Five Things I Learned While Crowdfunding / by Melanie Ida Chopko

In March 2016, I successfully raised over $7,300 through a community-funding campaign to pay for the creation of my first professionally produced record. It was beautiful, challenging, and I learned a whole bunch in the process. Several friends have questions about the process, so I wanted to tell some stories to be of support!

Crowdfunding and My Inner Life

Crowdfunding and My Inner Life

1. IT STARTS NOW - On the second to last day of my campaign, I re-connected with an old boss of mine who I hadn’t spoken to in three years. On my early morning walks I had heard the nudge to reach out to her, and she was thrilled to hear about my plans. To my great surprise, she gave me $500 and said what was a hugely powerful gift:  “Melanie, this is also in thanks for all the work you did for me four years ago. I want you to remember, who you are in the world is just as important as this music, this project.” Hearing this, I had an overwhelming sense that receiving donations for my project didn’t start in March 2016, but at the start of my relationship with these people, in all my interactions with them. So as people tell me that they’re thinking about starting a crowd-funding campaign, I love saying what that really means for me - the process isn't limited to the timeframe of the campaign. It actually starts today.

2. VULNERABILITY - Two days before the campaign started, I asked a group of 45 close friends and family members to contribute on the first day of my project, so I could start out with a bang. Other than that group email, almost 75% of contributions I got came as a result of my making a direct personal ask. Here’s what worked: I made a list of people I thought might support me, and made phone calls paired with a follow-up email to each person on the list. My mentor Marguerite had taught me a beautiful phrase to use: “If you’re able to give, wonderful, and if you’re not, no worries. It was just important for me to ask.” What was fascinating to me was that this vulnerable, direct ask was essential: Most people don’t give unless asked directly. I saw this most clearly when we had an out-of-town visitor eating with us in the kitchen one night. We had talked about music and art, and she even asked to watch my fundraising video. After talking for a while more, I asked, “Would you like to be a part of my project and make a donation?” She looked surprised for a moment, as though the thought hadn't occurred to her, and then said, “Sure! I’d be glad to.” She gave me $25!

I also learned again not to get lost in my own stories of doubt and fear while following up with people. It’s not a “no” until I actually hear a “no.” I remember nervously reaching out to a friend for the fourth or fifth time, to which he responded, “I’m so glad you shared this again! I’ve been so unbelievably busy, and can do it today.” And he did. So, people are busy. In sales they say average person hears about a product or service seven times before they join in. It was important for me to not take that personally! And, interestingly enough, nearly every person I was reaaaallly nervous about asking gave joyfully. “Wow, I’m so glad you thought of me, and are inviting me to be a part of this!” Holy cow.

3. GRATITUDE ALONGSIDE MY ASKING - It was so powerful for me to continue touching back on gratitude during this process - when I would run out of people to call or new fangled ideas, when the number on my campaign page hadn’t budged all day at all despite all my actions, or my eyes just plain glazed over from staring at my spreadsheet of potential donors for too long. In those moments, I stepped back to appreciate all the people who had already given to me, calling them each one by one to say so, or later reading down the list and thanking them in my heart. I came to really love this toggling back and forth between inviting people to give, and calling to thank them for giving. I often had a beautiful disorientation in those thank-you conversations, losing track of who was giving what. On the phone people were acknowledging me back for the way I had contributed to them, as a friend and a creator of beauty. It was amazing. I cried. Alot.

I just loved another thing I read in the process, from The Sustainable Economies Law Center and Roadmap Consulting [1]: The most important words in fundraising are “Join Me” and “Thank You.”

4. THIS IS ABOUT SUPPORT - Fundamentally, I think doing a community funding campaign is about asking for support for what is mine to do in the world. I also had a beautiful constellation of support while doing it - people to remind me of who I really am, to tell me their experience and ideas, to encourage me to turn over every rock and leave nothing on the table. Visiting vast spaces in nature was also a huge support to me. My final three days pretty much consisted of me calling and writing from when I woke up to when I went to bed, and at times, there was nothing else for me to do other than to “step way from the vehicle” - take myself to the hills, and reconnect with what nourishes my faith and my spirit. 

And because Facebook visibility remains a beguiling mystery to me, I asked for support in sharing my story. Who is upstream from me who could have a greater impact at sharing this? Who can do this better than I can? Who do I know that has 4,000 Twitter followers, or people who actually respond to their Facebook posts?

5. THE UNKNOWN ARC - One week out from the end of my campaign, I still had $4,000 to raise, a little over half of my total goal. I went from being totally confident to kinda antsy, and it was a huge support to me to sit with friends and listen to their incredible stories of how they reached their fundraising goal, and even surpassed it. There were miracles like town-wide hamburgesadas in Mexico, the equivalent of American pancake breakfasts. There were surprise tweets from Yanni. And still, three days out, having 40% to go for my own project, I had a major freak-out. I made peace with the idea of scaling back my project significantly, despite all the stories I heard. It was like the last leg of a marathon, and I was going to sit down on the road.

But, then after talking with one friend, I realized, No! I made a commitment to this. I’m going to do everything I know how to do to realized my full vision. I listened for wisdom and followed everything I heard. I sat with each name and donation on my spreadsheet, thanking them for $25, $100, $5. I wrote to my donors and asked them to give again. They did. Seeing the deadline of the final day, people came out of the woodwork and gave. In the end, I raised over $2600 in final three days.

80% of campaigns that raise 20% of their funding reach their final goal [2]. It’s not over ‘til it’s over.

Have fun!

Melanie Ida Chopko is a songwriter, musician and artist living in Oakland, CA. You can read more about her story, hear her music and see her art at melanieidachopko.com.

[1] Marjorie Fine and Grassroots Fundraising
[2] Crowd 101: Setting Realistic Crowdfunding Goals