The allure of a massively successful crowd-funding campaign is something that is pretty exciting to most nonprofits. We hear about nonprofits and individuals raising hundreds of thousands of dollars overnight. We see the ice bucket challenge and wonder how we can create our own that will take off and be shared all over the world.

I hate to break it to you, but for every successful campaign you hear about, there are thousands that fail. They fail for a plethora of reasons; lack of planning, no introduction video, bad goal setting and more plague these failed campaigns but there is one aspect that has one of the biggest impacts: initial audience size.


William Osmans House Burned Down

William Osman is an up and coming Youtube guy who uses his engineering knowledge to make goofy projects on a home made laser cutting machine. All of his videos are light hearted, hilarious and full of sarcasm. Two of my favorites are below! I love nerdy and hilarious science for the sake of being weird, so obviously I am subscribed to his channel and have watched all of his videos at least 5 times.


A few days ago, a notification popped up on my computer letting me know that he posted a new video. The title of this one was “My House Burned Down.” Subscribers to his channel would think that this was clearly click bait to get people to go watch his video. His work station/laser is typically cluttered and full of things that could catch fire. It is even a bit of a running joke that his whole house is a potential fire hazard.

It turns out that his house was one of the many that burned down in the recent California wildfires sweeping across that state.

What follows is a strong attempt to keep a goofy and brave face as he goes through the smouldering ruins of his house looking for anything to salvage. He finds the ruins of his homemade laser cutter, old year books and a fork. After realizing that all of his notebooks from college, the projects he was working on and everything else is gone, he does what we all want to do at this point and cries. He concludes the video by asking his viewers to support his GoFundMe page with a goal of $10,000, since his renters insurance will only cover a small portion of what he lost. 

At the time of writing this blog post (24 hours after launching the campaign,) the campaign has raised $151,910 by 8,086 people. In one day, his video has been viewed 836,500 times and support has ranged from donations to viewers posting they would fly out to California to help him build a new house.


What lessons can nonprofits take away from this?

You may think that this case cannot be applied to nonprofits because William is not raising money for charity. I would argue that the cause does not matter as much as the audience he had built before he launched the campaign. William has been posting videos on YouTube for about a year now and has built a substantial social media following. Over that year, he has provided genuine content that has showed us, his viewers, what kind of person he is. He has built a rapport, posted interesting and consistent content, and provided value in the form of entertainment.

I think that is what contributed to the major success of his campaign.

There are three main take aways that we can learn from William:


1) He built his audience before he made an appeal

Obviously he didn’t build an audience intending to ask them for support when his house burnt down. If you think about it, you shouldn’t be building an audience only to ask them for support either. You should endeavor to teach your audience about what you do, to raise awareness of the issues and to make connections.

I think that saying about a tree falling in the forest and nobody being around to hear it applies here. If you post a video and nobody is around to watch it, does it convert into donations? Probably not. Anyone can make the exact same video William did and share it on their social media. Unless you have a large initial audience, you will not have the same success.


2) His content feels genuine and he connects with his viewers

William is constantly making jokes and being genuinely goofy. I (and most of his viewers) have never met him before, yet over 8,000 strangers have donated to his campaign in 24 hours. We are willing to give our money, time and energy to help him, even though he is just a funny guy on the Internet with a laser. We feel like we know him on a much more personal level. He is not just a funny guy on the Internet to us. He is someone we look forward to hearing from, learning from and laughing with. That feeling is something that you can foster with your own subscribers and followers. What if fans of your organization were chomping at the bit to watch/read your content week after week?


3) His 5 minute video made it real

Would he have gotten support if he had not posted a video for his viewers and subscribers to watch? Maybe some, but not nearly as much. That whole thing about a picture being worth 1000 words is true, and a video can be worth much more. In his video, we see the devastation caused by the fire, the remains of the laser that we are familiar with, and we see William clearly upset. The viewer feels the weight of his loss and feels compelled to help. You can’t get that kind of response from writing alone. When creating a video for your campaign, show viewers the challenges you face and how you will use donations.



What should you do next?

If you want to support William, I encourage you to check out his videos. The style of video that he uses is fun and casual which helps facilitate the genuine feeling that is so important with building rapport with viewers. It is a style that I think should be emulated for connecting with your audience. Plus they are great for a laugh!

If you haven’t taken steps to start building a donor list, there is no time like the present to do so! You can sign up to take the 14 Day Donor List Challenge to go through the steps to start building a donor list from scratch.

Update: As of today (December 10, 2017) Williams campaign has raised $162,838 from 8,763 donors. His video has been viewed 1,048,385 times

Build Your Donor List, No Matter Where You Are In The Process

Brandon Reed

Founder at Reed Community Consulting and NPO.lib

Brandon helps people help other people. He has over 10 years experience working with small and medium-sized nonprofits in two countries in many different sectors. He has worked at all levels of organization from entry-level service delivery up to the executive director and board president. This experience affords him insight for whole level management of an organization, which he transfers to his clients. In his free time, he likes to play volleyball and spend time gardening with his wife and dog.
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