engaging an online audience

crowdfunding an event – a case study

In June 2017 we managed to successfully crowdfund a business to business event. In this post I want to cover, the reasons we recommended this approach to our client and why crowdfunding an event may not be for everyone. I also want to look at in detail, exactly how to crowdfund an event.

We set up a crowdfunding page on the UK based Crowdfunded website and ran the campaign for six weeks. We attracted over 100 supporters and raised almost £7000. Both the numbers, of initial supporters, and the revenue were both above our initial expectations: our original target was set at £5000. Before we move on, here’s a link to the now “closed” Practically Perfect PA Virtual Summit page, so you can see what it achieved.

The event will take place on the 20th October 2017 as a virtual summit, broadcast to, we hope, hundreds of PAs across the globe. It is now LIVE and open for normal run of the mill tickets.

As you probably know, trying to raise capital to run a B2B event isn’t the normal run of things, in fact, when we started to do our research, we found it almost impossible to find any examples, and there was certainly no best practice anywhere. So we hope this post will help, and maybe even, inspire those who are considering crowdfunding an event. At Gallus Events we try and stay at the creative and innovative end of events and should you decide to crowdfund your event you will be at the cutting edge too! Crowdfunding an event is certainly an innovative way to fund an event.

Our pledge bar a few days before we closed our campaign

Crowdfunding is effectively exceptionally robust market research

Some background. We have been supporting Europe’s largest blog for Personal Assistants, Practically Perfect PA for a few years. Nicky, the Editor, has always been keen to run an event outside of the UK. We’ve run an annual conference for a few years, some regional events and a dedicated event on business travel. But all of them have been physical events, based in the UK. So the challenge was: how could Nicky service her global audience?

We were pretty clear the only way to do that was to run some kind of virtual event. However, putting together this kind of event would be a significant challenge, and a substantial risk for our client. So we had to test the market. In the past Nicky has asked her community if they would “let me know if this is something you would consider attending” when she was thinking about an event and that had proved to be a useful indicator. However, for many different reasons, an initial interest can often never be realised with a booking. So, we considered a fully fledged crowdfunding campaign as the only real way to see if people were really interested.

The basic element of a crowdfunding campaign is that people are asked to make a meaningful pledge at a very early stage; in essence they pay to buy / use your product or service before you have made it. It’s very simple, but persuading people to “buy blind” is not easy. I suppose, with this in mind, we’ve written this case study. Because if we can help over 100 people to buy a ticket for an event that hadn’t really been planned yet, maybe you can too!

Why our crowdfunding campaign worked

Not every event that goes to a crowdfunded will work, but we believe there are certain things that will make a success of a crowdfunding campaign for an event. So here’s our list of things to consider when thinking about crowdfunding an event.

1. When crowdfunding an event be sure to set a realistic target 

On most of the big crowdfunding platforms, you can choose either a “set funding target” or a “floating target”. The difference is that a floating target allows you to be “successful” as soon as someone pledges. So, say for example, you raised $50, you would be obliged to run your event. If you are just looking for some support for something that is definitely happening, then this makes sense. However this was not the case for our event. So we chose, and we would recommend, setting a set funding target. We went for £5000.

This wasn’t a random price. We spent some time drafting a budget and costing a few elements of the event. We know that we would need at least this amount to run a good virtual event. If we raised £5000 it was likely that we would have enough money to make it a success. Anything less, and we would be in danger of running the event at a loss. Setting the target figure close to your breakeven point seems to be a good approach. That way you won’t be left with having promised to run an event that won’t achieve your goals.

2. Remember, your initial crowdfunding campaign is not the end of your event ticket sales, but only the beginning 

The fundraising figure you have at this stage, should be set to allow you to gauge if you are likely to attract more attendees, above and beyond your initial supporters. If you set it too low you won’t really have a good indication to see if the market is much wider. We think that 30% of our attendees will come from the crowdfunded. We figure, if we can sell 100+ tickets in six weeks, with little information, then we can sell we another 70% with more time and a clear programme.

3. It’s not quite buying blind – you have to show your attendees something

There is a balance to be struck on how much effort to undertake at this initial stage. We think we landed in the right place. Before launching we:

  • spent a day or so looking at the sessions we would likely cover at the event.
  • looked at how we would have people engaging and interacting with the event and
  • how we would technically support the event

But we did not spend weeks preparing the details of the event. We could have spent a lot of time getting everything in place, only to find out that no one wanted to attend. In startup terms we made sure we were “lean”. Remember the whole point of the campaign is to “test” the market. So, don’t aim for an all singing and all dancing event at this stage. You may be very surprised at the level of information needed for people to pledge: it is likely to be less than you think.

4. Have pledge options and make them simple

We looked at other crowdfunding campaigns and found some that were very complicated. We thought that people would be put off by trying to work out the right pledge for them! Some campaigns have a dozen or more options! We kept it very simple. There was an individual pledge and a group pledge. And one for sponsors, which we will cover later. The pledge offered a discounted price and that was it. What could be simpler.

If you have a physical event it would be easy to offer things like VIP access, a physical product to pick up on the day, or other “goodies” to your early pledgers. We didn’t think we needed these extra incentives. Maybe you will, you have to make the early pledge as attractive as you can.

5. People are really pledging more than money, they want to be part of your community 

As well as a financial pledge our supporters were creating a community. They were showing that they were dedicated Personal Assistants and they were dedicated to helping us make our event happen. You have to do all you can in your messaging to demonstrate that you really, really, value your supporters. Literally, your event won’t happen without them, so make them feel special.

6. Have a big ticket item/s on offer when crowdfunding an event

Even though no one is likely to go for your big ticket item, you should always have one or two. We had a £2000 pledge (that would have been almost half of our total target) aimed at sponsors. Without a targeted sponsorship campaign, it was exceptionally unlikely that we were going to get a company to part with such a a large sum, but we would have been foolish not to give them the option. Perhaps it’s not sponsorship or exhibitors that are your big ticket options, perhaps it’s offering a space on the programme or to “host the event”, whatever it is you should open up the possibility.

7. You need to help people find your project

Once the project is launched, it’s not rest on your laurels time, that’s for sure. Even the most popular crowdfunding sites will only push a tiny proportion of your views, so you have to do a lot of work. If you think about marketing / promoting this event, as you would any event, and market and promote it, the same way as a “normal” event, you won’t go far wrong. You need to be concise in your messaging and you need to use various channels. But running an event as a crowdfunder does give you one added bonus. It gives your event a narrative.

All the advice you will be given focusses around the need to do a nice smart intro video. We kept ours short and simple. We used it out across all of our social media channels. Social Media is likely to be your main route for your campaign. It may be worth spending a month or so before you launch building up your followers.

8. Making the most of your narrative

This was the first time anyone had tried to crowdfund an event for the PA industry. Crowdfunding an event will be relatively new territory for many industries. Your event, may be the first one that has used a crowdfunded approach. And if played right, this is news. Perhaps, you are an association that has run 100s or 1000s of events before; well running your first crowdfunded could be news. The fact that we were “first” in itself, gave our event a story. To build our narrative, we announced that not only were we trying to crowdfund the PA industry’s first ever event, it would also be the industry’s first ever virtual summit. It was easy to see why people would at least check it out. The narrative should be continued into your campaign post crowdfunding. The fact that you crowdfunded an event and people bought in to it is a great opening to your story.

9. Success is built on your access to your audience 

We have another client who is in a similar position as Practically Perfect PA, were a meaningful test of their idea for an event would be wise. However, they do not have a particular good access to their potential market, and we have therefore not recommended this approach. If we could pinpoint the reason for the success of the Practically Perfect PA campaign, it would be: the event was for a blog that can boast 100,000 page views a month and over 12,000 subscribers.

Without the access to this community we would have found it exceptionally hard to cut through to the numbers likely to get us past our target. If you do not have an easy access to your target market you will have to get creative and also structure a smart and dynamic marketing campaign (see my point above about bulking up your social media profiles). If you don’t have a blog like platform to boost your campaign, please don’t be put off! But be warned, that perhaps scores of hours will be needed to get your innovate event out to the masses.

10. Choosing the length of your campaign

We went for six weeks. We actually held off launching it so we could end on the 1st June. This just seemed to look nicer, ending on the 18th May made less sense. We thought about end of month accounting, being being paid at the end of the month and those types of things. Six weeks also seemed long enough for us to concentrate on the event, but not too long, that we would start to forget about other things we had going on. A sense of urgency is exceptionally important or a campaign and we would not recommend any longer than six weeks. To the same extent, too short a period, just won’t give you the time to get any traction.

Crowdfunding an event is not a simple way to fund your event, however it does have a lot of advantages. If this post has been a help, please do leave a comment. And good luck!

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