Crowdfunding gives nonprofits, artists a new way to raise money -- fast

St. Paul-based Springboard for the Arts has sponsored hundreds of online campaigns.

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dance for dollars: Diane Elliott Robinson, center, started the nonprofit Hollywood Studio of Dance more than 20 years ago. Now she is launching the studio’s first crowdfunding campaign to pay for scholarships.

Photo: JOEL KOYAMA • joel koyama@startribune,

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The National Lutheran Choir isn’t exactly known for techno-savvy fundraisers. But when it wanted to raise $10,000 quickly to cut a new CD, it filmed an upbeat video pitch, posted it on an online fundraising platform called Kickstarter and scrambled to inform sometimes puzzled fans.

The choir hit its goal this month and joined the growing ranks of nonprofit success stories through crowdfunding — raising money through direct, often quirky, public appeals on the Internet. The online solicitations bypass the usual e-mail and snail mail, and typically include a personal plea from someone who would benefit.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of Minnesotans have enjoyed success. They range from leaders in this week’s Minnesota Fringe Festival to the historic Mounds Theater in St. Paul to a Minneapolis public school art mural.

“It’s revolutionized how people can communicate with donors and raise money,” said Laura Zabel, executive director of the St. Paul-based Springboard for the Arts, which has sponsored hundreds of crowdfunding appeals.

Kickstarter was the first major crowdfunding ­platform: Donations exploded from $29 million during its launch in 2009 to $318 million last year. It’s used not just by nonprofits or folks with a cause, but also by entrepreneurs, artists, filmmakers and musicians.

Dozens of other crowdfunding sites have since emerged, based on cause and geography. GiveForward helps folks navigating medical crises. Sprigster.com collects for military veterans and their families. Mobcaster raises money for independent television programs.

This month, a new Minnesota site called Barnraisings hit the Web, seeking both cash and volunteers for a variety of local causes. It joins GiveMN, an online giving platform for Minnesota nonprofits started in 2009.

For a Lutheran choir whose average audience is over age 50 and accustomed to responding to fundraising letters in mailboxes or attending a gala, it was a risky experiment. Crowdfunding’s typical audience is 24- to 35-year-olds, studies have shown.

“We had a lot of questions from board members and donors,” said Gretchen Boulka, choir marketing director. Some didn’t want to donate online.

“But a lot of our singers are younger, and we engaged them and their friends,” said Boulka. “I think it will benefit us in the future.”

How it works

The choir’s first step was to ask Kickstarter if it could join its platform, said Boulka. It then had to provide financial data to prove legitimacy.

It set a goal of raising $10,000 within six weeks. If it all wasn’t raised, the choir would get zilch under this model. The rationale: Donors prefer to see something tangible, not an endless general fundraiser.

The choir then pulled together videos and photos for its fundraising pages.

It was required to offer perks for some donations, such as copies of its “Sheer Grace” CD and tickets for concerts, said Boulka. And to interact with its audience — another crowdfunding element — it let donors vote on the CD’s cover art.

Then came the hustle.

The staff, the board, the singers — all were posting on Facebook, Twitter, online — anywhere — trying to get people’s attention. It wasn’t until the last minutes of the campaign that the goal was reached.

  • sites target different groups

    More than 200 crowdfunding sites now are online. Here is a sample:

    Kickstarter.com – For artists, musicians, nonprofits, entrepreneurs and more

    Rally.org – For nonprofits, artists, musicians, entrepreneurs and more

    Indiegogo.com – For projects across the globe

    GiveForward.com – Primarily funds medical causes, but also more

    Sprigster.com – For military veterans and their families

    Mobcaster.com – Funds independent television

    DonorsChoose.org – Funds teachers who post classroom needs

    Razoo.org — Funds nonprofits nationally

    GiveMN.org – For Minnesota nonprofit groups

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