Last spring, Vancouver activist and Ph.D. candidate Rodrigo Caballero launched an Indiegogo campaign to support his fantastic initiative, Comics With a Cause. It’s a free comic that speaks out against violence against women, and he’s both its creator and series writer. However, initially, his communications campaign consisted mainly of creating a Facebook page and reaching out to his friends list, repeatedly, for donations. After several such messages, I knew I couldn’t keep quiet.
While Facebook can be an effective way to fundraise, its effectiveness relies mainly on the existing networks your organization has built up, and how creatively you communicate your cause. Friends and family can quickly get donor fatigue, or worse, tune out the messages completely. For a crowd-sourced campaign of this kind, fundraisers have to reach a wider audience, and they do this through posting compelling content, partnering with individuals, local businesses, and organizations with similar causes.
For Rodrigo, this wouldn’t be too difficult, as numerous national and local women’s advocacy organizations and graphic artists invested in social justice are active across various media platforms. After suggesting that Comics With a Cause needed a Twitter page to reach beyond his friends circle, I was gratified to see that he started an account within 24 hours. However, the messages he was posting were the same– a direct tweet to a plethora of organizations directing them to donate at his indiegogo site. This kind of inundation amounts almost to spam, no matter how worthy your cause, and can truly damage your future online relationships as well as your organization’s brand identity. I couldn’t understand why Rodrigo, a talented musician, writer and impassioned advocator, wasn’t getting the story behind his cause across.
I’m not by any means a trained fundraising professional, neither do I hold a degree in marketing. But I do have a few years of initiating social media and communications strategy for a range of organizations, and I’ve worked alongside talented fundraising and events staff. I quickly typed out a list of tips that Rodrigo could immediately use, and contacted him for a Skype meeting.
Before the meeting, Rodrigo asked if I would run the campaign’s social media for him, but I had my reasons for refusing. For one thing, if I agreed, I would be the one benefiting from the relationships and conversations, and not him. I didn’t want that to happen, because if he would need those relationships when he launched his comic and at future campaigns and events.
It was an incredible moment when it dawned on Rodrigo to use his storytelling skills in his fundraising. I could practically see the light going off, even though three time zones separated us. In his mind, he had compartmentalized his skill set– all his creativity was focused onto the comic itself, and not its promotion or funding. I urged him to reach out to the comics arts festivals like TCAF, to connect with graphic artists and illustrators, with graphic art departments at the local colleges, to partner with local comic book stores for a night of readings, to ask women’s organizations to include his campaign in their internal and external newsletters, to find free ads. If he didn’t have the resources to create his own content, he could repost or retweet memorable stories from other sources.
After this conversation, I was impressed to see that the Comics With a Cause Facebook page began posting photos, questions, interviews. He uploaded his partner’s 7-year-old daughter dressed in a Superhero costume that immediately gained more shares and likes than any other post. Within a few days, Nicole Marie of Ad Astra Comix volunteered to help with social media, thereby sharing the page with her networks. Rodrigo was interviewed by Georgia Straight, Vancouver’s weekly paper, he made an appearance at VANCAF, and he was promoting other campaigns similar to his own. Just as I had expected, his posts and retweets sparked a conversation, and were truly interesting and informative. Best of all, he didn’t neglect to thank his donors, to ensure they’d still be listening even when the campaign was over.
While less than $3,000 of his target goal of $15,000 was raised, I still think that Comics with a Cause’s accomplishment is notable. Another lesson of crowd-sourced fundraising is to start early and to be realistic, as today’s economic recovery means individual donor dollars don’t go as far as they did before the recession. Non-profit fundraisers have to be savvy and look to grants, foundations and corporate donors to make up the shortfall. But a clever, active and intelligent social media presence can certainly help to attract the attention of elusive, high-level donors and supporters.
Below, I’ve posted the list of tips that I sent Rodrigo back in May 2013. But all in all, I did very little– it was his drive, passion and knowledge that has grown Comics with a Cause to the level of support it has today.