A Q&A with Christina Giunta-Quarino, director of community relations for New York Red Bulls and Erit Yellen, senior advisor, FanAngel, on how companies use crowdfunding-for-performance for philanthropy.
Erit Yellen: “It’s not just crowdfunding for performance but crowdfunding for social causes. I know that this is a general conversation about crowdfunding, but what sets FanAngel apart is that it is cause-based which speaks more sincerely and genuinely to the millennial base. They are a lot more educated on different corporations and entities, and even in sports, about who are giving back to the community. They would rather engage with those companies who are also helping to address different social issues which are important to them. It targets the millennial generation on that cause based foundation that already exists.
Christina Giunta-Quarino: Many of our fans are in the millennial age range. We find when we meet with them that community based fundraising is really important to them. Many of our fans end up following us and become a fan because of what we are doing in the community. So this is just another way for us to engage that group of fans and have them participate in something that we are doing.
EY: Sports has a unique opportunity and a unique platform especially as the popularity of sports (and sport media) has gained more followers and fan bases over the years. There have definitely been generations of athletes who have taken a stand for social issues around social responsibility. The power of different teams getting involved in social responsibility efforts is now more positively impactful than ever given the different corporate partnerships and media partnerships and pure outreach. It’s just had a much larger positive impact than ever before. Sports are able to take a stand in whatever area of social responsibility that fits the organization.
CGQ: In today’s landscape, the players are thinking that it’s their responsibility. It’s not as much the team approaching the player and asking them “what interests you?” They are coming to our front office and letting us know it’s important to them and wanting to take action. I’ve been in the organization for 9 years and that direct player involvement is one of the big differences I’ve seen. It’s not about going up to the players and asking them what they think is important, it’s them coming to us and being proactive? This is very important to the fans as well. For example, our goaltender Luis Robles came to us and expressed interest in taking part in the Tackle Kids Cancer campaign benefitting Hackensack University Medical Center. His children were born there and he goes there to visit often. Along the way, Luis has met many fans of the club there. I think fans identify with players who are doing things in the community as well.
EY: I think when it relates to crowdfunding for causes as opposed to when it’s crowdfunding for new business products or something for-profit. The crowdfunding platform needs to be very clear on what their messaging is and exactly what their crowdfunding is for, so their fans don’t misunderstand that this is actually caused-based and nonprofit that is supported by the team. There are so many different types of crowdfunding, and crowdfunding as a term is still relatively new. When people think of crowdfunding they think of Kickstarter or GoFundMe, so we need clarification on our platform’s approach. It’s not that we are crowdfunding for a new soccer product, it’s that we are partnering with the Red Bulls for a cause they fully support.
CGQ: Since this is our club’s first crowdfunding for performance campaign, there is going to be a learning curve on educating the fans on how to engage. I think the unique thing that were doing, and what I think will really help, is showing them specifically what their dollars are used for. When you’re donating to a charity it helps to know, for example, that I am giving $100 to Autism Speaks that can provide one child swimming lessons. Showing our fans what their dollars are actually doing is going to make a huge difference when it comes to asking them to participate with us on FanAngel.
EY: The Red Bull’s FanAngel platform can further detail out what those personalized stories are and those positive impacts that any campaign would have. So I think the crowdfunding platform, especially when it relates to FanAngel, helps personalize some of the technology behind the scenes to help further the fundraising efforts and tells the story of the positive impacts of the fundraising efforts for our partners like the Red Bulls.
CGQ: We think the biggest thing when it comes to asking our fans to donate to listen to these stories and make an impact on you and that make you want to donate. Its not just the numbers, and the generic PSA, it’s hearing those personalized stories that make you want to give money to the cause.
EY: I know that other teams in sports are trying to grow out their community relations to help enable increase activation. It’s those storytelling efforts; the athlete coming to them; the team working together; and then really at the end of the day, it’s the community that’s positively impacted where these stories need to be told. It’s all through the viewpoint of the athlete and the team. This is then wrapped all together on a crowdfunding platform to give the fan the opportunity to act on what is going to be inspirational to them.
CGQ: I believe its going to become mainstream and I think your going to end up seeing it be promoted anytime you are in a venue. You will hear a lot of the players doing it on their own and will become a huge way for them to raise money for a cause. Fundraising will move away from the Gala and traditional dinner event. It’s going to be more social and more engaging for a fan base.
EY: You’re absolutely right. The uniqueness about sports is the live events and the media attention around that. I can imagine a day where the game is taking place, and fans are sitting in the stadium hearing about all of the positive amazing work the teams are doing in the community. The fans will be able to go straight to their mobile phones and donate right away to a cause that they are supporting. On top of that, they could engage corporate partners to support and tell these positively impactful stories as well. It’s going to be all wrapped into content and changing the narrative about how sports is one of the most powerful tools that can be used to change and positively impact social issues that we face all throughout our country and globally as well.
CGQ: We are seeing our marketing partners express their interest in social responsibility and becoming involved with our community efforts. FanAngel gives us that ability to tie a partner in, match fundraisers and be included on the social media messaging which is huge for our partners. For example, that helps our Tackle Kids Cancer campaign, which is for child cancer research, but it also ties back because Hackensack University Medical Center is one of our partners so it’s a win-win. We’re helping to raise money for important causes, but were also helping our partner grow their research.
EY: Hearing about all of the real-life conversations with your partners, this is the first time we have a tool like a FanAngel that is crowdfunding where you can pull a lot of those real time analytics and statistics to give back to partners so that they can share with their own. Now the teams and their partners are feeling empowered to help to make sure that those stories are told. They’re feeling that it is their responsibility not to overuse the sports and social responsibility aspect, but they know how powerful it is. We’ve seen it in the sports world for so long, but we are now seeing organizations take back the power of controlling the content. They are showing, in a very sincere and genuine way, that their sports teams, and athletes, and corporate partners are truly changing very important things about their communities.
It is huge that a team like the New York Red Bulls are taking a leadership position and utilizing this new technology and platform base to help to mobilize their fan base to help further their community activation. They are taking a chance at figuring out what works best for their fans. It is indicative of the leadership of the MLS and can show how the rest of sports can utilize these kind of new platforms to help with their fan bases.
I think another aspect as to why a crowdfunding campaign is so successful is that you have somebody behind it managing the campaign that is sincere in his or her efforts. It’s about that internal champion to move all of the other pieces that need to be involved to make the crowdfunding campaign successful. There’s so many times I’ve seen a crowd funding campaign go from a potential of a multi million dollar campaign to unfortunately raising a few thousand because all of the internal partners are not on board. You need somebody like Christina, who is working for such an amazing organization, to enable her to communicate to all of the other departments about what we’re doing.
CGQ: The most unique thing I’ve found with FanAngel is that we are actually using our fans to make a difference. We talk all the time about how our fans make such a big difference that they are the “12th man” and hearing them cheer loud is going to make the team push even harder. Now we are actually using that 12th man to do something good for the community that they live in and that is very special.