Successful Crowdfunding

A new type of fundraising opportunity has emerged in the past few years. What’s the best way for your band to take advantage of the crowdfunding trend?

As a new band director in the tiny town of Cassopolis, Michigan, Sean Keck was looking for ways to help improve his 26-member band at the high-poverty designated Ross Beatty Junior/Senior High School. While the students exhibited what he calls “an exceptional level of dedication,” they didn’t have the proper equipment needed for marching band.

Other teachers in the area told him about their success on DonorsChoose.org, where teachers submit orders for specific supplies and people donate money to fund them. He’s now in the midst of a campaign to raise $2,000 for drum stands and harnesses.

What is Crowdfunding?

Crowdfunding is defined as “the practice of funding a project or venture by raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people, typically via the Internet.” So it’s really just a fancy way of saying “online fundraising.”

Online crowdfunding can be a valuable tool to help you and your band move away from candy sales and bingo nights, but you can’t expect Internet strangers to instantly pay your band fees or buy a new baritone, either.

While the many online crowdfunding platforms help to make it easy, like any fundraiser, you and your band must put in the work.

“The more effort the band puts into their campaign, the more they get out of it,” says Kelsea Little, a representative at GoFundMe.

By using crowdfunding instead of traditional fundraising, bands and students can reach supporters anywhere in the world that can quickly and easily pay by credit card or other online methods.

“It’s kind of a nice way to put it out to the community that their involvement is important, and they too can own a piece of our program,” says Keck, whose DonorsChoose.org campaign is more than halfway funded and ends on Sept. 8. “When you see that new equipment out on the field or in a parade, the community can take pride and say ‘Hey, I helped pay for that,’ as opposed to buying donuts and then saying ‘Well, I bought donuts and that.’”

Crowdfunding websites emerged around 2003 with a record-label concept called ArtistShare. Now there are thought to be more than 450 different crowdfunding platforms. Many are tailored toward entrepreneurial ventures and engage in equity crowdfunding, where the donors actually get equity in what they’ve funded. But for marching groups, you will likely engage in either rewards-based crowdfunding (people get rewards, not equity, for donating) or charity crowdfunding (people don’t get anything in return).

With many different crowdfunding platforms available, take time to do your research. All online crowdfunding platforms include, at the very least, a credit card processing fee, and most have additional fees or overheads. Make sure you’re choosing the best option possible based on your needs.

Know Your Options

There are two main types of crowdfunding campaigns, and though they may go by different names depending on the site, the concepts are the same: all-or-nothing versus open-ended. In an all-or-nothing campaign, people are only charged—and you or your organization will only receive the donations—if you meet your goal in the time allotted. In an open-ended campaign, there is no time limit, and you receive whatever you earn.

“All or nothing protects you as a creator,” says Justin Kazmark, spokesperson at Kickstarter. “You won’t be in an awkward position where you’re trying to deliver the thing you said you would deliver but with a fraction of the budget.”

Time-limited campaigns also create a sense of urgency. You may want to use them when you need materials or funds by a certain date.

“People become emotionally invested in the project, and they know it will only move forward if you reach this goal,” Kazmark says. “So as the deadline approaches, and you’re a couple hundred or thousand away from your goal, your backers really begin to rally behind it and push it forward past its finish line.”

Open-ended campaigns may be better in certain situations like long-term needs or in cases where you aren’t confident about reaching the goal based on your network. Individuals lean toward open-ended campaigns to make a dent in costs, such as medical bills and band/tour fees, that they will incur no matter what or for something with no urgency like a nicer instrument.

Some sites offer both options.

Find the Right Community

Beyond the differences in logistics, each crowdfunding site has its own nuanced community. Choosing the best one for your project can sometimes allow you to raise funds from complete strangers.

“We’re a website where teachers for public schools in the United States can post requests for either materials or experiences that will enhance their students’ education,” says Risa Ward, vice president of operations and customer experience at DonorsChoose.org. “You’ve got supporters across the country who are just on our site looking for amazing compelling projects to support. We also do a lot of work with companies who are giving to our site and foundations who are either doing match funding or special opportunities to give funds.”

For projects that are particularly creative and innovative, crowdfunding on Kickstarter could be an advantage.

“It’s OK to have funding for charity and disaster relief or big things of that nature, but we believe that creativity deserves its own space,” Kazmark says. “It wouldn’t be uncommon for people to find new fans and supporters who are not within their own network try and get behind creative work of a specific type.”

While donations from random strangers are very nice, never depend on them to reach your funding goals. “It is a common misconception that strangers will donate to your GoFundMe campaign,” Little says. “Rather, a marching band’s success is dependent on their school contacts, friends, parents, and other supporters to reach their goal.”

Set Realistic Expectations

Trying to crowdfund a drum corps’ entire tour budget or pay for the whole band to travel abroad is not going to work—at least not in one go. Try to figure out what you can realistically crowdfund and consider splitting it up into multiple projects.

“In terms of small targeted needs, it’s extremely effective because there’s a very specific mission and timeline with a very specific audience,” says Dr. Kushol Gupta, assistant director of the University of Pennsylvania Marching Band. “For larger efforts like fundraising to operate the organization, those are year-long efforts, and we tend to go more toward the traditional phone call/letter/email approach that many institutions use now.”

The Penn Band uses an internal crowdfunding platform created by the university because of the restrictions on how school organizations can collect funds. In the past it raised $10,000 in two months for new battery drums. More recently the band has sponsored local high school students to come to its annual summer camp.

DonorsChoose.org finds that very specific material requests under $1,000 work best. Teachers must specify the exact products they want through partner vendors such as Amazon or Woodwind Brasswind; DonorsChoose.org purchases the items and ships them to the teacher directly, rather than sending the funds. It is possible to raise money for class trips or special clinicians through DonorsChoose.org, but it involves a more lengthy tiered process.

“To whatever extent they can break their needs up into smaller projects, it’s going to give them a higher chance of success,” Ward says.

Craft Your Message

Presentation and content are extremely important when building your crowdfunding campaign’s page or profile.

“Really take the time to think about how folks who are not educators, teachers or parents can understand the connection between music and music education to the success of these kids,” Ward says.

Photos, videos and links help to illustrate your needs.

“Tell a compelling and visually engaging story,” Kazmark says. “You don’t have to have a video to launch a Kickstarter project, but our stats show that projects with videos do better.”

Give Rewards

Some crowdfunding sites rely heavily on offering rewards. On Kickstarter and Indiegogo, in particular, donors expect some kind of reward for their donation if the goal is met. Band-related campaigns have used rewards such as audio downloads, CDs, T-shirts, event entries or special opportunities with the band.

“Thoughtfully craft rewards that draw backers in more closely to the creative process,” Kazmark says. “Give them sort of a behind-the-scenes look at what you’re up to … maybe a short video of you practicing on the field or maybe you could offer an opportunity to sit and have lunch and talk about your creative process and what inspires you.”

On DonorsChoose.org, the teachers complete a thank-you process with a letter that goes out to the donors, photos showing the supplies in use and sometimes handwritten notes from students thanking the donors.

Spread the Word

All this work won’t be seen by anyone if you and your band family don’t get the word out. Since the campaign is online, social media will be your greatest ally, but don’t rule out traditional publicity as well.

“Start with friends, family and your inner circle,” says Julia Bucciero, publicist at CrowdRise. “Pick five people who owe you one and get them to fundraise as part of your team, so you’re all going out there getting the world to donate to the effort. Message like crazy: Send emails and post on social networks, but make sure to make it personal and not spam everyone. Keep the energy high and have fun.”

CrowdRise offers users individual fundraising pages that can be grouped in teams to all support the same cause. Bands could leverage this opportunity and have different sections or other subgroups competing.

“We try to make everything fun—leveraging friendly competition, leaderboards and gamification to get teams to raise as much money as possible,” Bucciero says. “We have this crazy idea that if you make raising money for a cause fun, more people will do it a lot more often.”

Use Facebook, Twitter, email, flyers in your community, newsletters, message boards, word of mouth and anything else you can think of to publicize your campaign. And once you tell someone, tell them to tell others.

“Make sure the message is consistent every time you introduce it out there,” Gupta says. “Social media only works when you exercise it. You might tweet it once, but then it will disappear in someone’s feed and be gone the next day. Be persistent and maintain your social media nation.”

successful-crowdfunding2Come Together

Crowdfunding can be a great way for marching groups to raise needed funds or get the equipment they need. Students can also use it to help supplement their band costs or to recover when disaster strikes.

Candice Lee, a Blue Devils Drum and Bugle Corps guard member, suffered a spinal injury at a rehearsal just before the 2014 season and was initially paralyzed from the neck down. Her friends created a page on GoFundMe to help cover her medical bills. The page was shared thousands of times, and more than $15,000 came in from people affiliated with many different drum corps.

“It was really unexpected and heart-warming to see all the support that poured out from all over the country and from all different corps,” says Lee, who went through surgery and physical therapy, recovering in time to march with The Blue Devils this summer. “The drum corps family is one family, despite the color of our uniform, and I think my experience really exemplifies that.”

Through crowdfunding, the marching community can come together in new ways to help each other. Consider browsing some crowdfunding sites and helping another band or student in need with a donation or social share; you never know when you might need to use crowdfunding yourself.

Photo courtesy of Candice Lee.