This month I’ve got fundraising on my mind, and I’m unashamedly going to plug my fundraiser while talking about what I’ve been learning about the whole subject.
A few years ago, I was on a committee trying to build a new village hall. The old one had been condemned the year I moved into the village. After a bit of wrangling, we set about designing and building the new one. As part of that I went on a one day course on ‘fund-raising for voluntary organisations’. My lasting impression, of that is just how many excellent causes there are, even just around my county, that rely on public donations to keep them going.
Many trusts and large organisations have funds that these causes can apply to for ‘projects’. Many fund-providers require matching funding from the causes themselves. That’s no mean feat if you are applying for a quarter of a million pounds to build your hall. But day-to-day operations are generally funded purely by public donations, subscriptions, or money left in wills.
I was surprised to find, at this course, that local branches of big charities are funded entirely locally. You probably know that already. Services we rely on, like the lifeboats, and the air ambulance, are mostly funded by the public. (They do get a government grant, but those have been subject to draconic cutbacks these days.)
So, apart from put your hand in your pocket and pass over a lump of cash, what can you do to help? These are some of my experiences.
The MG BookElves
Some years ago, a bunch of authors got together to do an anthology. We had met through a promotional effort in 2012, in which we put ‘first chapters’ in a collection, each of which led the reader to a prize draw. (I’m not sure now whether that is legal in most countries, since the reader had to buy the book.)
The following winter, some of us decided to do a promotion and giveaway for the holiday season. I have a feeling I co-ordinated it. The idea was to promote our own books; get our names spread around a little more. We called ourselves the MG BookElves.
The next year, I suggested an anthology of seasonal stories for middle grade readers (9-12 years or so). The twelve people from the previous year showed interest, and seven wrote stories. We published the BookElves Anthology Volume 1 and each did their best to promote it.
One of the big questions we tackled was how much to charge. The other was how to split any profits. In the end we agreed that as we really wanted it as a marketing tool, to sell it at the lowest feasible price. It went free on Smashwords, and eventually Amazon price-matched on Kindle, where it was officially 99c. Occasionally, at various parts of the year, it went back to 99c, so that we could do genuine free offers. We also did a paperback version, which we priced at just over the base price.
I expect you’ve spotted that the issue of profits wasn’t exactly looming large.
We managed a second volume the following year, with the same approach, and a mix of seven different authors, so I think all twelve got into one or the other volume. With the only real payment for cover design, done at a special price by my own cover designer, we only had a small outlay to cover.
Four years later, I think we’re approaching break-even.
Will we do a Volume 3? I doubt it. The problem for indie authors is once we’ve got more than a couple of books out, it’s a real treadmill to promote the ones out there and get new books written, edited and published. I’ve kept in touch with most of the BookElves, and know that four of us have books we’re trying to get out this winter. That’s pretty much the same as last year. As a matter of interest, one of us, Wendy Leighton-Porter, has just won a slew of awards for her series the Shadows from the Past. As well as the twins, Jemima and Joe, it features Max, a cat. Following his short story appearances in the BookElves Anthologies, Max now has his own series.
Pricing charity books
To raise money for charity from a book requires you to price it accordingly. That means (probably) pricing it above the normal market price.
People will pay more for an item when they know the money is going to charity. But you need to market it accordingly, and they need confidence:
how much of their money will go to charity
what is the reputation of the charity
how soon will the charity get it
what guarantees can you give the donor
With books, it can be very difficult to distinguish royalties, and pass them to a third party. We never advertised the BookElves Anthologies as a fundraiser for that reason—wisely, as it turns out. All I can do is send an account of the royalties to the BookElves and advise them we’re nearly there…
If you advertise your book as ‘in aid of’ you’d better be able to support any questions about how much has gone to the charity.
Tails of the Apocalypse and Pets for Vets
I’ve just been reading the second in a series of anthologies raising money for Pets for Vets, a US charity for forces veterans, to provide companion animals. The first one, Tails of the Apocalypse, edited by Chris Porteau (link is to my review), was absolutely wonderful. It features post-apocalypse stories by twelve authors, mostly set in a world they have already published, but told from the point of view of an animal (mostly dogs). The stories still haunt me (in a nice way!)
The editor has worked with another series editor, Samuel Peralta, to bring out a second volume Chronicle Worlds: Tails of Dystopia, which was published last Thursday, again in aid of Pets for Vets.
I know I ought to check out how the fund-raising’s going. But the stories are so good, I’ll just hope it’s going well (and besides, I’ve had free ARCs, so maybe I should just send a donation).
But that does highlight something else about fund-raising. Raising people’s awareness of a charity so they support it themselves is just as important as actually raising hard cash from a book. Let’s face it, a competitively priced book is unlikely to make a lot of money – not as much as a sponsored coffee morning, sky-dive or egg-eating contest would.
Ulva Buyout and the Princelings of the North
This idea of raising awareness is why I decided to fund-raise for the Ulva Buyout with the launch of my next book, the Princelings of the North (Princelings of the East #8). ‘The North’ in this case is because the princelings, Dylan and Dougall, hail from the Isle of Mull.
I love to go to Mull for my vacations. Just south of the place I stay is a beautiful, unspoiled island, well-maintained by the owners, with sign-posted walks, a visitors centre in an old croft, and a wonderful cafe. But the owners have decided to sell, and the community have found a way to buy it through a Scottish government initiative. So Ulva Buyout is trying to raise money to buy the island of Ulva through crowdfunding, with a JustGiving campaign, as well as other things.
Their campaign runs through till May 2018. Princelings of the North launch date is at the end of January. I felt I could promote the Ulva Buyout throughout the launch campaign for my book. Then I felt I should give contributors a ‘thank you’. So I’ve just finished a 7,000 word novella featuring those princelings. If you donate via my Justgiving page, I’ll send you the link to the ebook of Dylan and the Lights of Ulva.
So that’s my venture into fundraising at the moment. I hope it gave you some ideas on the pros and cons of fundraising with your book. It’s great to try to help, but make sure you can deliver, and that the book is appropriate to the charity. Good luck.