12/29/2014 03:58 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

5 Lessons I Learned From Running a Crowdfunding Campaign

This holiday season, my mother and I hosted a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for our local Humane Society animal shelter.

2014-12-25-NEAHumaneSocietyDog.jpgHosted on Indiegogo, the campaign's aim was to raise $1,000 in two weeks to donate 50 bags of dog and cat food to the Northeast Arkansas Humane Society, located near our hometown, in time for Christmas.

Little did we know, the campaign not only exceeded our fundraising goal, but we also corralled our local community to get involved, had funders from all over the Internet contribute to the cause, and even brought aboard a big-name pet food manufacturer to more than match our donation! All in 14 days!

Throughout the two weeks, I was consistently surprised by who was donating, how they were finding out about the campaign, and what drew them to get involved. In the end, I took away five clear learnings from the experience and am proud to say that the shelter now has more than two tons of food -- that's 143 bags -- to feed its 70+ animals this winter, as well as a mound of other goods that will be helpful in the caregiving process. As for me, I'll take these five learnings to my next project...

1. Social media is the future of giving.


A whopping 64 percent of donations to our Indiegogo campaign came from Facebook and Twitter referrals. Many of the donors were friends of my mom and me, but some of the biggest contributors were merely connections I had fostered on Twitter via similar interests in technology. One donor in particular, who contributed $250, was a Twitter follower of mine who I'd only had one email conversation with in 2013 -- he was a huge dog lover, though, and loved what we were doing. So, he donated.

Our first funder, too, was Ondina Frate, a filmmaker and actress whom I've not met in person, but who I connected with earlier this year when she was crowdfunding via Kickstarter to fund a film she was producing. Seeing that I had funded a number of Kickstarter films, she found me on Twitter back in July; of course, I couldn't resist funding her project, a film about a Romanian immigrant seeking out the American dream, but finding more of an American illusion. Frate was one of the first people I reached out to tell her about my campaign, and without skipping a beat, she was the first contributor.

Numerous other stories began with Twitter and Facebook throughout this campaign, too. Every few days, my mother and I would post updates about the campaign, and without fail we'd receive more contributions. Whether IRL friends or Internet buddies, our contributors mostly found out about our fundraiser through social media, a feat that would have been impossible a decade ago.

2. Big brands enable big change.

Mars Petcare, makers of Pedigree and Whiskas, joined our forces and matched our donation, nearly twice over.

One of the biggest surprises and game-changers for our campaign was getting Mars Petcare, one of the world's largest petcare companies, involved in the campaign.

At the beginning of the campaign, my mom had chosen to buy Pedigree and Friskies brand foods for the donation, namely because these were brands we had bought all of our lives, and they also supplied the largest bags -- 44 and 22 pounds, respectively -- at the local grocery store. Because we planned on buying 25 of each bag, we figured we'd be able to get a mass discount from each of the manufacturers, so we reached out to see if they might send us some coupons for the order.

Friskies never responded, but Mars -- makers of Pedigree -- responded with much enthusiasm. After a tweet conversation with Ryan Bowling, head of digital media at Mars, I was passed along to another Mars representative who, within minutes (literally!), said they'd be down to match our donation. That is, once we met our goal, they would donate 25 bags of Pedigree dog food and 25 bags of Whiskas cat food, on top of our 50 bags. We officially changed our donation brand for cat food over to Whiskas at that point, because we felt a connection in mission to the Mars team.

On the day of the Mars donation delivery, we learned that they hadn't just donated 50 bags, but 93 bags, which brought our total donation up to 4,001 pounds of food -- a whopping two tons of kibble. "It's called surprise and delight," the Mars rep told me. He said that our campaign reminded him of the mother-daughter version of what Pedigree does with its Feeding Project, a program that provides Pedigree food at no cost to select shelters, so that they can focus their funds on finding loving homes for dogs. Whiskas, too, has its own do-good project, called Catservation, a partnership with the World Wildlife Fund to help protect tigers in the wild.

Seeing that Pedigree and Whiskas, as well as Mars Petcare overall, are working to make big change in the world, mom and I considered it an honor to work with these big brands on our small part of making a difference this holiday season.

3. Inspiration is contagious.

Our campaign made the front page of the Paragould Daily Press, spurring even more contributions.

My mother is a ticketing agent at a regional airport in Arkansas, and this fundraiser started with one serendipitous moment at the airport: A Humane Society employee boarded a flight with her dog on their way to get an eye surgery for the pup, and my mom was inspired by the woman's dedication to her pet. The passenger mentioned that she worked at the Humane Society and that the shelter was taking donations this season if my mom would be interested in donating.

From there, my mother posted on Facebook, challenging her friends to donate just one bag of dog or cat food to the cause. She emailed me separately to ask if I'd like to get my friends involved, noting that they could order the food for pickup at the local Walmart, and she'd pick everything up on the same day.

My mom's selflessness inspired me to take this campaign even higher. I knew that two or three of my friends would be interested in donating a bag of food, but what if we could generate enough donations to feed the shelter animals through the winter season? Now, that would be exciting! Within two hours of my mom's Facebook post, I had launched the Indiegogo campaign and sent it to her -- you know, gotta make sure mom's on board!

The first few days were momentous; we raised more than $400, curing me of my fear that we wouldn't top $500 by the end. I'm so glad I didn't set our goal at $500, as I had initially considered. The $1,000 goal seemed slightly out of reach, given a two-week time span and the fact that many of my friends had already designated their donation dollars for the season. Furthermore, while animals are irresistible, many holiday funds go towards ensuring love and comfort for humans... So, I wasn't sure we'd corral enough support to reach our seemingly lofty goal.

After our campaign started to gain support, our local newspaper -- the Paragould Daily Press -- covered us on the front page of the physical paper, as well as online, which encouraged a whole new round of physical and monetary donations. A number of local community members called my mother to drop of food to be delivered alongside our donation.

Inspiration, I learned, is contagious, though. Day after day, our funds rose, until we reached our goal two days before our fundraiser closed!

4. The best gifts are unpredictable.

One lucky puppy named Trudy found her furever home this holiday season as a result of our campaign.

We would have never guessed that we would exceed our goal enough to have to reconsider what else we should donate. On the final day of our campaign, though, we had brought in a total of $1,251. Mom and I coordinated a bit to figure out how we'd manage the additional $251. As it turns out, it takes much more than food to run a shelter! Mom referred back to the shelter's wish list and was able to utilize the additional funds to purchase leashes, collars, animal shampoo, treats, toys, cat pan liners, bones, and other goods that keep shelter operations running smooth. We even donated a number of harnesses on behalf of funders who contributed more than $100 to the campaign.

Finally, one of the best gifts of all happened when my mom made the final donation delivery. Not only was the shelter incredibly thankful for the gift, but my mom also fell in love with a canine named Trudy -- a scraggly little pup at the shelter who, like the other animals, was in need of a home. On the final day of our mission, cupid shot an arrow through my mom's heart, and she was smitten with Trudy. After putting in an application, she heard a few days later that it had gone through, and on Christmas Eve, she picked Trudy up from the shelter, fitted her in a new camouflage jacket, and she's been by my mom's side ever since.

I keep getting updates of Trudy's goings-on, and I can honestly say this is one of the most heartwarming consequences of our campaign that I had never expected.

5. Giving hope is better than giving gifts.

Because we raised 125 percent of our goal, we were able to donate more than just food to the shelter.

Every holiday, I have a ton of fun choosing and gifting presents for my friends and family; I've always had more fun giving than receiving, mostly because I sort of rock at secretly keeping track of what everyone says they want throughout the year. (Pro tip!)

But this holiday season, while I was highly satisfied by the gifts that I gave, I was even more warmed by this Indiegogo campaign that my mom and I coordinated to help give hope to the Humane Society's animals and workers. I've worked at non-profits, and it can seem daunting always being out and about seeking donations, trying to convince people of the good being done through their contributions. While one may never lose hope, it can wane, and it's thoughtful campaigns like ours that can help light that flame again.

Thinking about the toys and bones and treats and leashes that we were able to donate on top of the food -- the basics of sustenance -- makes me excited that the animals are going to have an extra cheerful winter this time around. And I can only imagine that seeing that sort of joy will further inspire the Humane Society volunteers and staffers. At least, I can hope!