October 30th, 2012

PPE 2012: 8 Dos and Don’ts for Crowd-Funding Campaigns

It seems like nowadays every photographer is launching a crowd-funding campaign to raise money for a book or to shoot personal work. But how many of those photographers are actually meeting or surpassing their fundraising goals? At the PhotoPlus seminar “Crowd-Funding Your Photography Project,” five panelists shared their thoughts on how to raise money using two crowd-funding platforms, Kickstarter and Emphas.is.

Gerd Ludwig moderated the panel. He used Kickstarter in 2011 to raise funds for his long-term series on Chernobyl, because traditional media outlets weren’t interested in commissioning the work. Ludwig raised over $23,000, which he used to travel to Chernobyl, and publish a book and iPad app of the work.

The panelists were Karim Ben Khelifa, co-founder of Emphas.is; Aaron Huey, a photojournalist who used Emphas.is to raise over $26,000 for a billboard and information campaign surrounding his work on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation; Justin Jensen, a photographer who used Kickstarter to raise over $485,000 for his product CineSkates, which are wheels that snap onto the bottom of a Gorilla tripod; and Jon Pack, who used Kickstarter to raise over $65,000 for his photography project “The Olympic City” and the resulting book. Below, some campaign dos and don’ts they learned along the way.

1. Do make a video for your Kickstarter or Emphas.is page, which tells visitors about the project. Ludwig noted that a video provides an opportunity to address your audience personally as well as to give your credentials and background so people feel comfortable investing in your work. Huey added that the video is essentially the elevator pitch for your project, so it’s important to make it as professional as possible. Meanwhile, Ben Khelifa advised photographers to avoid the words “help” and “support” in their videos since Emphas.is sees the relationship as more of an exchange between the photographer and his or her audience.

2. Do create a reward structure that awards every donor regardless of the amount of money they give. Huey said some of his rewards had a dollar value that was worth more than the donation amount, which was a good incentive for people to give. Ludwig noted that he had a reward for every size pocketbook.

3. Don’t only think of rewards that cost money. Ben Khelifa said some of the most successful rewards offered on Emphas.is only cost the photographer time, such as one-on-one photography workshops or portfolio reviews. Ludwig added that every person who donated to his campaign was included on a donors’ list, which is posted at the exhibitions of the work.

4. Do collaborate with the people who donate to your project. Park and his partner, filmmaker Gary Hustwit, agreed to let backers vote on one of the former Olympic hosting cities that would be included in their project. He also noted that when he and Hustwit were traveling to the various cities, backers would sometimes e-mail them with recommendations about where to shoot. Jensen had some backers help with the testing of the initial CineSkates product. He also made additional product lines based on suggestions given by backers.

5. Don’t forget to communicate with backers during and after the campaign. Emphas.is was started because Ben Khelifa believes that people are interested in the experiences of photographers and photojournalists, which is why the “Making of Zone” is such a crucial part of the site. Pack said many people were into “collaborating” on his project, so he would answer e-mails throughout the campaign and then launched a website afterward so donors could stay up to date on the status of the project. He also posts updates on his Facebook page and e-mails backers regularly.

6. Do try to get funds from people outside of your personal and/or professional networks. Huey said he didn’t even ask for money from his personal networks. Instead, he appealed to the street art world, since Shepard Fairey created some of the posters, and to Native American rights groups, because his work focused on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. By identifying influential bloggers in both worlds, he was able to spread the word about his campaign to people who are passionate about these two things. Ludwig noted that you get your backers’ e-mail addresses to contact them about future campaigns, but Ben Khelifa added that this only works if you’re good at communicating during the first campaign (see above).

7. Don’t underestimate shipping costs. One of Ludwig’s rewards was a copy of his book Broken Empire: After the Fall of the USSR. Over 25 percent of the donations at this $100 reward level were from overseas, and it cost him $31 (not including packaging) to ship each book internationally. Jensen also made this mistake, by offering all backers in the U.S. free shipping once the product came out; international backers were charged an extra $20 for shipping. The problem was that shipping overseas ended up costing more than $20 and many backers in the U.S. wanted their products shipped overnight.

8. Don’t assume that all you have to do is launch the campaign and you’re done. All the panelists agreed that crowd funding is very time consuming. Huey even went so far as to say he couldn’t do another crowd-funding campaign anytime soon because the billboard campaign took over his life for two months and he just doesn’t have that kind of time right now. Ludwig noted that his studio manager was a crucial part of his campaign, while Jensen said he ended up hiring a staff of five to help once it looked like they were going to get enough money through Kickstarter to fully launch the product.

Related Articles:

Helping Communities Speak for Themselves: Aaron Huey’s Pine Ridge Community Storytelling Project
Crowd-Funding Success Story: Gerd Ludwig
Object of Desire: CineSkates

October 11th, 2010

Tips for Successful Fundraising from Kickstarter

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.