Crowdsourced Funding: Interview with Robert Wolfe of Crowdrise
“If you don’t give back no one will like you.”
That’s the tagline for the crowd-sourced fundraising site, Crowdrise. I mentioned Crowdrise in my crowd-sourced funding overview. According to their site, “Crowdrise is about giving back, raising tons of money for charity and having the most fun in the world while doing it. Crowdrise is way more fun than anything else aside from being all nervous about trying to kiss a girl for the first time and her not saying something like ‘you’ve got to be kidding me.’”
I’ve had the opportunity to interview Robert Wolfe, one of the co-founders of Crowdrise, about their site, their mission, and the function of crowd-sourced funding. Check out what he had to say:
What inspired the creation of Crowdrise?
Prior to starting Crowdrise I started Moosejaw, which sells North Face and Patagonia. When people came into the store, we’d ask if they wanted to play Home Run Derby in the parking lot. We used “nonsensical marketing.” The idea of talking to customers about things unrelated to the sale worked.
When we tried to translate that to the internet we did stuff like blogging, social media, you know, all of those bullshit internet buzzwords before they were bullshit internet buzzwords.
We sold most of Moosejaw in 2007, and when I stepped down in mid-2008, it was in the middle of the 2008 presidential election campaigns. I became infatuated with the marketing of it all. The candidates branded themselves much like Apple. They made it cool, so kids had posters of McCain hanging up in their bedrooms. And they turned their donors into fundraisers. So if someone paid $25 to attend a dinner, they would get a letter that said, “Thanks for donating to our campaign, now raise $250.” And then those people would ask their friends to donate to them.
That worked incredible well, so we started researching the fundraising space, and found that no one was using those techniques for charity. I approached Shauna Robertson (producer of Anchorman, The 40-Year-Old-Virgin, Knocked Up, and Superbad) and told her about our idea, and she said she was in. Edward Norton, her then-boyfriend and now-fiance, was running the New York City Marathon, so we created a unique site and campaign to raise money for the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust, and had a ton of fun doing it. Eventually my brother [Jeffrey Wolfe], Shauna Robertson, Edward Norton and I opened that idea up to the public and launched Crowdrise in June 2010.
Did you anticipate Crowdrise taking off in the way that it did?
No, definitely not. This may sound odd, but I think our idea of making giving back fun is working.
What do you think motivates people to join Crowdrise?
I think people want to give back more, and if giving back can be cool, people will do it more. Everyone’s a narcissist, so we need to give people more reasons to post.
How do people encourage other members to donate to their fundraisers?
It’s all about messaging. The “If you build it, they will come” method doesn’t work. People want to know, is it tangible? Also, what’s in it for them? People are self-interested. They want to benefit from it. They want to give to something that looks cool.
And it’s mostly friends helping friends. Think of it this way: if an organization came to you asking for donations, you might not donate. But if your best friend comes to you asking to donate to their fundraiser for a charity, you are going to donate.
What have been some of the most successful fundraisers?
Success is not necessarily dollars raised. We like to highlight the fundraisers that have the most fun, and the ones that best represent our brand. For example, currently featured on our site is a fundraiser called Running for Rhinos. The picture is of two guys in rhino costumes running on the beach.
We also did a campaign with Mozilla Firefox. They offered a $25,000 prize to the charity that raised the most money. A bunch of celebrities joined and started sponsoring their own fundraisers. We turned that $25,000 prize into more than $680,000 raised.
Why do you think Crowdrise and other crowd-sourced funding sites like it work?
I think it goes back to the idea that people like to give back. Let’s say one year I have $500 to give to charity, so I give some to the World Wildlife Fund and American Red Cross. Then, a couple of years later I get the same $500 to give to charity. This time, ten of my friends are holding their own fundraisers for different charities. If I give $50 to each of them, that money is gone. Individuals are taking it upon themselves to raise money for charity, and the organizations that don’t adapt to this new model are going to miss out on my money.
- Crowd-sourced funding works, and it is the marketing tool of the future.
- “Everyone’s a narcissist,” and you can take advantage of that. Make your brand, fundraiser, or charity cool and fun to encourage more people to get involved. In other words, peer pressure works!
- You have to actively pursue customers and participants. Never just assume that because you’ve built it, they will come.
Until the next installment in this series, sound off with your thoughts in the comments below! Will you become addicted to giving with Crowdrise? Why do you think crowd-sourced funding works?