7 fundraising strategies for grids

I have served on my share of non-profit boards. Still do, as a matter of fact.

And most of these nonprofits have one thing in common: they spend money. Sorry, they have two things in common: they also raise money.

In fact, raising money is usually a core function of the nonprofit’s board of directors.

So when I got an email from one non-profit grid a couple of days ago, worried about how they were find money for growth, I realized that I haven’t covered any grid fundraising efforts.

Maybe it’s because I’m tired and missed those announcements. Or maybe they got caught in my spam filter. Or maybe… maybe most of OpenSim’s nonprofit grids are run by technologists who focus on keeping the systems running and by community managers focused on serving their constituents, and they’re paying for technology out of their own pockets, or from the unsolicited donations that come in.

If that’s the case, then I’d like to offer some ideas for grid fundraisers, and some basic info about how non-profit fundraising works.

1. It’s all a numbers game

When you reach out to people asking for money, most will ignore you. That’s okay, that’s the way the world works. The solution is to reach out to more people more often, and to get more money out of those people who you get through to.

Some people are going to give more and some will give less. That’s okay. Some people have more money, or value the grid higher for a personal or a business reason. No judging. Just factor it in, and offer a selection of tiers for people to contribute at.

Most people are going to contribute at the lowest tier, but some are going to contribute at the highest one. You need both kind of donors, and donors who start out making small donations may well end up becoming some of your biggest contributors as time goes on.

Here is a sample breakdown of how donations would come in for a campaign that gets a 1.5 percent response rate from 20,000 people:

Support tiers

How do you know how many people are going to contribute at each level? By going out and asking them for money, and seeing what happened. The more often you do this, the better of a sense of a donor base you’ll get.

It’s also a good idea to run experiments. If, say, you’re sending out a fundraising email to 20,000 recipients, set up two different tier schemes and see which performs better.

Some things to try out:

  • How does changing the “Friends” or “Patrons” tiers affect fundraising? Do more people contribute if the amount is less?
  • Does adding more tiers in the middle make people donate more — or does it just confuse them?
  • Does the wording make a difference in response rates?
  • What about the choice of graphics or colors?

2. Annual Campaign

Most non-profits have at least one big annual mailing that goes out to all potential donors, using the strategy outlined above.

Increase the campaign’s effectiveness by linking it to a beloved holiday season, like … Halloween. And amplify it with in-world events, website ads, and social media outreach.

Halloween on OSGrid in 2009. (Photo by Ziah Zhangsun.)
Halloween on OSGrid in 2009. (Photo by Ziah Zhangsun.)

3. Building Brick Campaign

This is a good fundraiser for infrastructure projects. Build a wall or a walkway or a garden wall or gazebo or something like that on your grid’s welcome region or in a visible location on the new continent or facility.

Sell each brick for a certain amount. Sell large, gold bricks for more money. In fact, you can use a similar set of tiers as in the first example.

Put the donor’s name or organization on each brick. Then, when the project is finished, to save on load times, replace the textures on the individual bricks with one large texture that includes all the signatures or printed names.

This is a good infrastructure project to do because you can have a party when it’s finished, and people will feel good about contributing to a good cause, and they can appreciate it whenever they use that structure.

Plus, donors will have a permanent reminder up about their donation — which will make them feel more connected to the grid and more likely to donate again later.

What this Linda Kellie Welcome Center region needs is a commemorative wall.
What this Linda Kellie Welcome Center region needs is a commemorative wall.

4. Themed Calendars

Yes, people still raise money with calendars because people still buy calendars, for themselves, or for friends and relatives when they don’t know what else to give them.

If your grid’s calendar has a particular theme every year — Handsome Hunks of Nara’s Nook, for example — then people will start expecting it every year and will make their gift-giving plans accordingly.

A grid known for its music scene could produce a calendar of concert photographs — and hold a contest for its residents to submit their best snapshots. The calendar would then serve several purpose at once. It would allow residents to showcase their creativity, allow the grid to showcase its performers, and, of course, raise money for infrastructure.

A grid known for its arts could similarly do a calendar showcasing its artists.

5. Contests, Auctions, and Parades

Every major grid has some kind of annual celebration, whether its birthday anniversary, or the winter holidays, or Oktoberfest. Pick one as the primary fundraising event create activities in the spirit of the occasion that also bring in money for the grid.

That could be a building contest that has a fee to enter, or a fundraising auction where in-world creators donate goods for a good cause. Or it could be a parade where, again, groups pay a free to enter a float.

Fashion shows, concerts, sailing regattas — anything where participants or attendees usually pay an entrance fee can become a fundraiser for a grid.

6. Fees and ads

Grids can also charge users to connect regions, or charge hosting companies to advertise on the grid’s website, splash page, or welcome region.

Grids need to be careful about this, however, because it could interfere with a grid’s primary mission.

For example, if a grid’s mission as a nonprofit is to make OpenSim as accessible as possible for as many people as possible, then connection fees may discourage potential residents.

Similarly, ads for hosting companies may create the feeling that the grid is promoting some hosting companies at the expense of others or is “going commercial.” On the other hand, residents might understand that a grid needs money to pay for servers, and not mind at all.

Pop-up campaigns

I hate to say this, but pop up ads, when used sparingly, can work very well.

Some ideas for using pop-ups to get people to donate:

  • Change the messages frequently. Ask for money for specific projects, or in connection to specific holidays or seasons, to celebrate milestones, and to ask for money for emergencies.
  • Change the graphics and colors, as well, so that your residents don’t start tuning them out.
  • Have the pop-ups appear rarely — a visitor should only see a particular message just once or twice, so that it doesn’t get annoying.
  • Make the pop-ups more effective by echoing the same message on in-world billboards, on the grid’s splash page or home page, in forum posts, and on social media.
Maria Korolov