Back to Basics: The Potato Salad Kickstarter Part II



Part Two of a Two Part Series

Last week we wrote about the infamous potato salad kickstarter, exploring how Zach “Danger” Brown was able to raise over $55,000 to fund his quest to make his first ever potato salad dish. We analyzed the basic fundraising principles Zach utilized throughout his effort. Specifically, Zach’s success in understanding his audience, the importance of deliberate and specific asks and the validation of the timeless “80/20 rule”.

Today’s blog will continue the analysis of the projects unparalleled success by examining what the effort can tell us about three important aspects of the donor acquisition and retention process: stewardship, consensus and transparency.

Stewardship: Noun not a Verb

Many organization struggle to understand the difference between the act of stewardship and the stewardship process. To put it simply, it’s important to understand that ‘thank you’ is merely a part of the stewardship process rather than the sole act of stewardship. A properly executed stewardship process not only recognizes a donor’s gift, but also periodically reports back to the donor as to the impact of their gift and notifies donors of how they can continue to support their cause. A good stewardship plan brings a donor close to an organization as an ‘insider’, creating donor buy-in to the short and long term goals of the organization.

Stewardship helps to tell the organization's story through the eyes of the donor, providing testimonials on how their gift fulfills the mission and sharing progress with supporters as fellow team members. Donors want to feel as though there is a specific solution that only they can activate, and a well-executed stewardship plan brings this reassurance to the donor experience.

Contributors to the potato salad kickstarter embarked upon a journey with Zach. After making their initial contribution, supporters were provided with consistent updates via the kickstarter page. To date, Zach has provided 29 updates, including everything from reward updates for supporters, to media coverage and progress reports. Additionally, the kickstarter page had a button that allowed supporters to “share” the project, providing a sense of ownership to contributors, helping supporters feel like they were invested in the success of the project.

Contributors were also provided with various “rewards” based on their level of support. Every supporter received some sort of thank you ‘reward’ for their participation. From the minimum $1 level, a ‘thank you’ posted to the website and Zack saying your name out loud while making the potato salad, to the highest $110 level, a recipe book, shirt and hat along with a bite of the potato salad.

Many organizations could learn something from Zach’s stewardship plan. While larger supporters were provided with a more comprehensive thank you, every single contributor, regardless of amount, received some sort of acknowledgement. With the goal of renewing support from every contributor, it’s imperative that we focus on contributions at every level.

Consensus Fundraising: Everyone’s Doing It!

Zach’s project exemplifies the importance of community among supporters. Donors want to support something they believe will succeed, and success is largely dependent upon broad support. Never underestimate the power of consensus, or social proof. Human beings have an innate habit of following. This is precisely why social trends exist. By creating a sense of community among a project, organizations will garner more support than by isolating an individual in a solicitation. Just look at the ice bucket challenge. This phenomena was more of a trend than it was a solicitation. People participated because they saw their friends participating… everyone’s doing it!

The potato salad kickstarter page has a realtime ‘backer’ count, notifying every visitor as to how broad the support is. Additionally, the ‘share’ button allowed supporters to build their own community among the project. A potential supporter can visit the kickstarter page today and see that 6,911 other individuals have already contributed to the project.

The most successful fundraising campaigns we see with OmegaFi are the ones that create the sense of community surrounding their effort. When authoring a solicitation letter, it’s important to ask prospects to “join you” in making a gift to the organization. It is also important that the person making the ask (whether in person, by mail or through an online message) have made his or her own gift first. Organizations like the American Red Cross and UNICEF have created a culture of giving by asking individuals to become a part of a larger community through the support of their cause. Remember, there is power in numbers.


With almost one million charitable organizations registered with the IRS, how do you make your specific organization stand out as worthy of support? Donors have reiterated the importance of transparency in regards to charitable operations. The most transparent organizations do a great job providing clarity around the following three areas of concern:

  1. Why should I contribute to your organization?
  2. What will your organization do with my contribution?
  3. How can the public measure the success of the organization in fulfilling its mission?

Transparency goes beyond merely making your 990 available to donors. Potential supporters want a behind-the-scenes look at your organization. Transparency builds trust in an organization, ultimately determining whether or not prospects will contribute to your organization.

The potato salad kickstarter was a very transparent operation. Potential contributors were made aware of what they were supporting, how they could support it, and how their contributions would be used. Additionally, by fulfilling the mission of the project and updating contributors as to the progress, supporters knew exactly what they were supporting and the results of their support.

          Transparency is important in every aspect of the fundraising process.

In solicitations, people will give to organizations they can trust. By illustrating how funds will be used to support their mission, organizations qualify themselves as worthy recipients in the eyes of a donor.

In fulfillment, organizations build trust among their audience by doing what they say they are going to do and by bringing the results directly to the supporters. Contributions are investments in an organization and a mission, and investors want to be informed of the results of their investment.

Finally, by properly acknowledging a contribution and doing so in a timely manner, organizations build trust through the ongoing stewardship process. An organizations ability to clearly articulate what a successful effort looks like allows for a donor to measure the impact their gift had against the organizations mission. A well-executed and transparent operation creates a positive donor experience and encourages future support.

Organizations can easily increase transparency by making their policies and procedures public and publishing the code of ethics and donors bill of rights.

A ridiculous as a potato salad kickstarter may seem, the success of the effort is undeniable. As we push towards a successful fall fundraising effort, let’s ensure that we’re implementing the fundraising basics that helped create the world's most popular potato salad.

    Happy fundraising.


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