Gender Bias in Funding? Let’s Crowdfund!


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By Eleonora del Vecchio & Louise Langeby

Raising funds remains a major obstacle for non-profits in achieving their objective; therefore, we thought it was important to share some important insights of the session with the hope of inspiring others.

During the #BBBeyondMonth, the Brussels Binder Beyond (BBBeyond) project hosted Charlotte Brandsma, Director at Growfunding and Kate Smyth Haskins, Vice-President for External Relations and Chief Development Officer at the German Marshall-Fund of the U.S., to give us some tips and tricks regarding development, fundraising and crowdfunding. 

For professionals active in the non-profit sector, learning to fundraise is a must regardless of whether you love it or hate it. Even with the onset of Covid-19 and the subsequent economic crisis, fundraising is still a field on the upswing; however, challenges still remain in the competitive sector. Data shows that women face more hurdles than men when navigating traditional sources of funding - thus, it is imperative that women take advantage of the ongoing upturn in the field and explore all fundraising options out there. 

When engaging in any type of fundraising activity, the key is to establish a true relationship with your donors, keeping in mind that there must be an exchange and you are there to help them achieve their goals. What can you do for your donor? What is the reason they choose to engage with your organisation? What is valuable to them? Donors expect to be involved in projects, not simply told what to do. At the same time, as a fundraiser in the non-profit sector, you must also be very clear with your donor what it is you want. Sometimes this can be a difficult thing to do, especially if you’re not used to asking for what you want, but it’s simply a must. To do this successfully, you must understand what you can offer your donor. Are you offering them expert advice, networking opportunities, or dissemination of their products? Whatever it may be, it needs to be made clear from the get-go. 

Furthermore, it is essential to have goals in mind as any effective fundraising strategy needs to be an intentional and planned exercise. You will only be successful if you set clear targets and you know what it is you want to achieve. This is when you can start to effect the true change you want to see. 

A specific kind of fundraising that is becoming more common is crowdfunding. This method of raising funds had a surge in 2008 due to the global financial crisis, thanks to platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. However, the first ever crowdfund dates back to 1885, when Joseph Pulitzer, owner of the newspaper The New York World, decided to launch a fundraising campaign to persuade New Yorkers to donate to the building of a base for lady liberty. In 5-months, they were able to raise $160,000 which was more than what was needed.

The methodology of crowdfunding hasn’t changed much since then and can still be represented as a triangular relationship. The starting point is a project: a person/group of people that are looking for funding, the public (people that donate) and the crowdfunding platform (now mostly online). Crowdfunding is mainly used for Startups and social entrepreneurs, and studies show that women have greater crowdfunding success than men. 

However, this in itself is a structural issue as women have had to adopt to more informal means of sourcing funds due to the challenges they face to raise capital in more traditional ways compared to men (especially women of colour). This is problematic because with crowdfunding, the amount of money raised tends to be much smaller compared with amounts from venture capitalists or angel investors. 

Having said that, starting a crowdfunding campaign still remains a great option if you are a small organisation with a non-conventional idea, especially if you’ve tried government/philanthropy funding sources without success. If you need support in the long-term and have managed to build a strong network around the project, you might consider a membership-based crowdfunding. Keep in mind though that to ensure the sustainability of your project, you cannot rely solely on crowdfunding and will eventually need to source other means of structural funding. 

Additionally, crowdfunding is also the only communication campaign that doesn’t cost money but can in fact bring in money. Developing a sophisticated dissemination strategy is key for constant communication flow of the campaign. Crowdfunding can also be a starting point for your organisation or startup - a tool to allow you to create the prototype to present to donors that in turn, will help with further fundraising efforts. Building and implementing a crowdfunding campaign can be a capacity-building experience for your team as well as be an opportunity to engage new volunteers. It provides the chance to learn something new, to improve your project/start-up/organisation, and it can also serve as a team building activity. 

The timeframe of a crowdfunder is usually around 3-months which can be an exhausting but also a rewarding experience. Crowdfunding can be used to raise awareness (think about The Brussels Binder!) and act as a means to get your message out there. Timing and context are important factors to consider as linking crowdfunding activities to a “hook” such as a date e.g. International Women’s Day, could garner media attention and viral social media campaigns. 

No matter how you try to fundraise, be it through crowdfunding or more traditional means, make sure to take advantage of the many opportunities that do exist out there and set ambitious but realistic targets. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there to reach your funding goals, because as the saying goes, “if you don’t ask, you don’t get”