With a crowdfunding campaign, your number one goal is to raise money—that’s a no-brainer.

But have you considered that crowdfunding can help you accomplish other goals as well? I’ve had organizations tell me, “Of course we want to fundraise (with our crowdfunding campaign), but what we’re really trying to do is better engage new donors.”

And that’s smart; crowdfunding is an excellent way to do just that. You simply have to know the steps to take and develop a strategic plan beyond taking in some cash.

Embrace the idea of the crowd in crowdfunding. Sometimes people get confused and think, “I’ll just put this campaign up online and people will automatically come donate and it’ll go viral and we’ll get all this attention.” But it doesn’t work that way. Crowdfunding is not an “if you build it, they will come” type of venture—you need to groom and cultivate your initial “crowd.” Ultimately you want to raise money, yes, but it will serve you well for future initiatives to move people along a continuum that takes them from lurkers to supporters to advocates.

People often ask, “Will strangers give to my campaign? We want to grow our database.” And my response is this: Maybe, but that shouldn’t be your focus or disappoint you if they don’t. You first need to squeeze all the juice out of the people you do have access to.

For example, I might ask someone the question, “How many people on your email list are actually donating?” And they may tell me it’s between 10% and 25%. So my question is why would you spend energy trying to reach strangers who don’t even feel connected to you when you could work on trying to move the needle on that other 75% to 90%? That’s where you want to put your efforts. Then, once you get those people to give, they become supporters and then eventually advocates.

Let’s look at five things you can do to engage your community and cultivate new donors among the people you have access to.

  1. Segment your email list for more targeted messaging. You might say a Lurker is someone on your mailing list but has not taken any action. A Supporter may have donated a time or two in the past year. And an Advocate—a zealous supporter who you could count on to sing your praises to their network. You may even need to segment further than this. This will help you create messaging that resonates with them and allows you to engage more personally. It’s hard to make a connection with people if your emails aren’t relevant and they’re not reading them.
  1. Reach out and make personal connections. Make time to connect personally with as many people as possible—just for the purpose of relationship building, not to ask for anything. Don’t forget to include donors or people on your list who may have lapsed because nobody has contacted them for two years. Your goal is to connect for the sake of connecting—to put your organization on their radar, make people feel appreciated, to update and inform. You can leverage email for a lot of your outreach, but I would also recommend phone calls. Remember: Cultivating relationships is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. 
  1. matching giftMaintain a consistent communications plan. Relationships grow via proper and regular communications; we can’t just show up on someone’s doorstep and ask for money without an established connection. It’s important to regularly engage with your community through social media and email, giving them a window into your organization. This cultivates transparency. People support and recommend organizations that they know, love and trust, so now is the time to invest in the initiatives that should ultimately yield financial support later.
  1. Engage without soliciting. You want to be top of mind for people, which means that you need to be communicating with them a lot, yet you also don’t always want to be hammering them with requests for money. Focus heavily on storytelling in your communications. Report back on campaigns and show your community how their support is making a vital difference. 
  1. Use your advocates to bring in new donors. Brand awareness is important, which you can accomplish through mass messaging. But individual messaging by personally reaching out to people and engaging with your community members—that is what’s going to grow your network. Of course, it’s better if you’re not doing that alone. Enlist your team of advocates, volunteers, board members, staff members and other key supporters to reach out to their networks on your behalf. In short, let your loyal donors recruit new donors so you’re not the only one doing the heavy lifting.

About the Author.

Dana Ostomel is the former vice president of nonprofit industry development at Firespring, a company that provides essential software and beautiful websites for nonprofits. Prior to her role at Firespring, Dana was the founder and CEO of Deposit a Gift, a crowdfunding platform popular with nonprofits that allows users to easily create an online fundraising campaign for any organizational or personal need. Before launching her own business, Dana spent over a decade as a marketing and branding adviser, developing integrated marketing solutions for nationally-known brands such as Snapple, CENTURY 21, MasterCard and DIRECTV. Dana holds a Bachelor’s degree in Communications from UCLA. She is a leading authority and sought-after speaker on the topics of crowdfunding, online community stewardship and nonprofit marketing.