Telling Your Story To The Crowd

Today, we feature the first part of our conversation with Rose Spinelli of The CrowdFundamentals. Spinelli is an experienced, early adopter of crowdfunding who loves to help entrepreneurs tell their stories. As an avid dog advocate, and she offers a free consultation once a month to organizations that aid dog welfare. Here’s Part One of her interview with Crowdsourcing.org.

Anton Root, Crowdsourcing.org: How did you get into consulting on crowdfunding projects?

Rose Spinelli, The CrowdFundamentals: I am a journalist by trade, and have been for about 20 years. Getting into crowdfunding was sort of coincidental. In 2009, I went to see a theater performance  with former shelter dogs that had been adopted and trained using positive reinforcement training. It was a goofy, fun game-show format, and the dogs were doing tricks. I fell in love with their project, and I started volunteering. I really wanted to see the show, called Life’s Ruff, remounted because I could see the great potential as an educational tool so that people would consider adopting shelter dogs instead of using breeders. The founder kept saying he didn’t have the money, so I convinced him that we could run a Kickstarter campaign. He had never heard of it before, and I had minimal knowledge about running a campaign. We set about doing all of this, and we raised a little beyond our goal of $10,000. A few months later, we launched ‘Life’s Ruff.’ I became hooked on crowdfunding. It’s very addictive to watch, observe, and monitor these campaigns on a daily basis; I was learning a lot as I followed along. It’s not like I was sitting there thinking, ‘Oh, I’m learning all these things so I could have it for future use,’ but in fact it was happening.”

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Then, there was another opportunity about a year later to run another campaign, this time on Indiegogo. It was a campaign to launch a social media site for families with disabilities. If you know anyone who lives with a person with disabilities you know how time-consuming the care-taking can be. Many people feel isolated. So this was meant to be a place for them to meet online and share resources and war stories.

My next campaign was for a friend of mine whose dog – again, it’s dogs! – got very seriously ill with an invisible toxin called blastomycosis that dogs inhale. There was an outbreak of it, so every time she went into the vet’s office, it was about $700. She was facing the situation of, “Am I going to have to put my dog down, because I can’t pay for the bills?” Now, this is a woman who. bless her, was a total Luddite, but I sort of [convinced her to run a campaign]. She was very game to jump in and learn as much as she could about social media. She did so much work—and taught herself so much—that she inspired me. We worked together daily, and we did a lot of things wrong – I knew, for example, she was making a mistake when she wanted to raise $18,000. I told her a few times, she wasn’t really listening, so we went ahead with her goal of $18,000. She ended up raising $6,000 which, considering how many sick-dog campaigns exist, was a small miracle.

Like I did with all my campaigns, without even realizing it I had put my journalism cap on. My biggest priority was always how we would tell the story so that it appealed to the most people—invoked emotions and prompted empathy. In this case, it was all the other dog owners out there thinking, ‘Oh my god, I need to educate myself as much as possible on blastomycosis because I don’t want this to happen to me.’ We got an incredible amount of press. It was just another sad, sad dog story, and there are a million of them out there, but I think that this one was elevated because in telling Audrey’s—that’s the dog’s name—story dog owners put themselves in my friend’s shoes.This is when I started realizing that what I have to offer people is a way to tell their story impactfully.  There are many, many reasons a project may fail(such as having a bad idea), but if you do have a good idea and you know how to tell the story you’re golden. Sadly, many worthy campaigns do poorly because their story is not told clearly.

That seems to be the biggest thing I hear from people who have been successful in running campaigns: if you can’t sell the story, or choose which storyline is the best one, that’s when the campaign runs into a little bit of trouble. How do you – and I realize some of this may be a trade secret – identify the one thing or the few things that you think will really appeal to people?

I really don’t think it’s a trade secret because it’s different with every project. Mostly you have to always have your audience in mind. Is there an audience? There may not be. There are times when I’m on the other side [of the interview] and somebody calls me and says, “Hey, are you interested in writing about such and such?” And I have to say no, because I realize that people – and I don’t mean this in the wrong way – but they have an over-inflated sense of the importance of this think they want me to write about. There is no audience for it. So, I think it’s just being able to walk around with an eye looking for stories and who would want to hear them. For years I was a freelancer, and I was just constantly looking for the next story. That’s how my brain works. It’s what I love to do, it wasn’t a reach or anything like that. It’s how I’m wired to look at the world. The other thing I came to realize made me good at this – and I don’t claim to be good at all levels, because it’s very, very complex what makes successful campaigns – but one of the things I just love to do it connect dots. What’s the story and who is the audience that wants to hear this story?

What did you learn from your first several campaigns?

This is not going to be anything life changing for anybody who reads this because it’s a piece of information – as valid as it is – that’s the same piece of advice that everybody gives. You’ve got to have your community before you start—and in today’s world your community is mostly on social media. I am hesitant to take somebody on today, if they have not already been building his or her own social media community. That’s often the case with non-for-profits – they’re so busy in the trenches, doing the actual work, that learning social falls by the wayside. I think that’s changing but more education needs to be done.

On the other hand, sometimes just do remarkably well even without a big social following. These are like wildcards—impossible to quantify why it captured people’s imagination. But you shouldn’t plan on being an outlier. Most campaigns have to do the hard work of building their tribe.

What fees do you charge for your services?

We’re all pioneers out here, there’s really no other models to look at and say, “This is how things are done in this industry.” So, what I’m charging and how I work with people evolved when I started see what people need. The whole idea behind crowdfunding is to remove gatekeepers so I like to teach people best practices and then have them run their own campaign.  It’s very personal—a conversation between you and your audience.

Let’s face it, people trying to raise money don’t have a big budget. So I offer a Speed Consultation, which is $50 for 30 minutes on the low end. (You’d be surprised how much we can accomplish in 30 minutes. I also offer a ‘Jumpstart Basic’ plan. It’s two+ hours for $250. You can use that time however you need to. If you want me to help you find your story I can do that, or if you want all around help we structure it so you get those needs met. Beyond that, I do have other levels, but each case is different.

If you want to target our time,  I offer writing and editing services ideas on how to develop a media strategy, or help in how to conceptualize and create a video. Beyond that – and I’m not encouraging people to do this (laughs) – but there is ‘Jumpstart Premium,’option which is helping people with the basics and then giving them support during the life of the campaign. That’s what I did with the other projects I worked on. You’re just on the phone with people every day saying, “This is what happened, this is what we need to do.” I also coach groups, give presentations at conferences and schools. For those who like to learn on their own time I have an online course on Udemy called Working the Crowd: Know the Fundamentals.

Would you also negotiate whether the fees would be up-front or depending on the success of the campaign?

No, I don’t work for a percentage. Part of the reason for that is that if my client isn’t doing everything he or she needs to do, the project may fail even if I’ve done everything right. It’s also a hold over from my days as a development director for a non-profit that I have a lack of comfort with charging a percentage. It’s about transparency. People who give money to a crowdfunding campaign don’t want it to go to “overhead” they want it earmarked to the project itself.

For me it’s part of the bigger philosophy that I see crowdfunding falling into. We live in a sharing economy now and in part I think it has something to do with a spiritual awakening that we’re all having, and crowdfunding is where the technology and spirituality intersect. It’s this realization that we’re all interconnected. But I think the reason that people are responding so profoundly to the concept of crowdfunding is that for the longest time, we had this desire to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, and to help, but didn’t always know how. And now, technology has offered us the ability to actually feel good about ourselves. With fundraising, you give money to other people, but I would argue that the giver gets more out of it. It makes you feel good about yourself: it’s a bit of selfish act, with a bigger positive overlay. To me, my interest in doing this work has so much more to do with my own personal beliefs about wanting to be a part of doing good in the world. I’m totally open to the idea that this is a journey and who knows where it’s going to take me. It’s fun, and I like to recreate myself. I’ve done it many times in my life.

(Reprinted with authorization by Crowdsourcing.org: “Tell a Story, Crowdfund a Project” by Rose Spinelli)

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