Kylin Schoeff, a student at Purdue University, first heard about the issue of human trafficking in high school from a friend. She continued to hear about the issue in college and even in the news. Her colleagues’ passion for the cause inspired her to learn more until it became an issue she could no longer ignore. She herself became passionate about supporting anti-human trafficking efforts because of what she learned about the prevalence of human slavery and the horrendous nature of the crime. Because of this, she joined the Purdue chapter of International Justice Mission (IJM), an organization that raises money for anti-human trafficking efforts.

In today’s world, almost everything can be done online. Raising money for a cause, whether personal or organizational, is no exception. Kylin and the other members of IJM at her school raised money for their cause online, in a process known as crowdfunding.

Crowdfunding, or providing funds for a cause by collecting many small-scale donations on the Internet, is growing in popularity and can be used to generate revenue for anything as long as it stands out to donors. There are many platforms that allow people to create these campaigns, including Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and GoFundMe.

There are differences within these platforms. According to Salvador Briggman, who runs crowdcrux.com in order to help individuals create a campaign, creative projects and campaigns are done through Kickstarter or Indiegogo whereas personal-life campaigns are done through GoFundMe.

Crowdfunding is different than traditional charities and nonprofits because anybody can create a campaign. The appeal of crowdfunding comes from the more personal connection the donor has to the campaigner, and the passion the donors have for the cause. The goals of these campaigns are usually very specific and the donor knows exactly who the money is going to.

Different types of crowdfunding exist. Some include philanthropic-based, equity-based, and reward-based says Matthew Racz, cofounder and chief customer officer at USEED, a company that works with higher education institutions to train and provide a unique platform to organizations so they can develop and launch crowdfunding projects.

Crowdfunding has provided technology that allows individuals, groups, and organizations to promote and get funds for different causes and innovations. According to Briggman, crowdfunding allows campaigners to launch projects without the help of another organization, such as a publishing company, and to market directly to the people.

According to GoFundMe, donations usually begin with people the campaigner personally knows in their lives such as family, friends, co-workers, peers, and teammates. Once support is received from people close to the campaigner, it can then gain the attention of others.

GoFundMe also suggests sharing campaigns on social media such as linking the donation page to Facebook, which increases donations by 350 percent. Also, getting the link out through an email list or through text messages increases traffic to the donation page. This is how campaigns reach a large audience.

Sometimes, organizations have their own platform for crowdfunding in order to allow people to raise money that goes directly to them. IJM partners with the Dressember Foundation, one organization that handles all crowdfunding independently of another platform. Dressember is a campaign in which women wear a dress every day of December, and the proceeds then go to IJM and A21, nonprofit organizations that raise awareness for, rescue, and rehabilitate human trafficking victims, according to Kylin.

This is different from platforms such as GoFundMe because Kylin was able to make a crowdfunding campaign through the website of the organization she raised money for. All proceeds went to the organization, and the campaign had to be for that organization. However, GoFundMe allows anyone to create a campaign for which the proceeds go straight to the owner for virtually any cause.

Racz acknowledges that GoFundMe is the largest crowdfunding platform that brings in more than $3 billion annually through philanthropic donations because it allows individuals to get funded. Yet, most people who do crowdfunding are first-time fundraisers, which is one reason why their campaigns might not be successful. One way to have a successful campaign is through having a set of skills in marketing and storytelling.

According to Kylin, anyone can participate in Dressember without belonging to an organization, as it is an individual campaign through the foundation’s website. Individual campaigns can be managed with groups, as was the case with Purdue’s IJM chapter.

Kylin reached her personal goal of $350 for the project as did the IJM chapter, who as a whole surpassed their goal of $1000.

To get the attention of donors, many platforms have options to make a video clip and a description of the cause. According to Racz, this can make campaigns more successful because having a video provides an emotional appeal to the overall campaign page.

Kylin’s individual donation page featured a picture of her, a profile, an update of the number of donors, and sections to write about personal feelings about the cause. While Dressember’s pages all have these components, these features provide a more personal perspective of the cause and organization.

Using Personal Connections

Kylin and the other Dressember participants at Purdue, ranging from IJM members to people she just knew, all used Facebook and various other social media platforms to spread awareness of their campaign.

Briggman sees social media as a necessary resource for successful crowdfunding. Social media allows people to connect with others by sharing what is important to them and allows campaigners to develop a network of connections.

Kylin made regular posts on Facebook and Instagram with facts about human trafficking, which included captions with statistics such as, “In 2016, less than 2 percent of the enslaved were actually rescued.” Other captions explained what Dressember is and detailed the problem and extent of modern-day slavery.

Briggman says that the way to capture the emotion of the donor is through storytelling. Kylin attempted this by posting a song, video, and a design of the Dressember logo over a photo of herself. She hoped that this would make her message more creative and increase the presence of the campaign on social media.

The Pew Research Center found that 22 percent of all adults in the United States have donated money to help a fundraising project on various platforms. Most of these donors say that $50 is the maximum they have given to one project, but donations vary from person to person.

Most people donate to help someone in need and give to people they have some kind of connection to, according to the Pew Research Center. They found that 68 percent of U.S. crowdfunding donors gave to campaigns that go toward helping a person in need. Of that 68 percent, 63 percent donated to a friend-of-a-friend or acquaintance, and 62 percent donated to a close friend or family member.

Briggman says that the decision to donate stems from emotion that is rationalized after the decision has been made. When it comes to giving to nonprofits or causes, donors typically give out of empathy and through relating to the perspective of the campaigner.

Kylin’s platform allowed her to view who donated; the majority of the donors were from people she knows, yet some donors were family friends who she does not know personally. She attracted these donors through her mom sharing her campaign.

According to Racz, there are many elements that go into having a successful campaign. One is to have a compelling and inspirational narrative. Another is to have an outreach strategy. Instead of just launching and publishing a campaign in hopes that people will happen upon it, campaigners need to have a compelling selling point. Additionally, campaigners should raise money for something specific, tangible, and defined because donors want to know where their money is going.

Racz also believes that having a funding goal is important. He helps students get an idea of what their goals should be by providing averages, which is about $5,000 raised per campaign globally. Racz has noticed that having more volunteers allows the campaigns to raise more money.. Through his company’s specific platform, each individual student generally is able to raise about $500.

Briggman says one of the key factors of a successful campaign is selling something that should be funded and that people want. In order to accomplish this, it is important to seek validation of and secure interest in the campaign before it is launched.

He suggests that campaigners start working on promoting their campaign one to two months before launching it. The key is to have a plan, which could include getting people to support the project and sending out messages.

Racz adds that one-on-one communication is a great way to promote a campaign because it provides personal connection and authenticity to potential donors. A good way to go about that is through email or direct messaging people over social media, which is a network-based strategy.

It is important to make these messages sound as personal as possible. To achieve this, Briggman suggests to include a personal fact within the message and to use colloquial language.

Assessing the Risks

With platforms that allow anyone to make a campaign for a cause they determine themselves, it is important to note that not all campaigns are legitimate and fraud is possible within crowdfunding platforms.

According to Racz, there is a risk to donors of not getting the profit they pre-purchase in reward-based crowdfunding, which is one of the biggest problems with crowdfunding outside of institutions. After campaigns raise the money, it is possible that they will not deliver on their project or idea because they do not have a form of accountability with the money they get. Giving to an institution directly through crowdfunding guarantees that donor’s money goes directly to the institution.

To prevent fraud, some platforms have policies to counter it. For example, GoFundMe began the GoFundMe Guarantee, which allows donors to submit a claim. If GoFundMe finds misuse upon investigation, they will refund the donor up to $1,000 per campaign.

While other platforms do not guarantee refunds, such as Indiegogo and Kickstarter, all of these platforms have algorithms that monitor the information on the sites and suspend projects that do not follow the platform’s policies.

According to Briggman, Kickstarter and Indiegogo often have projects that are not completed, which could be due to a lack of funds that prevents campaigners from being able to follow through. Briggman sees this as a unpreventable side effect of innovation.

In regards to fraud, Briggman says that Kickstarter has made transactions a legal contract so that there are grounds to sue. There are also risks for the campaigners. Campaigners have to market themselves and they may fail in the process.

But even with the risks, crowdfunding, as a tool, allows organizations and individuals to raise money for specific campaigns. Dressember’s crowdfunding platform gave Kylin a resource to personalize and share a fundraiser for a cause that she is passionate about and allowed the funds to go to specific nonprofit, anti-human trafficking organizations directly from a reliable foundation.