Trent Reznor, the singer for the '90s industrial rock giant Nine Inch Nails, might not be the first name that comes to mind when you're thinking of new methods of fundraising, and he's likely not on your list of the top 10 ingenious entrepreneurs of the 2000s.

He should be.


According to a recent article from Techdirt, Reznor has been quietly transforming the music industry as we know it by showing millions of artists a new path for success. In short, this new model uses online technology to execute a simple formula:


Connect With Fans + Reason To Buy = Sales


Although there's no better way to connect with a potential donor than with a face-to-face meeting, the potential for meaningful connections with people online should not be overlooked.

Reznor's formula, however, is not referring to an impersonal mass marketing tool that auto-posts ads for you on Facebook or sends out email blasts to thousands of people at once. The spirit of the new business model brings the artist into the life of a fan in a personal way, whether it is personal communication and interaction online or products customized for the fan.


A recent example of this method is recording artist Grant-Lee Phillips and his campaign for his latest album Walking in the Green Corn. Instead of courting a major label to fund the album's creation and marketing, Phillips went to his fans. Through the crowdfunding site Pledge Music, Phillips offered prizes based on the amount of one’s donation. These rewards included gems such as a personalized acoustic ballad written for you by Phillips himself, your name in the album credits, or, the ultimate donor prize, Grant-Lee Phillips in concert -- in your living room.


Considering that Phillips was an alternative rock god in the '90s, was considered by Rolling Stone to be one of the greatest vocalists of the genre, and is still making incredible music, there was plenty of reason to buy for fans. The campaign raised 204% of its fundraising goal.


Transferring these ideas to nonprofits isn't an impossible leap. The first pillar of the formula, Connect With Fans (or Connect With Potential Donors, in this case) has much creative potential.


For example, if your nonprofit creates microloans for small businesses in the up-and-coming economy of Ghana, and you've noticed a charitable tendency among indie art museums in your city, you might create a profile for your nonprofit on Art Bistro, meet with museum personnel to learn about gifted artists in the area, and then invite local artists to contribute art to your nonprofit's Art Bistro profile in return for broader exposure. As you build connections in the art community through the Internet and local face-to-face meetings, offer the artists, the museum personnel, and the artists' fans "Reason To Buy" donation opportunities online that incorporate art.


For example, if a donor gives $50 through your crowdfunding page, they might receive a print of Ghanaian art with a signed thank you note from one of the small business owners benefiting from your nonprofit. Or, for the highest tier donation, the donor can accompany you on your next trip to Ghana and receive a personal tour of local art museums in Accra, Ghana's capital.


As the music industry adapts to the new terrain of the 21st century, the key word is voluntary, as the Techdirt article notes. Thanks to the abundance of free music online through sites like YouTube and Pandora, music fans are no longer obligated to buy an artist's music. Artists must give another reason, in addition to the music, to buy.

Although the revelation that donations are 100% voluntary is not new in nonprofit work, it is for the music industry. These challenges have forced musicians to approach their fans similar to how nonprofits approach donors. Nonprofits would benefit from observing how recording artists adapt to these challenges. Their innovative solutions might give you your next big idea for fundraising.


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