Do’s and Don’t of Fundraising for Writers

Why this is important

Much of what I have to say is common sense, but when we as writers are so excited about books it is easy to forget these three simple rules. In this blog post I’m going to talk about three things you need to remember during your ongoing fundraising efforts: practice transparency, don’t overask, and be sincere with your donors.  

Transparency

Raising money is a skill unto itself. Constant communication is the hardest part of your ongoing crowdfunding campaign. Until your books take off and you’re making that 20kto50k, then grassroots fundraising may be the way to supplement your income. Building the trust to make your $100 into $1,000 is a long process.

Transparency with finances is a simple enough concept that applies to other facets of our lives. We demand transparency from lawmakers about our tax dollars. We demand transparency in our offices. And we demand transparency in dollars donated. This last point is important because donors are giving money to you out of the goodness of their hearts and because they believe in your mission to create art.

First, although you are not a certified 501(3) non-profit that is required to produce quarterly reports if you receive grants, it is best to act like you are. Your donors gave money for a specific purpose: to support your art. Sometimes, they have given for even more specific purposes, such as a new book. Your goal may be to “make a living from writing” but you will see more results with detailed goals such as “use 10% of my Patreon income for paid social campaign.” While there is nothing wrong with wanting to make a living from Patreon tips, it is one thing to use that money to fund something unrelated to your writing.

Second, it is financially wise to put what donations you do receive back into your business when you are starting out. Use funds for general operating costs (website, ISBN, Scrivener, etc), use funds for marketing (Amazon ads, social ads), use funds for artwork (cover art, interior art, swag for rewards).

Third, don’t lie to people about what you are doing with the money. If you were given money for a specific project don’t turn around and misappropriate the funds. That is not honoring the donor’s intention and makes you look unprofessional. Imagine if you gave money for a scholarship and you are overjoyed to know that you are sending a student to school. Then imagine that someone from the organization calls you to say well, we don’t need scholarship money but actually need to put the final brick in the new building. Does that align with your personal values of goodwill? Likewise, say you have multiple pen names and one of your thriller fans donates to your Kickstarter campaign for your upcoming murder mystery novel. Perhaps you have a larger audience for your thrillers than your steamy romances, so you decide to move some of that money overflowing from your thriller campaign to your upcoming romance book. Can you technically do that as the owner of your business? Of course, you can. Is it a service to your thriller fans to fund something they did not sign up for? No.

Lying to your donors and lying to yourself about the money is a good way to mix up your finances and your financial statements. If you must move money to fund another project, then what does that tell you about which of your pen names are performing better?

Overasking

Have you ever been annoyed when you receive several emails asking you to donate to a cause or to buy something at an upcoming sale? Bet you didn’t like being bombarded with phone calls and emails in a short span of time. This is called donor fatigue and it is a very real issue with crowdfunding campaigns.

When using a crowdfunding tool such as Kickstarter, which is an all-or-nothing campaign, the pressure to meet your fundraising goals can spur a flurry of desperate emails and social media posts. This can be particularly tempting when you are just starting out and don’t have a large pool of potential donors to pull from, so you feel like you have no choice but to ask the same pool for more money.

Don’t spam people continuously asking them to donate, and especially don’t harass them if they cancel their pledge or chose not to donate at all. If you are on the monthly plan this is even more important. This isn’t like a large non-profit that solicits people with obscene amounts of disposable income. Many organizations are lucky to receive one donation a year per donor, so if your fans give monthly that is an incredible thing to be proud of. Many non-profits feel the need to constantly barrage their donors with appeals, especially when trying to fill specific financial buckets or reach a goal by the end of the fiscal year, just as any business needs to be in the black. But constantly asking for money isn’t getting your fanbase excited for your next creation—it only makes them feel like they are only valued by their monetary giving.

So, what can you do?

Do work on the following to prevent annoying your donors:

  1. Make a plan for how often you are going to ask people for money for your specific project
  2. Clean up your database. If someone asks you not to contact them again for a specific project then you need to remove them from your mailing lists
  3. Craft specific messages for each stage of your asks. Instead of emailing everyone the same message in each stage set up filters for each list (did they give already? Then remove).
    1. Create progress bars or graphics about how close you are to hitting your goal
    1. Remind them about the awesome goals they can unlock
    1. Thank people who have already donated

Patreon, Kickstarter, and similar programs are not as cut-and-dry when it comes to finances as direct revenue sales. While crowdfunding is a revenue source it is a particular kind of revenue source that is valued solely by the relationship between you and your fanbase. Ask and they may give. Be too demanding and they may be turned off.

Sincerity

A lot of what this all comes down to is sincerity. If you’re going to fund your hedonistic lifestyle through your crowdfunding efforts, then be upfront about that and be sure it is doable within your budget (such as supplementing it with your day job). Your sincerity goes a long way and doesn’t have to be complex.

Be sincere when you thank donors. Be tactful, of course, and mindful of their requests for acknowledgement. If you promise that donors of a specific tier will be named minor characters, then go through with it. Just like anything in life, making a promise and keeping a promise goes a long way towards building long-lasting relationships.   

Conclusion

Learning how to communicate your goals and needs to your donors or potential donors is key to maintaining a healthy ongoing crowdfunding for your novels.

Key Points:

  1. BE TRANSPARENT
  2. DON’T OVERASK
  3. BE SINCERE

Further Reading:

Jane Friedman’s advice for Authors who Crowdfund: https://www.janefriedman.com/what-authors-need-to-know-about-crowdfunding/

How to Prevent Donor Fatigue: https://blog.winspireme.com/16-fundraising-best-practices-for-preventing-donor-fatigue

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