First State Military Academy (FSMA) needed $25,000 for an obstacle course but had no funds available in their operating budget and had $0 to pay upfront for fundraising. So, they decided to crowdfund. They launched a GoFundMe campaign and raised less than 6% of their goal in eight months. Then they launched a USEED campaign and raised $33,310 in 30 days because of USEED"s systematic approach to fundraising coupled with the level of training and support they received. Now, FSMA feels confident in their ability to successfully crowdfund for future projects.
As a Marine Junior Reserve Officer Training Corp, FSMA required a professional marine obstacle course to fulfill their mission requirements for physical fitness. The course cost $25,000.00, however, they did not have the funds available in their operating budget, and funding for capital projects is extremely limited, especially because opponents of the Charter School movement have masterfully blocked most funding avenues. Thus, FSMA decided to pursue crowdfunding.
First State Military Academy is a Delaware charter school affiliated with the U.S. Marine Corp. Established in 2014, FSMA educates grades 9-11, with grade 12 being added in the 2017/18 school year.
The First Attempt
GoFundMe is a well-known crowdfunding platform that allows people to publish their cause online and receive donations. It was one of the few platforms FSMA was aware of, so they recorded a video appeal and hosted a campaign on Gofundme.
With an active campaign underway, the promise of an obstacle course started to become more of a reality for the FSMA community. However, after eight months they had only raised $1,350.00 of their $25,000 goal.
"We believed the big lie in crowdfunding: Just put up an appeal and the crowd will fund you." With only 22 supporters it became clear that this approach, while popular, was not going to result in the celebration of a successful campaign. As a charter school, it was critical that FSMA fulfilled their promise. If they failed to live up to the expectations they had set, their community would lose faith in their ability to effectuate their mission as an institution, inevitably leading to a decline in enrollment.
Eight months into a failing campaign, FSMA was at risk of having to say farewell to the obstacle course, to every student's meaningful experience developing physical agility and mental resilience on the course, as well as a revenue-generating and community-strengthening opportunity to have local first responders - the Army National Guard, the Air Force Reserve and other local ROTC Raider teams - use the course. In need of assistance, one of the school's founders, Command Master Chief Charles Baldwin, offered to help FSMA raise the funds they needed.
CMC Baldwin - currently retired - served as Command Master Chief of an aircraft carrier with over 3000 personnel in the crew and another 3000 attached to the Air Wing.
He recognized the need for a more predictable approach to fundraising - failure was not an option.
He sought out a system that would define the path to fundraising success, and in his pursuit of a solution, he found USEED. Using the same video appeal that was used for their GoFundMe campaign, FSMA and CMC Baldwin followed USEED's process and raised $33,310 from 166 supporters in 30 days.
Parents, staff, and members of FSMA's leadership team were led through the logistics of running a successful crowdfunding campaign by a USEED Campaign Success Manager. CMC Baldwin remarked that "the training was very easy to follow."
The fundraisers were leery at first, especially after their experience with GoFundMe, but after they built their page and began their outreach, their excitement began to spread. Following USEED's crowdfunding methodology, FSMA raised 20% of their goal in 3 days.
However, even with a clear connection between USEED's process and winning donations, some of the fundraisers still sent out generic emails to distribution lists. "I had someone send out 400 emails and get 0 responses, " CMC Baldwin recalled. Understanding the value of following a proven system, CMC Baldwin emailed the people that were sending out impersonal emails to mass lists and explained to them USEED's outreach process. The campaign took off shortly after.
After Week 1, the campaign raised 50% of its goal.
"There were 2-3 days where no money was coming in and then I received a prompt from USEED to send a particular type of message out and suddenly money was coming in again," CMC Baldwin explained.
By the end of Week 2, FSMA had reached their goal.
Skeptical of the whole "crowdfunding thing" at first, after the campaign ended, CMC Baldwin reflected on his experience with USEED with an eye towards how else he could now use crowdfunding for future projects:
"It is hard to overestimate the impact of this campaign on strengthening the emotional commitment of the school's leadership, parents, staff, and students to the success of this young institution. They all correctly feel "We did it!" The next campaign, a Bermuda Grass field, will have an even broader base of support."