The Dos and Don’ts Of Fundraising From Charles Best, Tim Ferriss, And Alexis Ohanian

Crowdfunding is more than holding out a hand–it’s a balance of finesse and expertise. Know your stuff, be precise, and don’t freak out: The advice of three crowdfunding masters.

The Dos and Don’ts Of Fundraising From Charles Best, Tim Ferriss, And Alexis Ohanian
[Image: Flickr user Jenifer Corrêa]

When Charles Best and Tim Ferriss met on the wrestling mat in high school, they never imagined they’d be crowdfunding titans. Joined by Alexis Ohanian, Reddit cofounder and fellow crowdfunding champion, they shared insights on the world of fundraising during last week’s live chat. Here are four commandments from these experts of crowdfunding.


Don’t sweat the small stuff

When you’re throwing your soul into a cause, little details seem huge. Don’t spend your energy on nebulous worries like idea-theft and timelines. “Ideas are cheap. Run the best campaign you can,” says Ohanian. “Don’t fret about keeping the duration short. You’re gonna have to out-execute anyone anyway.”

Do build a community

In the beginning, Best turned to food bribery: bringing colleagues homemade cookies to motivate them to start projects in their classrooms. He hasn’t lost sight of the value of small rewards: Classrooms still give vivid feedback to donors who give as little as a dollar, says Best. And from the start, surround yourself with mentors. Tailor asks to their interests, rather than casting a wide, shallow net for help, Best says. “Present your organization/service as a means by which an advisor can achieve their own objectives,” says Ferriss.

Be specific and serious about your goals. “Good advisors are almost always, by definition, busy. If you don’t make things precise, they’ll tend to put you on the back burner, in my experience.” And don’t forget to tell them when you’ve taken their advice; don’t rob your mentors of the joy of seeing their advice in action.

Don’t reinvent the wheel

Find case studies that worked–such as Soma’s $100,000 funding in 10 days–and hack into how they did it. The formula, says Ferriss: “Good homework on past successful campaigns, and targeted hustle based on that.” Be hyper-specific about what makes your campaign stand out and what it can do for those writing the donation checks.

Do be bold

“Be open to experimenting,” says Ohanian. For the Rally to Restore Sanity in 2010, Redditors got Stephen Colbert’s attention with half a million dollar to his favorite nonprofit, DonorsChoose. “I never could’ve predicted it would have taken off, that’s the magic of the connected web. Even from my seat, I can’t see where it’s all headed.”

Don’t hesitate to approach other nonprofits and fundraisers for advice as well, says Ferriss–even if they’re out of your league. “Remember that the worst thing that’ll happen is they’ll say no,” Ohanian adds. “But lead with that passion and show that you’ve been able to channel it into getting stuff done, which is what people want to see–accountability and results.”

About the author

Freelance tech, science and culture writer. Find Sam on the Internet: @samleecole.