How to Crowdfund Your Hike
Inspire your community AND fund your dream.
One year ago, I launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise the $7,000 I needed to quit my low-paying nonprofit job and attempt a flip-flop through-hike of the Appalachian Trail. Well, not only was the campaign 100% funded in the first week, but I ended up raising almost 20% more than my goal!
As amazing as that sounds, crowdfunding isn’t actually a very easy way to make a few bucks. A successful crowdfunding campaign depends on a ton of work in advance of your launch.
Above: a graphic from my crowdfunding campaign page.
Back in February of 2016, I hired my brilliant videographer friend and crowdfunding marketing guru Michael Zeligs from Start Motion Media to help me create a successful campaign strategy.
Here is what I learned about how to crowdfund your hike:
1. Start storytelling on social media months before you launch your crowdfunding campaign.
Yeah, you’re super stoked to be embarking on a long hike–and your community will be, too, if you invite them to live vicariously through you. By building up excitement for your hike on social media in the weeks (or, preferably, months) leading up to your crowdfunding campaign launch, keep in mind that what you are actually doing is reminding your audience that they deserve to follow their dreams, too.
Think about your favorite people to follow on, say, Instagram. Maybe they post incredible photos of their adventures in nature. As you’re standing in line at the grocery store or waiting for the mechanic to finish rotating your tires, you’re scrolling through their feeds, dreaming about the places you are glimpsing in those photos. You’re momentarily escaping day-to-day life and feeling inspired, reminding yourself that you deserve to spend time in nature over the weekend (…or for 4-6 months…).
In order to inspire your social media audience and effectively “prime” them for the launch of your crowdfunding campaign, here are some posting suggestions:
- Don’t be afraid to vulnerable. Write openly about your trepidations. You’re about to embark on a crazy-hard journey filled with unknowns. Give your audience permission to feel and move through their own fears about tackling their big dreams by witnessing you working through yours.
- Document your training hikes. Take lots of beautiful photos and videos of you coming alive in nature.
- Ask your community for gear recommendations. People love being invited to participate by giving you advice.
- Take pictures of you sporting your gear as you get it, and express your excitement/gratitude for these precious few items that are going to travel across a continent with you.
Above: a dorky gear pic I posted to social media last year.
2. Email everyone you know and tell them about your dream weeks before you ask them for money.
That might sound like a lot of work…because it is.
Six weeks before the launch of my campaign, I literally spent five entire days going through all of my contact lists and Facebook friends. Then, I sent one-on-one emails and messages to ask people how they were doing and to tell them about my plan to through-hike the Appalachian Trail in search of my life purpose. I sent out close to 1,000 emails and messages, and heard back from maybe 400 people. Then, I individually responded to every single person who engaged me in conversation.
Though it was tedious, it was also a heck of a lot of fun. I was genuinely excited to reconnect with both old and new friends and acquaintances. I loved hearing what people were up to; I loved writing about what I was hoping to get out of my pilgrimage on the Appalachian Trail; and I loved hearing the advice and encouragement that people shared with me.
In these initial emails, I NEVER, NOT ONCE mentioned that I was planning on launching a crowdfunding campaign. I simply focused on connecting with people, sharing with them my joy, excitement and fears about my impending journey.
Tip: In thinking about who to reach out to from your communities and extended networks, here are a few suggestions for groupings of people to reconnect with:
- people with whom you went to elementary, middle, high school and college.
- people with whom you did extracurricular activities growing up.
- families that your family was connected to growing up.
- people who have worked with you at each of the jobs you’ve ever had.
3. When designing your campaign, remember that it’s not actually about you.
Your campaign page language and campaign video are not really about your hike. As I said earlier, the most successful stories are those that inspire others to take action and pursue their dreams.
In your story, you are the main character–the “hero” in the Hero’s Journey. To your audience, you represent their “higher self”–the person they know they could be if they faced their fears, stepped away from what is comfortable, and challenged themselves to grow towards the version of themselves they wish to become.
So, instead of framing your crowdfunding campaign ask as a plea for money (“Please help me pay for my hike!”), your campaign is an invitation to join a community of people who are committed to manifesting their dreams. (“What are you dreaming of? Join me in committing to making our dreams a reality.”)
4. Create crowdfunding campaign perks that you will want to fulfill.
Crowdfunding campaign perks provide strong incentive for your audience to participate in your campaign. Just make sure your perks are ones that you can commit to fulfilling before, during and/or after your hike. These should be gifts or acts of service that you are genuinely excited to give to your supporters. During my solo through-hike, perk fulfillment brought me a comforting sense of community in times of loneliness.
Some crowdfunding campaigns offer stickers, hats, t-shirts, posters, etc. Because of my campaign’s transformative theme, my perks were less material and more inspirational.
Here were some of the crowdfunding campaign perks that I offered:
- $5 Contribution – “Inbox Inspiration”
Receive email alerts when I publish a video blog post on my YouTube channel during the journey.
- $20 Contribution – “Follow Your Heart” e-Book
Enjoy an e-book I wrote based on the questions, reflections and realizations I’ve been pondering before my journey.
- $40 Contribution – Mountaintop Intention Setting*
Email me your vision or life purpose, and I will focus on it while climbing a peak on the trail. At the top, I’ll set an intention for you to manifest it. Then, I will take a picture of the spot and send it to you with encouragement to take steps towards your dream.
- $50 Contribution – Handwritten Trailside Letter*
Enjoy a good old-fashioned letter from the trail with lessons learned from the pilgrimage.
- $75 Contribution – Personalized Trailside Video*
Send me your vision or a life question you’ve been sitting with, and I will film myself reflecting on it and encouraging your dream from a beautiful spot on the trail.
- $150 Contribution – “Life Purpose” Coaching Call
Receive a “Life Purpose” sharing and coaching call from the trail. I’ll draw from what I’ve learned on my personal journey to help you tap into your heart’s deepest longing.
*Popular perks that sold out quickly.
5. Three or so weeks before your campaign launch, start asking your community for feedback on your campaign page.
This is the time to start telling all those people you reached out to a few weeks ago that you are about to launch a crowdfunding campaign for your journey.
You are still not asking them for money. You are asking for their participation in making your campaign page better.
Contact all of the people you have been in conversation with over the past few weeks and send them the link to your crowdfunding campaign page. People love to be asked for advice and feedback. This ask helps people feel invested in the success of your campaign.
6. Two weeks before your campaign launch, invite everyone to join your community of supporters (and don’t worry about being judged).
This is one of the most difficult parts of this whole process–when you actually start asking people to contribute to your campaign when it launches. Take a deep breath. You are putting yourself out there and being vulnerable by asking for funding. And yes, a few people might scoff at your ask.
I got the silent treatment from several people. I received a few response emails like, “I don’t donate to non-charity causes,” or “Were you just reaching out to me because you want my money?” I also heard about people who were criticizing my campaign video (below) behind my back.
However, the vast majority of my friends, family and acquaintances expressed an overwhelming excitement to participate as well as gratitude for the inspiration to pursue their own dreams. And some people who didn’t want to or couldn’t donate financially to my campaign were supportive in their own ways–I received handwritten letters of support, an invitation to a fancy going-away dinner, an unused REI dividend, and other sweet gestures.
What to remind yourself when you’re feeling uncomfortable about asking people for money:
- If you believe that you are acting in integrity, you don’t need to worry about what other people say or think.
- You are inspiring your audience to tap into their dreams through your crowdfunding campaign and subsequent hike.
- Community is all about “give and take”–the cycle of helping and being helped. Sometimes, you need to ask those around you for help. At other times in your life, you will be in a position to give to those who need help. Embrace this chance to ask for support–just remember to look for opportunities to support others down the line.
7. Ask your family and close friends to fund 20% of your campaign on launch day.
Crowdfunding campaigns are most likely to succeed when they are at least 20% funded in the first 24 hours. This is because people are most excited to contribute to something that is trending. It makes them feel like they are part of a movement that is actually going somewhere.
For this reason, make a list of the top 100 people in your life–close friends, family members, mentors, etc.–and ask them (preferably in person or on the phone) if they would be willing to donate to your campaign in the first 24 hours after it launches. Politely ask them to commit verbally or in writing to a specific donation amount.
Don’t forget to send a reminder email or message on launch day that includes your campaign page link. And be sure to thank these VIP’s for their commitment to being the first to join your community of supporters!
8. After launch, keep all of your communications on the “wins” level.
Congrats! You’ve launched your campaign!
Hopefully it’s going well and you received 20% of your funding in the first 24 hours as planned. But regardless of how your campaign is doing, never send out emails, messages or social media posts “begging” people to help or contribute. All of your communications need to be about “wins” and milestones met, so people see and are enticed by the fact that you are cultivating a successful movement.
For instance, a social media post that says, “Please help fund my hike! My crowdfunding campaign has only 10 days left,” is not going to do as well as one that says, “Wow! Thank you to the x number of people who joined my community of supporters so far. There are still 10 days left to join us!” Tagging your contributors to show your gratitude may also entice new supporters. (Social media is an egotistical world, after all.)
9. After your campaign ends, make sure you fulfill the perks.
Congrats! You’ve finished your campaign! (The hardest part of it, at least.)
Hopefully you met your goal (or if you didn’t, I hope you used a crowdfunding platform like Indiegogo that allows you to keep what you earned for a higher fee–learn more about the different crowdfunding platforms). If you do cash in on your supporters’ donations, make sure that you follow through with delivering any perks they ordered from you.
It’s the right thing to do, dude.
10. Have a frickin’ awesome hike. And document it!
You’ve done it! Now it’s time to take that support you’ve received from your community and invest it into your journey.
Don’t forget that your supporters want to stay informed about your progress during your hike. Whether you automatically subscribe them to your blog or simply post updates through the crowdfunding platform you used, make sure you send your community regular updates about your progress, so they can live vicariously through you and your journey. That’s most likely why they supported your campaign, after all!
Above: Me celebrating at Rockfish Gap (just south of Shenandoah National Park) in Virginia, where I started and ended my flip-flop through-hike.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.