we have the world’s largest cleanup actions to show for ourselves. Eight countries have engaged more than 5% of their population and altogether 16.5 million people across the world have participated in cleanup campaigns. The money from the crowdfunding campaign was intended to ensure every country in the world has a charismatic leader with access to the know-how and support of the global network to succeed in the World Cleanup Day in 2018. But we only gathered 5000 EUR from the 30 000 EUR goal, from 200 people altogether of whom most were Estonians.

Read the f***ing manual!

Crowdfunding campaigns tend to fail at a far greater rate than succeed. If you want to get it right, the old golden (RFM) rule applies: “read the f***ing manual!” Even so, doing everything by the book, campaigns can fail. It may be that PayPal fails you one too many times, or that your target audience is distracted because, for example, Americans choose to elect Donald Trump to be the president of the U.S. There are numerous manuals and guidelines out there. By following them, you for sure, will succeed at doing all the right things. And then the success relies on a million details that are not necessarily under your control.

This is why I chose to share my learning as the leader of the campaign. After all, every experience, good or bad, contributes first and foremost to our personal growth. If I was to lead a crowdfunding campaign second time around I would ask myself the three following questions (after reading the manual once more):

 1) Does crowdfunding suit my organisation at all? 

 2) If it does seem to fit well, is it timely planned?

 3) If the answer to the prior two questions is positive, finally, does it serve a collective strategy?

It is in the last point my judgement failed me the most. Crowdfunding campaign in the beginning of the year 2016, when we had set a priority to find and train leaders around the world, fit perfectly my personal funding development plan. But I failed to incorporate it in the larger organisational work plan as a contribution to our overall cause. You see, fundraising is friendraising, and if your goal is to call 5% of the world’s population to roll up their sleeves and dig into other people’s shit, you need quite a few friends. But by making my team and our global network go through with the campaign without their initial buy-in, the failure on a global scale was inevitable.

Team members might secretly celebrate every one of your failures

Friendraising is a team effort and if you are not working as one, your community will feel it. They might not understand it but they will miss the x-factor in your great idea. I haven’t met anyone who would ever admit it, but I think a team member whose buy-in you fail to get, will secretly celebrate every one of your failures rather than go out of their way to avoid them. And as a team, in the situation where we got a lot of likes and views, but very little donations, we failed to come up with brilliant and out-of-the-box solutions to react to the passive crowd.

Waste of time

The greatest waste when going through with the campaign was time. As we are essentially counting days and hours until World Cleanup Day, our team spent their energy during 7 months on a project that never gained movement. A lot of volunteer time was exploited without any positive return on their investment. People, compliant to support me but not really committed to the project, burnt a whole lot of motivation that could have been used for a better cause. Despite all the fuckups in the preparation phase, I insisted with going forward. A vague ask, failing to address the reluctance of our own network to ask money for other countries’ teams’ development, zero financial commitment for the first 30% from our closest supporters are just a few of the epic failures I overlooked.

But I did learn about our team’s capacity and ability to work under stress, something to be endured at a growing rate as we get closer to 2018. Our team struggled in disappointment when we could have used the joint suffering as a tool to bring us closer together. But although it could have gone better, we did come out of it as one team. And the preparations for World Cleanup Day are on full speed. No lack of money stands in the way of the people’s will to live in a clean world. The heroes gathering in Tallinn 26-29 January are a living proof of it. And this is where it is suitable to come back to the question of an overarching strategy. We are stronger than before – growing our network and engaging new and stronger partner organisations across the world. It is important, that we recognise that our power lies in cooperation, and that there is a common goal each and every one of us can help to achieve. Let’s make sure, we do not waste time by limiting our vision to our personal team’s goals but the goals of the global movement.

With the failed crowdfunding campaign I learnt the potential I hold as a leader. By keeping my foot on the ground and fire in my eyes burning I got our team to go through with a campaign that deep down inside they could not agree with. Imagine if the same energy was spent on something more productive! And I can assure that every one of the readers can achieve anything you have set your mind to by doing the same.

Listen to your team!

Take my advice and use your power as a leader for success rather than an expensive learning experience. Listen to your team, reach out to the global network for support when planning for your own national projects, don’t hesitate to ask for help and make friends. As many as you can.