«For everyone to think: Wow!» Organizing a successful crowdfunding campaign: advice from Masha Cheryakova

“You think crowdfunding is fun? Well, think again. You’ll need to work hard and be prepared to receive mixed feedback”, says Maria Cheryakova, a social entrepreneur from the Netherlands and author of Heta Belarus Dzietka!" book. She spoke about organizing a successful crowdfunding campaign on April 23 in Minsk, when she held a master class for participants of Biz4All programme organized within the framework of the “Social Entrepreneurship Incubator”.

Maria Cheryakova with a participant of Biz4all programme training within the framework of the "Social Entrepreneurship Incubator"

Maria has organized two successful crowdfunding campaigns. First, the entrepreneur raised almost 40 thousand euros for BinBang, garbage containers from recycled materials equipped with special sensors. We have already wrote about this Dutch start-up.  Another campaign, held in Belarus, was also successful:  two new "Heta Belarus Dzietka!"  books raised 15,000 Belarusian roubles.

"My first piece of advice is for shy people", says Masha Cheryakova. "Find teammates who can sell, who can present themselves. The second tip is to always have a plan B, C and D". Having organized two crowdfunding campaigns, Masha claims that one third of the required amount may be raised in the first three days and one more third – in the last three days.

Maria Cheryakova, entrepreneur from the Netherlands, ODB consultant for social entrepreneurship within the framework of the “Social Entrepreneurship Incubator” programme”

During her campaigns, Masha and her team were active offline. In Amsterdam, BinBang team took environmentally friendly garbage containers to clean a park littered by tourists. That is how the press learned about their invention. In Minsk, they organized a flash mob on the Mother Language Day: the team brought "Heta Belarus Dzietka!" books to the city centre and read excerpts in Belarusian language to passers-by, aloud and in unison. 

"There must be room for exclusivity", stresses the social entrepreneur. The crowdfunding campaign for "Heta Belarus Dzietka!" books got two start-ups to partner with the project. Vitalina Gordievska, designer of bags, produced an exclusive Heta Belarus Dzietka! wallet, while Andrey Varonin put the book’s logo onto a limited series of cutting boards. Project supporters thus had a chance to buy things they could not get anywhere else. Organizers of the campaign also added the opportunity for contributors to become characters in the new book.

Every crowdfunding campaign requires serious preparation. "It is important to have a good vision for the project», notes Masha Cheryakova. "Campaigns fail when they have no clear vision. Think of what you want to achieve in the next 2 to 3 years. For example, attract 300 tourists to Belarus or create 30 jobs". Knowing your unique sales proposition is just as important, says the expert.

Masha Cheryakova explained in detail how to write a description for the project on a crowdfunding platform, underscored the vital importance of making a vivid, memorable video, and suggested including “early bird packages” to the campaign. For example, if you want to publish a book, your supporters will have the opportunity to buy first 50 copies at a lower price. The Dutch expert advised to plan the budget carefully, factoring in marketing costs and adding a buffer of 20-30%. In one of the exercises from Masha Cheryakova, participants were coming up with events to raise a thousand euros for their social businesses. After all, you need a budget to start a project.

ODB: Masha, where can you get ideas to make your crowdfunding campaign memorable?

“Look at things people have already done. Browse social media pages of organizations that have already organized campaigns. Think where your target audience is and how you can surprise it. Attract people’s attention so that they think: "Wow, that’s cool!". Organize a flash mob, give a small gift.”

ODB: How do you reduce the costs of crowdfunding?

“Cooperate with others. If you need to make a video, find a beginner filmmaker who can use this opportunity to make a name for themselves. We got this for free as well, as there were people willing to help us. We also worked with volunteers, people who believe in us. You can share responsibility for the project with them.”

ODB: In your experience, what shouldn’t you do when crowdfunding?

- Do not stop believing in your product if it doesn’t sell. If your project has found no support in a crowdfunding campaign, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the product is bad. That is a learning point. You need to analyse it and see whether it is the fault of the product or bad marketing that no one saw us.

Crowdfunding platform is not a magic money-collecting button

Potential social entrepreneurs taking part in Biz4All can launch their own crowdfunding campaigns – they just have to choose the right platform. Three Belarusian platforms presented themselves, sharing valuable advice on how to raise funds for their projects. Ulej.by, Talaka.by and MaeSens already presented their achievements and plans in the past during the Social Innovation Forum.

Anastasiya Kostugova, director of MaeSens crowdfunding platform

"We only take on the projects that know what they are going to do right from the start", says Anastasiya Kostugova, director of MaeSens crowdfunding platform. “People often think that the platform is a magic money-collecting button. If only it were that simple! Social projects are basically marketing, but in a more complicated form”. When a project receives less than 150 Belarusian roubles, the platform donates the money to charitable causes. Another feature of MaeSens allows users to auction a meeting in support of a project.

Volga Mzhelskaya, Ulej.by PR manager

"Crowdfunding is not just about the money, it is also about PR and testing your product", stressed Volga Mzhelskaya, PR manager at Ulej.by. "Every project is successful to a certain degree. Entrepreneurs often make a major mistake that prevents them from raising the necessary amount of funds, which lies in the wrong understanding of crowdfunding, when, for example, projects get abandoned, when they are not well-promoted, when people neglect social networks, do not connect with their target audience or fail to reach them”. According to Volga Mzhelskaya, the focus should be on the unique features of the product and on its price, which should not be overvalued. Project at Ulej need to raise 100 or more percent of the declared amount to be considered successful. In the two years since the platform was created, authors have held more than 80 successful campaigns.

Ivan Viadzenin, creative director of Belarusian platform Talaka.by

"Success of a campaign depends on how well it is covered in the mass media, rather than on how long it lasts," notes Ivan Viadzenin,  creative director of Belarusian platform Talaka.by. Three thousand euros to sponsor Vitaly Gurkou’s participation in the Muaythai World Championships were raised in just eight hours. Talaka is a community, underscores Viadzenin. Any registered participant can fill out a profile on the website, indicating their skills, and find people with necessary expertise among all other participants. Additionally, Talaka doesn’t have any strict criteria for how successful the campaign should be: the author can take at least 100 roubles.

Biz4all participants have until mid-July 2017 to raise some of their project start-up capital via Belarusian crowdfunding campaigns.

Team of social entrepreneurs during Biz4all training

Find more photos here.

Text by: Tatsiana Tukhai

The goal of the programme is to develop a package of social entrepreneurship training programmes in Russian using innovative international practices, as well as the experience of Belarusian diaspora representatives who have become successful entrepreneurs in European Union countries and the USA.


The material was prepared within the framework of the "Social Entrepreneurship Incubator", implemented by ODB Brussels in partnership with TNU Network University (Netherlands), Belarusian Youth Public Union "New Faces" and International Civil Association "Union of Belarusian of the world “Motherland", with support from the European Union.

ODB Brussels