I was surprised last year to hear that Local Harvest, an independent grocery store and cafe in my hometown of St. Louis, was in danger of shutting its doors after seven years. News outlets reported that the store, which specializes in organic and locally sourced foods, had suffered several financial setbacks. Unless its owners could raise the US$120,000 they needed to pay their debts, the store’s closure was certain.
But Local Harvest’s owners had an option that wasn’t available ten years ago: crowdfunding. They announced they would hold a weeklong “Save Local Harvest” crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo.com. They made it clear that they viewed any funds raised not as donations, but as a kind of loan from their customers. Those who gave would receive gift certificates in the same dollar amounts as their donations. The only catch was that those certificates would not be redeemable for a year—and then, they could be redeemed only if the store was still in business. As a customer and believer in what they stood for, I was on their crowdfunding page in a heartbeat.
Luckily, this story has a happy ending. Local Harvest raised more than $57,000 of what it needed online, and the rest through customers’ in-store pledges. In the process, it rallied its customers, built goodwill, and raised the community’s awareness of its business and the local food movement. Two weeks after the campaign, I received a gift certificate that was $10 more than my original pledge. Today, the store is still in business.
To me, this example illustrates the elements that drive any successful fundraising effort. The store’s campaign resonated with donors on many levels—their loyalty to the store, their love of sustainability, their pride in their community. It worked because people were touched by the store owners’ simple question: “Do you love us? If so, support us.”
It’s this question that business school development officers ask every day. They must craft messages that strike close to donors’ hearts, so that when they ask “Do you love us?” it’s easy for donors to answer: “Yes, we do. What do you need?” The best fundraisers also think about how to connect to what donors care about most, so they can provide something that donors need in return.
Business schools achieve this balance in many ways, as we learned from our cover story, “How Can We Get Funding for That?” Six schools share how they tapped crowdfunding, hypercampaigns, and class giving projects to reach their fundraising goals. Perhaps my favorite idea? Wake Forest University’s “Naming Rights for the Rest of Us” campaign, which invited young alumni to donate money for the naming rights to various objects on campus, ranging from a leaf blower to a metal rivet tucked into a cobblestone path. This campaign’s humor struck a chord with young alums and strengthened their bond with the school.
We all have that tender point, that “something” that drives us to give—whether it’s a belief in the local food movement, a connection to a charity, a bond with an alma mater, or even, odd as it might seem, a fondness for a cobblestone rivet. No approach will reach everyone, but most approaches will reach someone. It’s just a matter of seeing which messages hit closest to home.