In order to raise money to produce their projects, more photographers, writers, artists and aspiring filmmakers are appealing directly to their potential audiences for funding. At a seminar held at the Vimeo Festival + Awards on October 9, Yancey Strickler, co-founder of the crowd-funding Web site Kickstarter offered practical advice on why some projects posted on the site meet or even exceed their funding targets while others fail to lure donations.

Strickler said almost all successful Kickstarter projects share three characteristics:

  • – The creators describe their projects in a personal and passionate way, share some of the work in progress, “and say: you can make this happen.”  Strickler added, “You have to put time and care into it.”
  • – The projects lure a community. Most original funders are creators’ friends, family “and people who care about it,” he said. Strangers generally only begin donating after a project has at least 70 percent of its fundraising and a goal seems within reach.
  • -The creators offer tangible and appealing rewards to donors. Kickstarter recommends that creators should offer small rewards, such as T-shirts, for donors who give as little as $15, in order to encourage a wide base of donors. Donors who give several thousand dollars should be offered large gifts or an experience –such as a tour, a meeting with the creators or the project’s subject.

Why do projects posted on Kickstarter fail to raise enough money?  Strickler said some creators set overly ambitious goals:  “If I get $4 million I’ll make this movie.” He noted that  recently some filmmakers had successfully used Kickstarter to solicit $3,000 to color correct their documentary film; a few months after they met that goal, they posted a new project, seeking another $3,000 to make the movie poster.

Some projects fail, he said, because no one knows about them. He said Kickstarter users shouldn’t “expect the internet to rain down on them” – they have to generate traffic themselves, starting with friends and members of their online social networks. He said a review of Kickstarter traffic has shown that emails that are personalized drive the most traffic. Facebook is the second most effective way to send traffic to a project, while “Twitter is useless for fundraising.”

Once a project reaches its goal, he says, the next step is fulfilling the promise of rewards. “If you promised to send a book, it’s up to you to think of shipping,” Strickler said.  “I know of projects that in the end lost money because people didn’t think about the shipping costs.” According to Strickler, some Kickstarter users hold “mailing parties” where they get their friends together and pack up hundreds of books or posters over a few beers.

Strickler was careful to note that Kickstarter does not offer its users any legal or tax advice, so it’s up to users to determine how to handle state sales taxes when selling rewards to donors who are in their state.

Backers are disappointed if they don’t hear about the project to which they donated for three months. He said Kickstarter users should post updates or send emails as the work progresses. If your goal is to publish a book, he said, you should take photos or make a video when you go on press. He said donors want to know you’re committed to your project—even if you hit an obstacle. “People are more forgiving when things screw up if you communicate regularly.”

Strickler said posting a project proposal on Kickstarter can do more than just raise money. “It’s about sharing your idea,” he said. “You can build a community of 300 people who care about it and follow you throughout your career.”

A list of guidelines for submitting projects to Kickstarter are available on Kickstarter.com.


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