How to raise funds by crowdfunding (Sierra Leone)

Written by Michael Luseni, Economic Empowerment and Human Rights, Sierra Leone

Please describe the fundraising situation that your organisation faced:

Economic Empowerment and Human Rights-Sierra Leone (EEHR-SL) found it difficult to get funding from donors or individuals who would donate to small community programmes, so we began to look at different ways of raising funds.

What is crowdfunding, and why did you decide to raise funds that way?

Crowdfunding is an online way to generate income for organisations and agencies. It is a quick way to raise funds using your networks and contacts. We were introduced to it by a friend who had raised funds by crowdfunding for his organisation during the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone 2014/15.

Each crowdfunding site (platform) is different. Some set a minimum target to raise of US$5,000, some US$10,000 and above, it all depends on the site, and what the organisation wants to set as its target. It can sometimes be difficult to reach your target, although it is possible if you have wide network. However, when your crowdfunding link is published online, you will have crowdfunding marketers who will approach you to help market your link to organisations and others not in your network to ask them for donations. They will ask you to pay for this service.

All crowdfunding sites are free to use; but organisations will be charged a percentage of the amount you raised. The charges depend on the crowdfunding site, it could be between 1-5% of what you raise.

The crowdfunding sites we have used include:

The list is not exhaustive and organisations that want to start crowdfunding should first do online research to find out about the choices available and the selection criteria.

Once you reach your target the platform will distribute the amount raised (minus their percentage) through a bank transfer directly into your organisation’s account. If you do not reach your target, some crowdfunding sites will give you what you raised, and some will take a percentage based on what you have raised. To help avoid not reaching your target, build up your network before you start crowdfunding and start with trying to raise a small amount, say US$3000-$5,000. As you get to know the system and are successful, go for a bigger amount.

How did you go about crowdfunding?

First, we had to choose the activity/project we needed funding for and identify how much we wanted to raise (our campaign target). Then we chose the crowdfunding site to use based on three criteria:

  1. What they raised funds for (some sites only allow fundraising for certain thematic areas)
  2. The site’s reach (number of donors, number of site visitors, contributors and popularity of the site etc.)
  3. Above all, the number of successful activities/projects that had received funds by the site etc.

Next, we had to create a campaign (a short pitch) about the project. The pitch needs to attract people’s interest, must have a clear objective and target and a good photo.

Our campaign target was US$3,000; we chose this amount based on the project activities we wanted to carry out.

Immediately after we launched the campaign on the crowdfunding platform, the system we used automatically generated a campaign link. We then sent that link to our networks and contacts asking for their donations and encouraging them to share the link widely so that we could reach others. You should use your networks as much as possible; post the link on social media networks daily, post comments and send thank you messages to contributors and ask them to share the links to get your target.

What did you achieve?

In our first crowdfunding campaign we raised our target. Donations were made through PayPal, credit card, or bank transfers and once the campaign was successfully fully funded the amount we had raised was transferred digitally to us by bank transfer.

Since then, we have carried out several crowdfunding campaigns with different crowdfunding sites. Sometimes we reach our targets and sometimes we did not. Reaching your target depends on how you use your networks and contacts. If you have strong and wide networks with people and organisation who buy-in your project idea and you have good internet connectivity, and friends, family members, and staff all helping to share the link you will surely reach your target.

But, if you do not have a wide range of networks, access to internet connective is lacking and if friends, staff and family members do not help to share with people who are WILLING to give, you will miss your target.

Through crowdfunding, we have achieved new connections and contacts and increased awareness about our work and organisation.

What did you learn from this experience?

This system is absolutely different from the traditional project funding processes in terms of time, management and documentation required. Each crowdfunding campaign is unique and donations to that campaign and the impact of it can be traced to the crowdfunding platform.

Crowdfunding offers a complete transparent visualisation of all money transactions that are recorded and stored in the public domain.

We also learnt that projects with a high impact, clear objectives, a good project photo and clear title can attract more donations/contributions.

Campaigns can also be more successful if you have strong networks and contacts with whom to share your links. It is good to have at least five or more campaign supporters from different countries who have very strong social networks, connections and contacts.

It is also good to pay for online crowd funding marketers to help increase campaign success. This could cost you around US$5, US$10 or US$20 for them to share your campaign links to 1000 or more networks/websites. If your project is good this can help you reach your target.

What are your tips for someone facing the same or similar issues? / that wants to do the same?

  • Develop your crowd funding campaign (and project idea) with clear objectives and targets
  • Build, strengthening, and activate all your networks (using all social media platforms and other areas)
  • Put together lists of your campaigners alongside your campaign. Some crowdfunding sites require you to enter names and email addresses of your crowdfunding campaigners (3-5 people or more). Once the campaign is launched, the system will automatically alert them to start campaigning with the link and provide updates to the public or visitors visiting your crowdfunding page. These campaigners help the project’s success or failure to meet its target.

These campaigners should have fast or good internet accessibility and high social media presence; including emails contacts so they can share your link to a high volume of contacts. Campaigners can be local, national and international as long as they have a wide reach and can target donors, private and individuals in their network who may be willing to donate/contribute to the campaign. This is key.

Campaign widely online, in marketplaces or in the street:

  • Online – sharing the campaign link widely via your website, email, Facebook and all other online networks etc. Ask all your staff to share the link also
  • In marketplaces and streets – print out leaflets with a short description of your project campaign with the link and distribute them in marketplaces, supermarkets, lorry parks, streets etc. For those who want to donate; but do not have access to the internet, their donations could be collected by cash by the campaigning organisation and transferred to the campaign by using credit card, PayPal or bank transfer to the crowd funding site. This can all help you reach your target quickly.

An innovation is to also share links on newspapers and TV stations encouraging people to donate.

Would you like to tell us more about this challenge your organization faced? 

It is good to have between 10/20 shares a day or more to different networks to increase your chances of reaching your target. Donations ranged in size from US$5 to US$60. Making a pitch for individuals to donate suggested amounts, for example. US$50 or $100 can help you make your target.

With these larger amounts you can say you will send them a gift card with their picture on it, or a bracelet, or enter their name in the organisation’s book of records for contributors/donation etc. This is an innovative way to get them donate more. But remember, you should not spend more on them than they give you as a gift of any kind.

Michael Luseni, Economic Empowerment and Human Rights, Sierra Leone

Michael Luseni is a human rights activitist. He has qualifications in teaching, business administration and paralegal studies. Originally a teacher, Michael went on to work as a community-based paralegal and later a lead paralegal, gaining extensive experience in human rights. He has been the Chairperson of Tonkolili District Human Rights Committee and later the District Coordinator for the People’s Alliance for Reproductive Health Advocacy Sierra Leone. He is the Founder and Director of Economic Empowerment and Human Rights organisation in Sierra Leone.