Crowdfunding for a Major Project

Posted on September 3, 2020 by Rosie Greatorex

Categories: General

If you’ve never considered crowdfunding, this blog by Rosie Greatorex, Cinema and Programme Director at the Lexi Cinema, shows how it can form part of a broader fundraising strategy for major projects, as well as being a valuable way to connect with your community (whether they donate to the campaign or not).

Starting a crowdfunding campaign can feel like throwing a party, inviting everyone you know then sitting around hoping they’ll show up. For a small organisation especially, crowdfunding isn’t just about asking random people to hand over their money. It’s about asking your existing customers, your industry supporters, your family and friends to let you know how much faith they have in your project, and your organisation. Consequently, crowdfunding large sums of money can feel very daunting. But if you plan your campaign properly, spend time getting the right resources in place and really crafting your narrative, all that hard work is sure to pay off.

Scheduled to open in early 2021, the Lexi Hub will be a new 30-seat venue attached to the Lexi Cinema in Kensal Rise, a second screen and community space built entirely along sustainable principles. The Hub will allow the Lexi to extend our commercial programme while offering more to our local community, such as the work we do with school groups, the hard of hearing, refugees, seniors and more. It’ll give us additional capacity to grow our business, to create more paid positions and volunteering opportunities in our local area. And a significant portion of the money needed to build the Hub was raised via crowdfunding – check out our campaign here.

A graphic depicting the planned Lexi Hub building.
Diagram of the Lexi Hub
The benefits of mixed fundraising

When raising large sums of money, crowdfunding alone might not be enough. But a mixed funding approach can become more than the sum of its parts: an enthusiastic crowdfunding campaign can prove to a funding body that you’re proactive, and don’t expect a handout to cover everything. Equally, the fact that you’re expecting a grant from your local authority can demonstrate to potential crowdfunders that your project is legitimate, and subject to rigorous checks.

To build the Lexi Hub we needed £526,000, of which £385,000 was granted to us via Brent Council’s NCIL fund. It wasn’t a smooth process: our initial bid was rejected, but once we made the case that a community cinema is a valuable asset for the local community, and that our existing outreach projects were already at capacity, we were able to turn things around. Our success was ultimately based on understanding the priorities of the borough, on building relationships with local councillors and council officers, and on sheer tenacity, a refusal to take no for an answer.

Choosing the right platform

Despite this generous grant, we were still left with £141,000 to raise via crowdfunding. We chose to set up our campaign via SpaceHive, a civic crowdfunding site designed to help communities raise funds for projects in their local area. It’s also linked via Crowdfund London to the Mayor’s Fund, whereby the Mayor’s team can also view your project and choose to make a pledge of up to £50,000.

On SpaceHive, pledgers don’t get rewards. This is a chance for a neighbourhood to come together and fund a public project they want to happen. So if you think your campaign will require rewards to be successful, it might be worth exploring other options.

However, just because you aren’t offering rewards doesn’t mean that donating to your campaign shouldn’t feel rewarding! Thank people on social media, and thank them via personal emails. If you know them personally or as regular customers, stop them in the street and offer your gratitude. This keeps the momentum of your campaign going, and could even mean that some people who have already donated will come back and donate again.

A triptych of images of people digging on a worksite.
Pictures from the socially-distanced groundbreaking ceremony on 29 July. Left: Daisy Jones (Lexi volunteer) and Charmaine Simpson (Founder of Black History Studies). Middle: Sally Wilton (Founder) and Carin Von Drehle (Comms) from the Lexi. Right: Cllr Krupesh Hirani (Brent borough Leader for Culture) and Cllr Sharma Tatler (Leader for Regeneration).
Campaigning – a full-time job

For your public-facing campaign you’ll need strong visuals (both photos and at least one short video), great copy (in both detailed and condensed versions) and most importantly a plan. Schedule your social media posts. Schedule highlight boxes in your weekly newsletter, and know the lead-in times for any press outlets you’re hoping to get coverage in.

Fundraising at this level is really a full time position. Never underestimate the time it takes to build your crowdfunder, the round-the-clock nature of the campaign once it’s live, and (even with no rewards to deliver) the admin required at the end of the campaign. If you have a board, make sure they understand the scope of your campaign and how time consuming it’ll be. And make sure you have the capacity within your team to keep the cinema running. It’s really worth thinking carefully about how responsibilities might need sharing out differently.

Structuring your campaign

With any crowdfunder, it’s great to know whose pledges you can count on ahead of time, and then identify when you’d like those people to do the honours.

With our campaign we knew that the Mayor’s Fund would be looking for a lot of support and activity, early on the campaign, while they were reading our ‘pitch’, which sits behind your public facing campaign. So before we launched, I sent the dummy version of our campaign to cinema and distribution friends, with a ‘give us a fiver’ plea. The emphasis here was on moral support, and a public show of hands.

I deliberately left film press contacts off this email list. I asked them instead to share the campaign far and wide, and if possible to get us a share from their public platform. People get hassled non-stop for support for crowdfund projects, so it pays to be quite tailored in what you ask of people! Don’t ask everyone for everything: some favours are more valuable than a pledge.

We also had some friends of the cinema who were lined up to pledge larger amounts, and were happy to be asked to do this whenever the campaign needed a bit of momentum. People like to be part of a success story so you need to be prepared to orchestrate that a little bit.

One final thing: the three largest pledges we got (apart from the Mayor’s Fund pledge) were all anonymous and completely out of the blue. There are angels out there!

The fron of a brick cinema, which reads 'I am a cinema, love me' on the front. The readograph reads: Screen 2 Funded! Thanks to our communty. #LexiVirtual. Free to all
Lexi readograph Thank You message
Inspiration vs perspiration

On a major fundraising project, you can never forget that you’re trying to appeal to two different groups of people simultaneously. For your existing customers, friends and family you’ll need an upbeat, inspiring pitch: ‘Our project is cool and you already love us, so please come and be part of it!’. But for your Mayor’s Fund pitch, for larger funding bodies or for those who might not know your cinema already, a different tone is required, describing in factual detail the benefits for the whole area: what will be delivered, for who and why it’s needed.

For the Lexi team, this is where the lessons we’d learned from writing bids came in really useful. When we started building our crowdfunder we’d already been turned down for two major grants, and were still waiting for the decision on our second shot at the NCIL fund. But these rejections actually worked in our favour, because each time we were forced to rewrite and refine our vision for the Hub, and to carry out even more research to back up our bid.

From RAS data we discovered that the level of cultural engagement in our borough was very low compared to the rest of London and the UK. Reading census data helped us understand the population of our borough, and through speaking to senior council officers we learned that among their main concerns were deprivation, the challenges facing our youth and adult social care. Not all of this information made its way into our crowdfunder, but it informed our story at every level.

This is the sort of extra mile you should expect to travel when planning a large fundraising project. But it also means that not only will you be better prepared for your campaign, you’ll also know more about your local community, their realities and their needs.

Rosie Greatorex is the Cinema and Programme Director at the Lexi Cinema. She’s available for advice sessions on fundraising, volunteer management and all aspects of running a cinema via Film London’s AE Scheme.

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