Crowdfunding and rewards seemingly go hand in hand. You'll rarely find a project out there that doesn't have some form of reward associated with it.
So is crowdfunding without rewards possible? The answer is yes, it is. Campaigns that are aimed at raising funds for a hot button issue or cause, or for an open source product or ones that have significant media exposure can be carried out successfully without rewards.
So what sort of campaigns should you create if your rewards aren't very enticing? Is the campaign you have in mind still viable and can you pull it off? To understand this better, we need to first look at why rewards even exist.
The Science Behind Rewards
Why do so many crowdfunding campaigns include rewards almost by default? The simple answer is that most campaigns don't provide any tangible monetary benefits to their backers. The only exception to this is equity crowdfunding.
As the name suggests, backers of equity crowdfunding campaigns receive a stake in the company they're backing. However, we're not here to discuss the ins and outs of that method of raising money.
A regular crowdfunding campaign, be it for a product or for a cause, gives backers a warm and fuzzy feeling and that's about it. Well, guess what?
That's not enough!
While most people don't expect financial benefit, they do want to know that you appreciate their backing. This is why companies such as Kickstarter encourage you to come with innovative reward ideas.
Occasionally, campaign creators get a little too creative so they even have a list of prohibited reward items.
The idea behind offering a reward is to show your community of backers that you care about them and to show them how valuable they are. After all, your backers are your customers as well. Giving them a token of appreciation is a good thing to do.
Receiving a reward also sets off a rush of dopamine in our brains. Dopamine is a hormone that is a part of our innate reward system. Once it is generated, we want to perform the action that created it over and over again.
Hence, if you give your audience a reward for giving you money, you're conditioning them to come back some other day and give you money once again. This is pretty much how all forms of marketing work.
If you're dead set on not offering rewards though or if they don't really fit your campaign approach, can you still make it work? Well, it does work for some specific types of campaigns.
How to Make it Work
For starters, some platforms such as Kickstarter do not offer you the option to run a campaign without offering rewards. You are free to create rewards that aren't really all that enticing of course, but your campaign page will have the rewards section prominently present.
The key to getting such campaigns to work is to understand the motivations of your audience, backwards. There are many people out there who are more than willing to donate their money for a cause they believe in.
I'm not talking about just charitable campaigns. Open source software is a topic of passionate discussion in the software development world. Another example is the indie author category of the book publishing world.
There are many audiences out there and your first step should be to figure out if your chosen one fits the bill.
The next step is to craft your pitch and message. It is best to hire the services of a professional who understands how to construct the best pitch for your campaign.
Generally speaking, the following types of campaigns tend to do well with minimal rewards. Even if your current campaign doesn't initially fit into these categories, consider altering your message so as to be in line with them.
#1- The Charitable Cause
This one is pretty obvious. Charitable donors never expect rewards since the act of giving is a reward by itself. Keep in mind that charitable causes can involve the development of a product or a service.
For example, a lot of charitable crowdfunding campaigns involve the building of a school or some other facility. Some involve the development of software that will assist those in need and so on.
If your product has the capacity to fulfill such a need, consider changing the messaging of your campaign.
Obviously, the motive here isn't to make money but to put it towards a good cause. You will have to be transparent about your motives and if you intend to withdraw money for your own purposes during the campaign.
Not being transparent will lead to a ton of potential legal issues down the road so you want to be careful with this.
The bottom line is, if you feel that the rewards you're offering aren't a great fit or if they just won't fit into the traditional 'reward' category, consider switching the tone of your campaign to make it work.
#2- Outrageous Humor
This one is extremely difficult to pull off and to be frank, it requires a dose of luck. However, it has been done successfully and these sorts of campaigns usually end up going viral.
A supreme example of this is the world famous potato salad campaign on Kickstarter a few years ago. Take a look at the rewards on offer and you'll notice that they're all a part of the joke.
Turning a serious product based campaign into something like might seem impossible at first. Truth be told, it is close to impossible to do it successfully.
However, with the right dose of humor and with the right type of marketing, who knows, you could pull it off!
#3- Open Source Development
Open source software is an issue that many developers are quite passionate about. You can think of open source as being a way developers give back to the community and make the world a better place.
Linux is perhaps the best example of open source software. Developers are free to go in and create their own operating systems and so on.
While this will not apply to most traditional product creators, if you happen to be raising money for a video game or some other software, taking this route might be worth it for you.
If your software happens to be great, you'll also manage to raise your profile in the industry which will fuel your campaigns down the road. So don't rule out going open source with your product.
The key is to be transparent and clearly communicate where the money will go and how you intend on using it. If you intend of paying yourself some amount, disclose this.
It's the least you could do for you backers!
#4- Hot Button Issues
The success of such campaigns requires two factors to come together to create a perfect storm. The first is the issue at hand.
These days a lot of campaigns that are aimed at raising awareness about climate change and saving the ecosystem or the oceans are gaining in popularity. These are issues that all of us care about and it is natural that people want to contribute to them.
If your product contributes towards creating a sustainable future, your rewards don't necessarily need to be the greatest in the world. The combination of giving towards a good cause as well as receiving the product will create enough of a reward for your backers.
The second factor you want to have on your side in order to really make this work is to have some kind of media exposure. I'm talking about more than just Instagram influencers.
Ideally, you should receive exposure in magazines and other popular media outlets that will help drive casual traffic towards your campaign. This will help push your campaign well past the finish line.
This is especially true if your product happens to be somewhat unremarkable. For example, if you're going to be producing bamboo straws, this isn't exactly a groundbreaking thing to do.
However, if you're sourcing them from a village that desperately needs development and if 80% of the profits will go back to the locals, the conversation around your campaign has suddenly changed.
So look at how you can align your campaign's message with a cause or issue that can captivate your audience's minds. You'll often find that in such situations, the rewards are immaterial.
If you simply cannot find a way to align your campaign with any of the choices mentioned above, then consider equity crowdfunding. However, remember that this option comes with a lot of side effects.
There are far greater compliance rules you will need to follow. Then there's the fact that you won't actually receive any money until the campaign promises are fulfilled which defeats the purposes of most campaigns to being with.
All in all, equity crowdfunding should be your nuclear option. Don't do it unless you absolutely have to.
Even then, do all you can to avoid it.
As you can see crowdfunding without rewards, or less than perfect ones, is fully possible. You simply need to tweak your campaign's messaging a little and you'll find that your audience won't care too much about how bad or non existent your rewards are.
Look to inject the right dose of passion into it, and you'll have a successful campaign on your hands!