03/20/2013 09:21 am ET Updated May 20, 2013

10 Lessons Veronica Mars Can Teach Nonprofits (And Everyone Else) About Fundraising

"And so there will be a 'Veronica Mars' movie, because on Wednesday some 30,000 fans (and counting) pledged $2 million (and counting) via Kickstarter, the popular crowd-funding website, to make it so."
-LA Times

By now, even if you'd never heard of the television show on which it's based, you've heard of the movie. The movie that raised $2 million dollars in just under 11 hours. At last check, that number had reached more than $3.6 million, with 55,000 backers. Yes, Veronica Mars will return to Neptune.

To just put that $3.6 million in perspective for a moment, that much money would fund the Young Storytellers Foundation, where I work, for 10 and a half years. It would give more than 6,500 inner city students lacking proper arts education and literacy resources a writing mentor; would produce just as many live performances of scripts written by these students; and would provide live performance (by professional actors) for about 70,000 audience members.

I'm not complaining. Seriously, I'm not. I'm not going to blame 55,000 people for putting their money into a cause that mattered to them. Instead, I'd like to figure out just what Veronica Mars did so right -- and what we development folks may be doing so wrong -- in fundraising for a meaningful cause. So here 'goes: 10 lessons I've learned from the Veronica Mars Movie Project Kickstarter.

Lesson #1: Know your fan base, no matter how "small." 55,000 people wouldn't keep a network television program on air past the first commercial break. Yet 55,000 passionate people can fund a movie. That's because Rob Thomas (the show's creator) knew before he started this campaign that he had a niche audience he could tap into. He knew that he had a passionate base and asked them to give. (5,000 passionate supporters could fund a small non profit organization with a $150,000 operating budget. Just sayin'.)

Lesson #2: Build a passionate base before you ask. First Veronica Mars built a fan base without asking them for anything. Then they asked them for something. How's your fan base looking? Do they care not just about your organization but your cause?

Lesson #3: Don't be afraid to ask for money. Honestly, do you think that Rob Thomas thought this little project that didn't last more than three seasons on a fifth-ranked network would break a kickstarter campaign record? Of course not. In fact, if he's anything like most creators, he was probably insecure and afraid of this whole campaign failing miserably. But you know what, he tried. So should you. If you don't ask for the money, it isn't coming.

Lesson #4: No donation is too small to solicit. At least half the donor pool for the Veronica Mars campaign gave under $35. 'Nuf said.

Lesson #5: No donation is too large to solicit, but they'll want something in return. The largest ask on the Kickstarter page was for $10,000. For that, the donor gets a speaking role in the movie in a scene with the movie's star. Ask for the big money, but be prepared to offer something in return. Preferably something that doesn't cost you much, like the line said by the waiter that you can film in under an hour.

Lesson #6: Don't preach. People don't always want to be philanthropic. Sometimes they want to give money to something cool. Or even frivolous. There are a lot of reasons to give. People give to be a part of something. They give to get a tee-shirt that says they were a part of something. Fairly put: people often give in order to get. So... give them something. Give them a compelling story in which they must take part. Give them a cool factor. Give them a name on the marquee. Give them an ear for their ideas. Give people a reason to get on board; to feel like they may be missing out if they don't. Just don't tell them that's what you're doing.

Lesson #7: Celebrity helps. A star helps the media pick up stories, and then they can trend. Kristen Bell wrote a nice letter to her fans. Probably took her all of 8 minutes. Another hour maybe to record voicemail messages for winners. If you have a celeb attachment, use their time and efforts wisely and pointedly. Then, make sure to target both lovers of your cause and lovers of said celeb for donations. If you're lucky enough to have a celeb on board, make sure you hit all of their fans to give. It may be a one time gift, but you may also find new supporters who are engaged in your cause.

Lesson #8: Get a matching donor. Guess where the Veronica Mars movie would be without Warner Bros., who offered distribution and marketing if the funding goal was met? Exactly nowhere. But prove to a corporation that you can match their money and give them exposure to a rabid fanbase, and your value on investment is exponentially increased.

Lesson #9: Give good treats. Let your donors know you appreciate them. Give them a thank you. Better yet, tell them how you'll thank them before they give by attaching a reward to the donation. No matter how small. Or large. (See lessons 4 and 5)

Lesson #10: Take advantage of your giving window. Plan well, then attack. The Veronica Mars campaign spiked early based on interest and press. Donors want to be a part of something exciting and active. (In the past 24 hours the same campaign that raised $2 million in 11 hours has raised somewhere in the neighborhood of $20,000.) Within your own community, see if you can elevate the urgency and excitement of the campaign.