Hello and welcome! This interview is part of our series with wild woman fundraisers on how to do a more successful crowdfunding campaign for your nonprofit.
Today we are chatting with poet and managing director of Kundiman, Cathy Linh Che. Ms Che and her committee raised over $11,600 with crowdfunding on Indiegogo in 2013.
Mazarine Treyz: Let’s get started! Cathy, can you tell us a little bit about you?
Cathy Lin Che: My name is Cathy Lin Che. I’m the current managing director of Kundiman which is an Asian American nonprofit organization.
Treyz: What is your campaign about and why did you start it?
Che: We wanted to raise 10K caused by an institution’s withdrawal of funds. The money would go into an annual writing retreat that the org hosted. The retreat was hosted by Kundiman- our annual poetry retreat for Asian-American poets has become a very powerful community. I took part in that community and wanted to see it continue. I’d only been a high school teacher so I wanted to see what else I could do. We didn’t get a couple grants that year and I could see the fundraising needed to happen
I told one of the co-founders that i would like to run the indiegogo and they gave me the go-ahead.
Treyz: How did you get started fundraising for your nonprofit?
Che: I volunteered. We are a grassroots organization and we were brainstorming ideas and we saw that other nonprofits were able to do it through crowdfunding and so we decided to try. It was supposed to be a one-shot deal for me. At that point I was working 10 hours a month as their communications program manager.
After 10 years they were at a startup phase, and they had a board that was doing daily work of staff, and they knew that was unhealthy, because they were getting so burned out and so exhausted. They knew that they wanted to hire someone to oversee day to day operations. They wanted to hire an executive director. I had two other jobs, a full time job and teaching-So I’m their part time managing director, it came after me working for them for about a year and a half.
Treyz: What do you wish you had known when you started your campaign? Any mistakes you’d like to share from when you were first starting out?
Che: I think that I wish I would have known it’s best to have all of your perks lined up. For example one of our perks is books that we would mail out, and have a separate group or committee to mail those perks. I wish I had thought about perks that were very easy to deliver.
The easiest perk to deliver was email lesson plans for poetry. It was emailed. We also had a t-shirt so we had to get sizes for that, find the right sizes package and mail. There were other perks where people had offered things, and it was just another step where people arranged x y or z. I would have loved to have help to mail those out. By the end you’re exhausted.
Treyz: How did you decide what prizes to offer? Any tips on prizes that people seem to like?
Che: I did the indiegogo in May 2013 and at that time the Kundiman poetry prize book came out. And so I knew that was something people were intending to buy anyway, so they knew they could get the book, and they knew that the money would go toward a nonprofit they really cared about. It was our most popular perk. Also we had these t-shirts that we sold at a literary conference, and we knew they were really popular so we just ordered more t-shirts. And we knew the lesson plans would be really popular because we knew a lot of people teach. We tried to think of who our likely constituents are, and think of what things were timely that they would enjoy, that they would want.
I had a lot of people suggesting a lot of different ideas. It was about all of us digging in, thinking about what we donated to in the past, and what they desired. On the higher end, somebody offered to teach a several week long online poetry course, and some people who bought that were in our inner circle. Very few strangers will just donate to you.
Treyz: Do you have an email list that you send updates to? If so, how do you grow your list?
Che: We do have an e-blast list, and in terms of how we grow our list, we have a signup on our website, we go to conferences, we host readings and we pass the clipboard around, and that’s how we grow our list most successfully.
Treyz: Do you use Twitter or Facebook as a fundraising tool? If so, what have you found works on those platforms?
Che: We raised very little money directly from Twitter and Facebook, we raised some, but it is not the majority of the way you raise money. What it really helps with, it’s a great way to show gratitude for your donors. We thanked everyone on Facebook and did an event page, and also did updates to keep people engaged. I had a hard time calling people, so I just directly emailed clusters of people in my life. I did an email to my family, an email to my professors, an email to my MFA buddies, and people in a workshop that I was currently in, and another group of people at another conference that I went to. People respond way better to a personal email than an anonymous e-blast. When you reach out to these people, they see that their friends have donated, so it’s another reinforcement to donate.
If you don’t have that initial back end outreach via email, your campaign is less effective.
Treyz: Are there any other techniques have worked well for you when you’re doing a fundraising campaign?
Che: Getting a committee together is very important. People on the committee (there were 8 or 9 people) they can pull in their own contacts and friends and family circles. The average amount people donate is $25, and we had over 200 donors. Typically the majority of people give small amounts in crowdfunding, and it’s really key that you reach out to a lot of people.
It’s important that a lot of prizes that you offer seem comparable. $25 for a poetry book seems ok, but if you say $100 for a book, that seems like a lot. With Indiegogo and kickstarter, you want to give but get something equivalent back.
Treyz: Anything else you’d like to add?
Che: Have a committee. Get them to send a personal appeal to their circle.
Don’t send out to the same person over and over again.
The first 2 days are incredibly important. You shouldn’t go public until you’ve got the 10-20%
by the end of the first week you can hit 25%
that can happen through your committee.
Indiegogo had a lot of information on how to be successful, and I followed their advice and we did find success.
I talked with people who had done crowdfunding before and that was very helpful. The person I talked to was at Cave Canem (for African American writers) they did a crowdfunder through calling, which is even harder. She said get a committee together and get a giant list and reach out to people.
I’m actually doing a fundraiser off of indiegogo right now and its really hard, people like seeing their name up there, and the little bar. The thermometer has been implemented since elementary school, I’ve always been drawn to it. I can invent a widget, but it’s a little harder than having it set up for you. Embedding a video is very easy, and doing video and picture updates and has a lot of mechanisms that really do help. I only know now how helpful it was.
Our organization is unique because we have an internal list serv of 100 people that is very active, and that is another way to mobilize a fairly large number of people to help you.
Treyz: Thank you so much Cathy, this has been so helpful to me! If people would like to learn more about you, where can they go?
Cathy Linh Che (Managing Director) is a Vietnamese American poet from Los Angeles, CA. A Kundiman alum and the winner of the 2012 Kundiman Poetry Prize, she has also received awards from The Fine Arts Work Center at Provincetown, Hedgebrook, Poets House, Poets & Writers, and LMCC’s Workspace Residency. She lives in Brooklyn.
If you’d like to learn more about Crowdfunding, check out our newest course, The Ultimate 2015 Guide to Online Giving and Crowdfunding.