The Rainmakers: Frampton Tolbert of Center for Urban Pedagogy

While the average budget for ioby projects is around $4,000, many are larger scale. If you have your sights set high, your budget—and fundraising skills—will have to rise to the challenge.

Crowdfunding large amounts of money on ioby is totally doable, but it takes some extra planning. In our Rainmakers series, we’re sharing stories and tips from Leaders who have successfully raised $10,000 or more for their ioby campaign. Learn how they did it, and how you can do it, too!

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“We wanted to support a Center for Urban Pedagogy Youth Education project for 15 high school students to investigate a social justice issue in their community,” says ioby Leader Frampton Tolbert of his project Bronx Students Investigate Transit Pricing, which took place in New York City two summers ago.

This Awesome Project post explains how the students researched the topic and interviewed local decision makers to produce their own documentary video. Below, Frampton gives us the inside scoop on how he and his team crowdfunded over $12,000 to launch the project.


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Q: Who was on your fundraising team?

We were about 20 people total, all board members and staff from my organization, the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP).

It was interesting to see some board members get really engaged with this project who may not be as engaged with our other fundraising efforts. I think they really just loved the idea. Then there were some who didn’t get so engaged with this one, probably because youth education is not their primary interest.

I found that our most successful fundraisers weren’t necessarily the people who had the most experience raising money—it was those who had the most enthusiasm for the project. Having a team this large and diverse let people who aren’t that comfortable with fundraising participate and really shine, and I think they enjoyed that.


Q: Were you already comfortable with asking for money?

As CUP’s Chief Development Officer, I myself was pretty comfortable with it! Especially when it came to securing the initial seed funding. When that was done, and I saw the group’s level of enthusiasm, I basically left it to them to move the campaign forward. Beside reminding people of what needed to be done, I didn’t have to do a lot of follow-up.

The advice we gave our team was: “No gift is too small.” There’s always that hesitancy and concern: “I can’t ask my friends; I don’t feel comfortable…” But for this kind of project, unlike some others we’ve done, even five dollars is amazing. It actually makes a difference. It’s not usually a big deal to ask someone for five dollars, and if we have thousands of donors giving five dollars apiece, we’ll reach our goal. That attitude made our staff feel more comfortable asking, and made donors feel better about giving, even if they weren’t giving a lot. I think that accounts at least somewhat for the fact that we had a lot of first-time donors, and a lot of people who are not local to NYC. The latter couldn’t attend the events we organized around the project, and didn’t necessarily want to become regular donors to CUP, but they loved this idea and we let them know we would appreciate their donation regardless, even if it was small.

I don’t have a lot of familiarity with other crowdfunding platforms so I’m not sure if this is common, but I liked that ioby allows people to give anonymously; some people really appreciate that. The downside is that acknowledgement and follow-up are more difficult when you don’t know who someone is! Even if they give a first name and last initial, in some cases: everyone knows a John R! We didn’t actually have too much trouble with that, but I remember it came up.


Q: How did you plan your fundraising?

CUP organizes five after-school intensive programs per year, so we’ve developed a pretty standard budget for how much they cost. This one was in the neighborhood of $20K to $25K. We had a grant from an erstwhile city program that provided some funding but would not support the whole thing, so we knew we would need to raise some additional funds. We had never done a crowdfunding campaign before, though we had talked about it. We loved the ioby platform and the whole model of the organization, so we decided to try it.

We started with a round of seed funding to secure some support before we went online; that way, the first ioby donors could see we already had some backing. The seed phase consisted of a targeted letter campaign to a small group of individuals identified by our board and staff.

Then we sent a message out to our entire email list, and then we asked every team member to make their own individual list. We didn’t ask to see their lists or say, “Did you email so-and-so?,” but we would all let each other know when someone had donated, and we did ask people to follow up when we got pledges that were not fulfilled.

Everyone on the team managed their own fundraising tasks, for the most part. We didn’t have defined roles, like, “We’re going to send out this many emails this week; we have this goal to meet by Friday,” etc. We did have a plan for how the whole campaign would roll out, and we offered information and resources about the project for people to share with their contacts, but each team member pretty much made their own work plan. Happily, people really just volunteered to do whatever was needed.


Q: How did storytelling factor in?

It was huge. We took a lot of photos of the students in action during the program—interviewing stakeholders, working together in groups, etc—and posted them regularly on our website and ioby campaign page, and in email updates to donors. That gave the students some good affirmation as the project continued, and it served as a way to walk donors—both potential and past—through the project and let them watch the students’ progress. That was crucial because it connected the abstract premise of the project with reality. It stops being, “We’re raising money for an education program,” and becomes, “This is what your support looks like. This is why you should donate.”

At the end of the project, we held an event where students presented their work. From the beginning, we had advertised that donors would be invited to attend, which I believe was a selling point. Maybe for some projects it works to say, “Okay, fundraising is done, we’re going to start the project, see you later!” But for us, staying in touch and continuing to tell the story and involve people was a key to success.  


Q: What methods did you use to ask people?

Our board and staff made a lot of asks on social media. Their connections were apt to know and have a good feeling about our organization generally—even if they weren’t regular donors—which helped us engage them around this specific project idea more easily. Several board members told me they were surprised by how much their network stepped up. I think social media turned out to be the number one outreach method for us.

Some board members also sent personal emails, and a few made phone calls. CUP itself sent a mass email to our whole mailing list—6,000 or 7,000 people—every two weeks, and that brought some donations. In the future, we might think about segmenting that list to reach different audiences, but this time, everyone on the list saw every ask.


Q: Did fundraising help with community buy-in?

Absolutely. We worked to make sure people would feel some connection to this specific project and these specific students and their experience. Sometimes with our projects, people know the format and know the end result will be great, but this time they got to see the process unfold, too. They got to see exactly how they helped to create this positive impact. A public crowdfunding platform is great for showing people more than they would usually get to see about a project, whether they donated or not. Also, staying in touch with our followers and donors helped us to see who was most interested: you can see who likes something, who comments, who shares.


Q: Any other advice?

– Create as large a network as possible to make your asks. Don’t say, “These five people are good fundraisers” and give it all to them. The broader your network, the better.

– Story and specifics are crucial. Even if you have a lovely, amazing idea, if it’s not tangible, it won’t grab people if you don’t tell a story about it. Add as many details as possible: we said “high schools in the Bronx,” not just “schools.”

Boost your posts on Facebook to get more coverage. Boosting helped us reach people who are interested in transit issues as well as in youth education. We wouldn’t have reached nearly as many of the transit folks if we hadn’t done that.

– Timing is really important. Have the project kick off right at the end of the campaign, if at all possible; try not to wait two months before doing anything public. This helps people feel a sense of urgency: if the campaign ends on August 15 and your project starts on August 15, they know they need to give by August 15. It also strengthens the sense of continuity between the campaign and the project.

– Stay in touch. Don’t let your “Thanks for donating” email be the last time you connect with a donor. Keep them engaged by keeping them in the loop.


New news: Frampton and his CUP colleagues are back this summer with another ioby campaign, Student civic engagement in the age of Trump. Have a look!