Kamal Bell is a middle school educator and farmer located in Durham, North Carolina. With his farm, Sankofa Farms, he seeks to resolve issues around food insecurity for those living in food deserts in his area. To bridge the gap between older and younger farmers, he created the Sankofa Farms Agricultural Academy for at-risk youth. Kamal recently used crowdfunding to raise money for a van so that he and his team can transfer students to and from the academy.
Last summer was the pilot year for our agricultural academy. Each day, I used my personal vehicle to pick up students, one by one, to transport them to daily camp activities. This added 3,000 miles to my car, and my car was feeling the wear and tear. The day after camp ended, my car went out of commission.
We were in dire need of a new vehicle to help support the farm and academy. If we could get a van, we could not only enroll more students, but also transport farm fresh food to communities that are considered food deserts — areas without good access to fresh fruits and vegetables. In the past, I’d attempted to raise $1,400 for another project but was only able to secure one-fifth of that goal — this time, we needed $7,000! I decided to learn more about the inner workings of launching a campaign, and then started “A Van for Hope” on Kickstarter.com. To my surprise, the campaign exceeded its initial goal. It almost brought me to tears!
How did we do it? And what did I learn about fundraising? Here are my thoughts on the crowdfunding process from my own experience.
Organizing the campaign
It was actually pretty simple to create a campaign online. There are about eight steps to complete, and the hardest step for us was creating a quality video to show patrons what our campaign was about. My advice: Before you start your campaign, make sure you have a well-thought-out plan for the digital media that you’ll use and for how you’ll get information about your fundraising progress out to potential donors. People respond to videos: I honestly feel that if our video hadn’t been appealing, we would not have raised the funds for the van.
Our primary goal entering the project was to secure enough funding to purchase our van. With Kickstarter, you do not receive any of the funding if your goal is not met in full within the allotted time span. If we hadn’t received the funding, we would have tried again at a later date. Luckily, we hit our goal earlier than expected. Going into the project, I had not originally created a stretch goal. I didn’t even know about stretch goals until a friend who had experience with online fundraising mentioned it to me. By creating a stretch goal — a funding goal above your initial limit — for our “A Van for Hope” campaign, we were able to raise more money for the academy and it gave patrons who may have heard about the campaign at a later date a chance to support our initiative.
The average successful crowdfunding campaign is around $7,000. Campaigns that can gain 30% of their goal within the first week are more likely to succeedTweet
Reaching out to donors
Another thing I learned is that making contact with as many people as possible prior to launching the campaign is super important. We did contact some patrons by phone before the campaign launched. But, in retrospect, I should have personally sent out letters to specific patrons and directly messaged potential large donors.
Reach out to anyone who is able to help you with publicity such as newspapers, radio shows, and blogs; and consider getting the word out through speaking engagements. A publication in Raleigh covered our story, and donations started coming in noticeably faster.
And of course, don’t forget to use social media, with quality images and videos. Social media is critical in crowdfunding: According to Fundable, there is a direct correlation between the number of outside links to a crowdfund and the success of the fundraise. Social media was crucial for our success through posting and sharing the campaign link. The biggest donation we received was for $1,000 from a Facebook share! It amazed me that complete strangers sympathized with our cause and our students.
Maintaining faith in your cause
Crowdfunding can be a great tool to help you reach your goals. Thinking back, I almost didn’t launch the campaign because of doubts that I had. But doubt can truly hold you back from accomplishing your goals. Surround yourself with a great support system and keep the faith in your project — that’s what encouraged me to go on to develop a successful campaign. It’s amazing how much support people were able to give and the momentum it generated in our city.
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