Lessons Learned in the Land of Crowdfunding

Having run a successful KICKSTARTER campaign (raising over $31K), I’ve been asked by a few people to share any strategies, tips and insights on what can be done to help reach their fundraising goals. First off, I’m not sure how much value-add I can do surrounding this topic as there are some really great articles already posted by filmmakers who ran successful campaigns:

Gregory Bayne’s NEW BREED Article “The Crowd”

Q-TIP: Quick Tip for Indie Filmmakers – Crowdfunding

DAVID BRANIN’s CROWDFUNDING CHEAT SHEET

So what can I do to offer my take on the whole crowdfunding phenomenon?  I’d like to back up to the beginning when I wrote my first article just as we launched our campaign.  It’s funny that just a few months later it’s already dated — as INDIEGOGO now also incorporates the deadline component for a project campaign.  I don’t wish to go into the differences as there are still pros/cons to each service and it’s up to you to decide what works best for your project needs:

THE KICKSTARTER EFFECT – my first article on crowdfunding

Once you decide which platform to use, here are my learning lessons of what took place during my campaign:

DECIDE HOW MANY DAYS YOU NEED

Every project is unique and warrants its own deadline based on many factors.  The maximum number of days the service allows isn’t necessarily the best choice.  I’ve seen campaigns crash and burn (and disappear into obscurity) that last too long, while others that have short deadlines sometimes receive pledges so quickly they successfully reach their goal.

Mainly just be realistic in how long you think it will take to reach the amount of people you believe you will need to raise the funds. Do you plan to connect with everyone at once?  Or are you hoping for a ripple effect where the word of mouth will need time to spread?  Factor all these into the time you’ll need to get the word out there.

REACH OUT FOR HELP

Definitely ask for people with a strong audience following in whatever media outlet (note I said “strong” and not “large”) to help get the word out there.  Have you reached out to anyone to book some press appearances for yourself or to get them to talk/write about your campaign (radio, internet, etc)?

From the very beginning of the campaign, I had the utmost support from David Branin and Karen Worden of Film Courage.  We strategically scheduled for me to be a guest on their show two weeks prior to my Kickstarter final deadline.  We felt an appearance at that time would give a sense of urgency, but still allow enough time (2 weeks) to get the word out there and have people discover and support us.  Plus, David and Karen generously agreed to follow up the week after my appearance on the show with another plug — to give it a final push.

I thought it’d be a nice gesture to appear in-studio in Los Angeles (with actress Christina Rose who was heavily involved in the Kickstarter campaign) to thank them for their support from the beginning.  The radio show was definitely one of the highlights of the entire campaign for me.

The great thing about my campaign is in the beginning I was contacting people to ask for coverage, but by the end press/bloggers were picking up on the story and writing about it on their own volition.  Here are some articles that helped support us along the way:

CHANNEL APA | Help fund Gary King’s film “How Do You Write A Joe Schermann Song” (02.09.10)
DVD SNAPSHOT | Film Makers Look To Fandependent Film Financing, Changing The World Of Independent Cinema (02.09.10)
THE ENTERTAINMENT CORNER | Join the Campaign to Make “How Do You Write A Joe Schermann Song” (02.12.10)
MULTI-HYPHENATE | The Kickstarter Effect by Gary King (02.25.10)
MICROFILMMAKER MAGAZINE | Crowdfunding (03.01.10)
REELTALK REVIEWS | Gary King’s Film Musical (03.11.10)
MOVIE ADDICT HEADQUARTERS | Radio Interview with Filmmaker Gary King (03.16.10)
FILM COURAGE | Radio Interview with Filmmaker Gary King and Actress Christina Rose (04.04.10)
FILM THREAT | In Search of Indie $$$ (04.05.10)
ROW THREE | Want To Help Out A Good Director (04.09.10)
GEEKS OF DOOM | Want To Help Get An Independent Movie Made? Now You Can! (04.14.10)
CINEMATICAL | Can Kickstarter Save The Indie Film Industry (04.17.10)

CROWDFUNDING IS A FULL TIME JOB

I understood this commitment going in from reading about how others handled their campaign…but I still wasn’t prepared for the realities of it.  Working on gaining exposure and new eyes every day was extremely time consuming.  Think of it like placing a media ad and having it in heavy rotation — but you’re doing it yourself and not relying on an agency.  I spent at least 4-6 hours every day on the campaign — if not more.

We all know how powerful FACEBOOK and TWITTER can be — but one key is to promote your campaign at different parts of the day as not everyone is online at the same time.  In fact, many people first learned of my Kickstarter undertaking when I was already several weeks into it.  Remember, people are bombarded with so much information they may not see or click on your link for quite a while.  They may need to be reminded of it as some put it off for later with the intention to donate.  For some, being a constant in people’s minds is the only way for them to finally act.

It’s also key to keep in mind that if you are not the one actively promoting your cause, no one else is really going to do it for you.  Others will definitely help you spread the word, but it all starts with you.  So to avoid sending out the same constant message of asking for donations, try to find a good balance of ways to talk about your project and campaign without directly soliciting for pledges.  This way, if you have information to contribute that co-exists with the fundraising efforts, people are more apt to share it with others.  Thus, it will help cross-market you — your project — and your fundraising needs.  It’s a win-win for everyone.

Updates Updates Updates on your campaign page! Your backers love to be involved and track your progress (which is part of the fun).  From time to time, on your campaign page let them know what’s going on, what you plan to do and that you’re constantly working to make it happen.  These updates are not the “please donate” type — but rather more of a progress report.  There’s a difference.  Definitely keep in touch and active — I made 34 updates.   I’ve seen some where people have 0.

BELIEVE IN YOURSELF AND YOUR PROJECT

Everyone can say they are passionate about their project — that’s easy.  But how can you convey it to others?   We need to know why you are taking on such an endeavor that you can’t do on your own.  I truly believe people can see the passion in someone and want to help when they know you are serious.   So how are you going to make them know that you care?

It begins with having a great video detailing who you are, what the project is about, who is involved and what the money is for.  I’ve seen a few campaigns where there is only a picture — or the video never shows who is asking for the money — needless to say those aren’t as successful as the ones that do show the person behind the curtain.

A humbling comment from filmmaker Miles Maker (@Milesmaker) on my pitch video:

Rewards still seem to be a cool perk, but not such an incentive for people as I thought they would be.  I found that if people believe in you and want to see the project come to fruition (in this case my musical) then they will donate.  I had a few people give generous pledges and opt for no reward.  At first I wasn’t sure if they didn’t care to see my film — but soon understood that to them it was more about the person and team than the project.  They wanted to help us regardless of the film because they saw how enthusiastic we were about it.

Remember….your passion can be shown through many ways — just be yourself and creative in how you present your project.

NOTE: The worst thing one can do is not list any details — or  just copying/pasting someone else’s rewards/perks/project descriptions.  To me this just signifies laziness.  Plus, it’s a real turnoff to want to help someone who thinks “easy money” will come their way without any real effort.

CREATE A WEBSITE

Make your project “legitimate” to those who are unfamiliar with you.  Give them something to look at and discover.   It just feels more professional to some who may be on the fence about donating.  An official website — or sites of your previous work — simply is a great marketing tool that people can share and learn more about you and/or the project.   Click here to view the one I had going during the campaign.

PROVIDE LINKS

I can’t stress enough that when you write/blog/FB/tweet about your fundraising updates – please make sure people can click on a link to take them directly to your campaign to make a pledge.  Do not kill the person’s impulse to donate.

Nothing hurts you more than having someone wanting to help, but then making them search around for how and where to do it.  I’ve seen too many times where people mention about how close they are to their goal or thanking someone who has just donated — but there is no link to follow up on.  Instead they make the person have to click through several pages/sites.  Do not make it difficult for someone who has the urge to help.  The more clicks it takes, the more likely they will simply move along.

Yes, this means including the links for easy access on your YouTube, Vimeo, etc.  Not in the video itself (which is also required) — but in the information section where you can add more details and links to your project.  Again, if you only provide the link in the video itself, then making the person have to pause it and manually type it in to their browser….well….that impulse to help can be lost. (For example: Check out my VIMEO Page for our Kickstarter video)

HAVE FUN

Near the end of the campaign I was getting a bit worried that our goal may not be met.  So on Twitter (at 11:51pm) I made a silly statement about not sleeping until we reached 200 backers (at the time we were 5 people away).  I was half-kidding until filmmaker and supporter Phil Holbrook (@Philontilt) was the first to respond which made the whole “Sleep Strike” go into motion.  It was an amazing night that saw us reach 203 backers by the time I went to bed around 5am.

Having people around the US (too countless to list) join me in the sleep strike was humbling and astonishing — to have people care enough to do something so drastic was something I’ll never forget.  By the way, we did it the following night too with great success.

NETWORK

A huge contributor (over $5K) to the campaign came from a person who had never met me personally — and they only found out about me from someone who did (who I’d met at the Flyway Film Festival in Pepin, Wisconson!!).  The power of networking still holds true to this day.  Get yourself out there — not just online but in person.  Meet people.  Make friends and working relationships.  You never know when an opportunity may come up — when someone may mention your campaign to someone else — as in a case like mine.

HAVE AN AUDIENCE/SUPPORT SYSTEM ALREADY IN PLACE

One should definitely have some type of network already in place before launching.  I could not have done it without a huge group of people (actors involved with the film project, friends, family, filmmaker/actor peers, a global social network) that believed in me and/or the project.  The fact that they were all willing to either donate money and/or take the time to spread the word of my campaign meant a lot.  People are busy and money is tight — having them on your side can make all the difference as they are willing to take the challenge on with you — as long as you lead the way.

By the way, I definitely tried to maximize every avenue of my support system — all of which successfully brought in donations of some kind:
- Facebook
- Twitter – I have a personal one and ones for my film (@grking @SchermannSong)
- Newsletter
- word of mouth with friends/family
- direct personalized emails to people I knew
- indie film sites/bloggers….

BE APPRECIATIVE

I made it a point to not only thank people personally (via email) for their contribution, but I also gave them a public thanks and shared whatever projects or passions they are involved in.  To me, it was the least I could do.  Most of my supporters are also in the arts with their own passion projects.  I had to let them know that I really valued their generosity and hard-earned money by giving exposure to their endeavors.  When possible, I have contributed to their projects as well.

Being thankful is pretty much a given and 99.9% of everyone already knows and does this — but I have seen those few out there who expect it to come to them and — when pledges happen — feel it’s an entitlement because their project is the “game changer that will reshape the face of independent cinema.”  I have not seen one successful campaign of this kind.

ENGAGE

When donations slowed down during the middle of the campaign, Christina Rose (who plays “Evey” in “SCHERMANN SONG“) came to me with the idea of adding another reward to have backers choose any song for our leads to perform.  It was a great concept and worked very well, immediately generating some new pledges.  Some previous backers even upped their donation just to get the chance to have them sing.

Getting people involved — so they feel they get to interact with the team behind the project — is a great way to generate interest.  More importantly, it will hopefully attract repeat visitors and have them share the project with others as well.

LUCK

I was lucky.  Plain and simple. With a tons of generous supporters spreading the word, I still think there were things outside of my control that led to my success.  For example, we got listed as the KICKSTARTER PROJECT OF THE DAY — which helped us gain a lot of exposure.  It gave us another reason to post a link on Facebook or Twitter to keep the campaign current and in people’s minds.

Remember, sometimes it’s just getting your project out there enough so that it comes to the attention of that single person who will help you get what you need — whether it be the exposure, the funding or the connection.

HAVE A BACKUP PLAN

Going into the campaign, I had a few close contacts willing to donate an amount that totaled close to $7.5K.   With that in mind, my actual goal was to raise about $22.5K from other sources to be successful.  This was still very daunting, but I believed attainable.

The “guaranteed” $7500 was donated at different times during the campaign and not immediately at the beginning.  I actually called upon them to donate at strategic times when things went into a lull.  They were great morale boosters to share with everyone.

It should be noted that I had a few friends (and even someone I never met) offer to make up the difference — and then return their donated amount — should I be close to the goal (within $5K) so I could at least collect on what was pledged.  Thankfully I never had to go that route but it was very humbling to know people wished to support me that much.  It’s definitely a good tactic should you be close.  (NOTE: This part most likely applies only to Kickstarter’s “All-or-Nothing” set up)

At the time, I also thought that if we didn’t reach our Kickstarter goal by the deadline, then I would move to the Indiegogo platform and ask all our original backers to re-pledge their amounts so we could collect immediately (that’s one major difference between Kickstarter and Indiegogo).  I realized we probably would lose close to 25% of the backers this way (due to various factors) — but it was better than nothing.

In the end, have several options to your budget — and scale up/down your production as needed.  I was prepared to shoot the musical for almost no money if I had to — thankfully it didn’t come to that.

CONCLUSIONS

No campaign is the same.  My 2 cents is to take the “Best Practices” from crowdfunding projects (successful or not) that you find to complement what your project needs are.

I do have to point out that there are some people that argue if you aren’t successful with your campaign, then it means no one wants to see your project.  Bull.  It can be a ton of factors: the campaign didn’t outreach far enough, people can’t afford to donate, etc.  If anything, it’s a good gauge of your marketing/social networking prowess — and if there needs to be any adjustments to the approach for future campaigns (including marketing the project itself once you complete it).

No matter what you’ll learn from the experience and be able to share your lessons — whatever they are.   And I’ll be listening.

 

21 Comments

  1. Fantastic insight into a marvelously run and well though out campaign. Will definitely use this article, among others, as solid advice for when I endeavor in my own crowdfunding campaign and will do my best to share my experiences as you have. Can’t wait to see the final product!

  2. You most certainly had something to contribute! You wrote about some things I have not yet seen written any where else. Thank you so much for taking the time to put this together. I know how busy your schedule must be right now. It’s much appreciated.

  3. David Branin says:

    Thank you for your write-up Gary and for your kind words. Your efforts are an inspiration to us all.
    It was interesting to read about your back-up plan and how you strategically had the money donated at
    different stages.

    I believe people still do not understand the work that goes into it. As you mention, 4 to 6 hours minimum a day on most days sounds right to me. And of course when you are coming down the wire,it can be 12+ hours if you are still raising funds.

    Is your CineFist video with Gregory online yet? That will be a great compliment to your write-up.

  4. Fantastic insights, Gary! My favorite tidbit of truth is the fact that crowdfunding is a full-time job! Thanks for taking the time to send this out to all of us; we’re all still learning the ins and outs of how to best navigate the crowd and get our projects funded.

  5. Gary says:

    thanks everyone for the feedback

    @Raffi: keep me posted when you launch your campaign

    @Phil: couldn’t have done it without your (sleep strike!!!!)

    @David: I believe Cinefist is still working on the video. I’ll share it once it’s posted

    @John: you’re definitely a great model for people to learn from – have a great time at your panel this weekend talking about the very same thing for Internet Week New York:

    Here’s the info for everyone:

    Internet Week New York – Free Panel on Crowdfunding at SOHO Apple Store (June 12)
    http://bit.ly/dbXHkW

    June 12
    03:00 PM — 04:30 PM

    Soho Apple Store
    103 Prince St
    New York, NY 10012

    Price: FREE

  6. thanks for the wonderful blog ..
    high learning curve .. thanks to people like you & the net ..
    wonderful insightful information .. 0) .. again thanks.. mo

  7. annette says:

    again, thank you for sharing such valuable information. you are so generous with your process and it’s really helpful to those of us at various stages of filmmaking. we are embarking on final push to raise last bit of money to finish our film ‘perfection’ http://www.perfectionthemovie.com and will be using kickstarter. i am also beginning my next movie and will be thinking about all the advice you gave at the start of the process. thanks again gary! annette murphy

  8. Thank you, Gary. Really appreciate you being so honest about your worries as well as your process. Definitely planning to put your advice into action soon. Congrats again on your successful campaign. We are proud to be backers for “Schermann Song” and can’t wait to see the rest of the project unfold.

    Your biggest fans, J&J

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