The Rainmakers: John Bailey of Saint Paul Tool Library

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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The Saint Paul Tool Library gives neighbor-members low-cost access to over a thousand home improvement tools, as well as skill-building classes and workshops. Last summer, its mastermind, John Bailey, shared the story of the library with ioby readers in this Awesome Project post.

We recently spoke with John again to ask exactly how he and his team raised over $13,000 on ioby to open the library’s doors (to great fanfare) this past March.


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Q: Who was on your fundraising team?

Smart people will tell you that you need a fundraising committee—and they’re right! But we were a really small group: just six or eight committed people; the library’s “advisory committee.” None of us really had a history in fundraising, so we just kind of went for it. I picked up a little know-how in my years with nonprofits, but I would have loved for someone on the team to have more experience. What are you gonna do? We did the best we could with what we had, and it’s not a hard science. It’s really just hustling and connecting.

We did know enough to use this advice we got from others: make personal appeals. Send an email out, sure, but then you have to follow it up with a personal ask, or it won’t be successful.

We were a random group with different skillsets. A full-time commercial airline pilot; some people in the “maker” world; others motivated by sustainability or do-gooding community stuff. The idea of a tool library appeals to people in different ways: they like the social justice angle, or the environmental stewardship angle, or the “I’m just a crazy tool-head and want to be around tools all the time” angle. It was great to have a mix of people; it added tremendous value. Think of it as concentric circles, expanding your network outward.


Q: Were you already comfortable with asking for money?

I’m pretty comfortable doing it, but our ace in the hole with this project was that everybody likes the idea! No one says, “A tool library is something I would never use.” It’s not contentious like a bike lane might be. So there’s a very clean segue between the idea and the motivation to give. If you like the project, great—then you’ve got to donate money to make it happen.

But for many people, asking for money is not a comfortable thing, so we tried to promote accountability on our team. We’d make a plan to make calls, then ask if people made them. We didn’t tap anyone’s phones to check!, but we would follow up with them. We’re all busy, and this is all volunteer work, and things do drop to the bottom of the to-do list. So you all have to stay accountable.

And use your whole network. Some people you know will want to support a community project; some will just want to support you. You can get money either way, but again, it will never happen with emails alone. It has to be a more personal ask.


Q: How did you plan your fundraising?

We got an early contribution of $5,000 for general support and a $5,000 challenge grant from the Knight Foundation; the challenge money is part of the $13,822 we raised on ioby. We were lucky to get those.

We also had a big leg up via the Northeast Minneapolis Tool Library (NEMTL), who we partnered with from the start. We just looked at their first-year budget and plugged our own numbers in to estimate our costs.

Since most all our donors were from our own personal networks, we didn’t put together a donor database. We didn’t even have personal goals for our team like, “I’m going to raise X amount this month.” It was just: “You know what you gotta do. Just call your people every week.” We also emphasized the basic math. If you have the time to go out and get lots of $10 donations, great. But if you know one person who might give $400, then spend your serious time and effort on them. Not to sound elitist, but usually a big check is better than a small check.

Also, we worked with a videographer who’s done a lot of crowdfunding work. He knew the terrain, so he suggested things like the different levels of giving, when to send out appeals, etc. There’s a bit of an art to it, and he was able to walk us through it. And because he earned a percentage of the money we raised, there was a built-in incentive for him to do a good job!


Q: How did storytelling factor in?

Having the video was great for storytelling. Great for us, I should say, but as videos have become more accessible, the bar for “good” has become higher. Anybody can do it now, but that doesn’t mean it always looks good! We did well to hire a professional.

The main thing we wanted the video to do was have other members of the community tell our story for us. We got a handful of very personal narratives responding to the question: “What would a tool library mean for you?” We got people of different ethnicities and genders; entrepreneurs to homeowners to an organization that serves formerly incarcerated men… We showed that the idea is not just a white middle class environmental thing. We made four or five 30-second videos early on and released them week by week during the campaign. They got really good reactions from our donors. We didn’t have the time or money to have a website—but that’s where ioby came in. The ioby campaign page was like our business card.


Q: What methods did you use to ask people?

On social media, we were basically on Facebook and Twitter; more on the former. Nothing more complicated than that. Facebook has become more “pay to play;” I think it’s at least  $5 to boost one of your posts. But that $5 can mean the difference between 50 people and all your connections seeing it. Making that small investment dramatically increased our donations.

We also did a crowdfunding launch at a brewery in town, which was great for getting press, and we made a fair amount of money there. You’re almost by definition going to get supporters at an event like that. It’s good to get people to give when they’re excited in the moment, rather than give them time to think about it when they get home. We had iPads circulating around and encouraged people to just do it then, when they were surrounded by it—and enjoying a beer.

On our team, we stressed making phone calls over reaching out to people in person. In total, I think we had 85 or 90 donors, but they weren’t all personally known to us. We promoted the heck out of this campaign, so it definitely got out in the ether. The total number of people was more surprising to me than the amount any one donor gave, though a couple of people did give more than we predicted.


Q: Did fundraising help with community buy-in?

For sure. We always sold this as a community endeavor, a community project. Much more a transformational than a transactional thing. One of the easy ways to think about it is: We want to do this, so we need to pay for it. There was nothing hidden about the costs: we were very upfront and it was easy for everyone to understand where the money was going.

I do believe that if you’re serious about the stuff you’re trying to do, you’ll raise the money to do it. You can’t say: “I don’t like raising money, I just like to do the stuff.” That doesn’t make sense to me. You want to do the stuff, you have to raise the money!


Q: Any other advice?

If you have the opportunity to go for a challenge grant, don’t roll your eyes! Initially my thought was, “Come on, I just want the money! I don’t want to have to go through this challenge thing…” But people dig the idea of their money being doubled. So take advantage of that and play it up.

If you’re able to do a good, pithy video, invest in it. Make sure it’s not too long, though—that’s just wasted money and time. People won’t watch it and it won’t help you. And don’t have it just be you talking into the camera! And if you can’t do something good, don’t do anything at all. Not having a video is not the end of the world, either.

People like being asked. Our perception of fundraising can be: “I was cooking dinner and Greenpeace called me and I burned my food! It’s so annoying!” Or you get asked for money for something random at the grocery store and don’t know what to say. But when we’re asked by someone we know, it’s flattering. It’s saying: “I’ve thought about you and I know you would care about this.” It implicitly suggests, “I hold you in high regard.”