How Crowdfunding Will Stand the Test of Time

By Moshe Hecht

We see crowdfunding campaigns everywhere, every day. Its prevalence, particularly within the Jewish community, has raised the collective concern of its sustainability. Is crowdfunding, as we know it, a viable and renewable method of fundraising? Or are we exhausting a limited donor pool? Is it just another trend, or is crowdfunding a long term solution for the nonprofit community? But most importantly, if it’s just a trend, should Moshe Hecht stop writing this article right now, break out the guitar, and launch a gofundme for his next album before the well runs dry?

These are serious factors to consider. But I believe the real question we should be asking is not whether or not it’s going to last, as if there is some inevitable outcome and we’re just passengers going along for the ride. Nothing is inevitable. So the question is, what do we need to do to keep this groundbreaking fundraising method sustainable for the long term. Because gawd knows I am not baking another cake only for me to be completely humiliated at the annual bake sale from the moms who spent way too much time to school me with with Sesame-Street-frosting-skills.

I recently advised on a crowdfunding campaign for a Day School in Monsey. In working with the school’s Director of Development, I learned three important lessons that solidified the underlying philosophy of how we can help make crowdfunding a sustainable method of fundraising for all nonprofits.

1. Ain davar haoemed bifnei haratzon Nothing can stand in the way of your will.

When it comes to crowdfunding, risk is a major factor. In fact, without a risk factor you will not succeed. If you do not create that void that comes with truly sharing the responsibility with your community. If you are not setting goals that will only be reached with a large participation pool, than you are sending the message to your constituents that they are are not truly needed. And most of us don’t show up to parties uninvited.

So this means you are going to need vision, to see what’s possible and not what is. For this you will need to dream, and to dream you need to have a will. And nothing can get in the way of true will. Ain davar haomed b’fnei harotzon.

If you see it, they will come. And there are often legitimate fears of why the broader community won’t come through for you. And there is no shortage of excuses of why it won’t work. This Monsey Day School had the most classic case of why it shouldn’t work: no donors. There was only one person who’d actually donated to the school in years. Their “sugar daddy,” if you will. The school also grappled with a “too much money” perception problem. Hence the one donor. For those of us who aren’t cursed with this malady, a “too much money” problem means that everyone thinks you are doing just fine. You are not in debt or dire straits, so why is a campaign even necessary? If you don’t need us, why should we, the community, give you our money? We need it more than you do.

And we all have good reasons why we can’t launch a campaign.

But the Director of Development was certain he’d raise $1,000,000. He believed his cause was worthy, sure, but most of all he believed in his cause, people, and the current need for their true situation. For crowdfunding to be successful, it’s critical to have at least one person at the helm, who thinks this way. Someone with the unshakeable conviction that it is possible, so that everything you do throughout the process is aligned with this belief.

2. Don’t underestimate the willingness of supporters.

Before making any plans, he brought his board together to strategize. He knew that, without their collaboration, the campaign would fail. Instead of giving them “tasks” he brought them in as partners and showed them the potential of what could be achieved – with their help. He empowered them with the same strength of conviction and vision, that he, himself, had. Internally, we called this team the “Avengers.”

When you do this, people will live up to your faith in them. Of course, there was schlepping. (There’s always schlepping.) Each board member agreed to lead a team and was responsible for bringing in their own personal goal for the campaign. And in taking leadership, each was mobilized as true ambassador and advocate for the school.

It worked. Combined, the school exceeded its initial goal, raising a total of $1.3 million.

3. Scalable Achdus

A few years ago, I lost a close friend. Nadiv Kehaty was 30, married, and father to four young children, when he suffered a fatal heart attack. His heart condition had prevented his family from receiving any life insurance. But within a day or two of his passing, a personal cause campaign was launched with the intent of raising $250K for his family.

They raised $1 million.

Six thousand people gave to this campaign. Now, Nadiv was popular. But he didn’t have six thousand friends. Maybe on Facebook. But no one has six thousand friends in real life. So who were these people? Some were friends, yes, but many had never even heard of Nadiv prior to the campaign. As one donor shared, “I’ve never met Nadiv, but I see thousands of people who are giving, and I want to be a part of it.”

Crowdfunding campaigns inherently provide scalable achdus, unity at scale.

Unity drives us. The force behind a personal cause campaign, is the same force propelling a community institution. And that’s because we are all hardwired with the need to belong. Whether through friendship, family, or community, we just don’t do well alone. Historically, the Jewish people have always been likened to one body – we need each other to thrive. If one of us is in pain, we are all in pain. And so we crave that opportunity to come together, as a community, and be a part of something for monumental betterment.

And when you give us that reason. We will be that body that lifts you up.

Moshe Hecht is a philanthropy futurist, public speaker and chief innovation officer of Charidy, a crowdfunding platform and consulting company that has helped 4000 organizations raise over a quarter billion dollars. His articles have been published in publications such as Forbes, Nonprofit Quarterly and eJewishPhilanthropy. @moshehecht @wearecharidy #tzedakaspresent

This piece is the latest addition to Tzedaka’s Present: A column on current and future giving trends and opportunities.