Should a social enterprise crowdfund?

September 30, 2013 by
Filed under: Fellowship 
  • What makes a successful crowdfunding campaign?
  • How can it help my social enterprise?
  • Why should I do a crowdfunding campaign?

These were some of the questions on people’s lips at Friday morning’s social entrepreneurs breakfast as the focus was social enterprise and crowdfunding: how can it help me? We were joined by student makers festFellowship Councillor Ed Whiting and Alex Watson, our RSA Catalyst manager, both of whom have overseen the launch of RSA crowdfunding.  Ed ran a crowdfunding platform called WeDidThis and so is well versed in the benefits, drawbacks, ups and downs of crowdfunding campaigns.  You can read previous blogs from Ed about crowdfunding and the RSA’s role in it. There are currently seven projects up on the RSA crowdfunding page ranging from a game which reduces social anxiety to a cinema project in Kenya which uses films as an educational tool. You can take a look at the RSA page here.

Two of the Fellows with current live crowdfunding projects were able to join us at the breakfast. Lisa Oulton who is running Student Makers Festival sets young designers up with stalls at local markets (currently in Folkstone, Kent) to sell what they have created. The young people she works with are students, unemployed young people and graduates based in an area struggling with high levels of youth unemployment. Lisa would like to raise £2000 to fit out a production workshop and exhibition space and help support young designers to fulfil their potential. Her campaign is currently 40% backed with 33 days to go and she describes the highs and lows of the campaign as being on a rollercoaster.  One of the reasons she has run this crowdfunding campaign was to introduce her young people to the possibilities of crowdfunding for their products and to galvanise their networks into promoting the campaign.

rick hallRick Hall’s 3-2-1 Ignition project is trying to bring science to the masses and our local high streets in ways which demystify science and show that it is for everyone and not just the archetypal wild-haired scientists (think Doc Brown and the flux capacitor – though that’s just the 80’s child in me!)  Rick’s campaign is currently at 33% at 31 days left.  He says the key thing he has learnt is that just having a good idea doesn’t make a crowdfunding campaign – you need to define your project campaign, focus on the tangible outputs and finally be able to articulate it.  I was interested why Rick has chosen to go ahead now with the campaign and he said two points which I liked: 1) if you get an opportunity (like the one the RSA was offering) you should go for it and 2) he was at a stage where he wanted to test whether his idea and social enterprise was viable.  He has his first shop and wondered whether he could grow the idea and take it to the next level.  Which is where crowdfunding comes in particularly hand; it is also a type of market research.  A lot of these points also came up at the RSA crowdfunding launch event on Monday 16 September which you can view online on RSA Replay.

What are the top tips for crowdfunding?

Out of our discussions, we distilled the key tips for crowdfunding campaigns down to these points:

  1. Define your project – you can’t just focus on your cause; what is your project and how are you going to get people’s ‘buy-in’?
  2. Set realistic targets – you might want £200,000 but is this realistic bearing in mind your reach, rewards and project?
  3. Use it to test your viability – it is an excellent market research tool so use it to test what works.
  4. Offer exciting outputs/rewards – part of defining your project is to work out what rewards and gifts you can offer to those who donate.
  5. Use your networks – promoting to those you know and getting friends of friends and friends of friends of friends involved is vital in the momentum for your campaign especially at the beginning.
  6. It is ‘forced’ promotion – a good point was raised about using crowdfunding campaigns as a marketing tool in that you HAVE to promote it. The campaign will fail otherwise. It is reliant on you to build momentum so it can be used for the slightly-more-reticent promoters to push their projects out into the ether.

Crowdfunding was suggested as a ‘fun’ way to raise finance amongst a number of different options social enterprises have. Whether as a social enterprise you are going to be more or less successful as a crowdfunding campaign is questionable – are people more likely to give backing to your social enterprise based on the feel-good factor of helping a good cause?  The jury is still out on that but Ed did highlight the difference between a project and a ’cause’. One of the things that a crowdfunding campaign (and in this case Kickstarter) will do is to force you to package up your idea and think about the tangible products your enterprise or project can offer. Just stating you want to help reduce youth unemployment or carbon emissions is not enough – you need to focus on the outputs.  This made me wonder whether giving to a crowdfunding campaign appeals to our selfish motivations of having ‘stuff’ and especially as a momento that reminds us of the good deed we performed to help out another person. This is a personal element of the social side of crowdfunding.

It is exciting times ahead for both the current projects live on the RSA crowdfunding page (good luck to Lisa and Rick and everyone else looking for support) and for those to come.  Help them to reach their targets.  Two things you can do now:

  1. Find out about all the projects on the RSA crowdfunding page, see which one inspires you and support them from as little as £1.
  2. Join the Social Entrepreneurs Network online here. The next breakfast will be Friday 25 October so we hope to see you then!

Sarah Tucker
Fellowship Communications and Events Manager


  • Rich Pickford

    Great outline of RSAcrowdfunding. Thanks for the clear top tips.

  • Edward Harkins

    I want express appreciation for a feature on crowd-funding that is mercifully short on hype and rhetoric and strong on some good practical pointers. IME crowd-funding is still going through the early stages of being perceived as A Very Good Thing, often by people who have no really idea of what it entails – in fact similar to the position that social enterprise in the UK is still struggling to move on from. The thoroughly pragmatic (or even cynical?) sort in the social enterprise field may see a ‘soft and warm’ market of contributors and supporters common to both fields that can be tapped?