Like many other broke folks, I’m mentally flirting with ideas for Kickstarter, where everyone’s going to crowdsource seed money for their albums, movies, inventions, non-profit groups and pretty much anything you can think of. There are tons of other Brooklynites using the platform to their advantage as well.
Current Kickstarter projects hatched locally include an amplifier for the iPad and iPad2. Donate and you get two of them, which may explain why they’ve practically tripled their funding goal with 11 days left to go. Then there are the Remee “lucid dreaming” goggles, which lull you into a Go Ask Alice state you can turn off any time. The Remee inventors are up nearly $320,000, practically ten times their fundraising goal of $35,000, with 17 days to go.
On the lower-tech end is Rooftop Films, which needs $10,000 to keep playing underground films on NYC rooftops this spring, and Shmekel, the Brooklyn-based transgender Jewish band that just raised $2,664 to buy a van.
The beautiful part of Kickstarter is that you don’t owe your investors a piece of your profits or an annual report (though the smart fundraiser will make it well worth your donors’ while, which I talk about later). The downside is that if you don’t reach your entire fundraising goal, you don’t get any money at all. So how do you make sure your campaign is a success?
1. Make a killer video
Every successful Kickstarter I’ve seen has deployed the formula of amazingly well-done video + great text to follow. Kickstarter School (a series of tutorials on their website) tells you that projects with videos succeed at a much higher rate than those without— 50 percent vs. 30 percent.
Kickstarter School has helpful video how-tos, but there’s more to a truly effective video than sitting around talking about your project. Take it from Joe Leuben, who turned to Kickstarter last year to raise $1,500 for a short film about love called Sweetness. “We didn’t want to do what a lot of others were doing—namely, filming themselves talking about the project and asking for money. Instead, we just placed some title screens and shots for our rehearsal/audition process over classical music. It’s a simple video, but it is visually engaging and concise. The video, more than anything else, was what truly set our project apart and got others interested in donating.” Watch it here.
2. Offer awesome incentives
Whether you’re a filmmaker, a musician or an inventor of iPod Nano watchstraps, always offer up the finished product to your donors. Karen Glass makes indie rock music in the band Bugs in the Dark, but she is also a tattoo artist. When she was looking for incentives for Kickstarter, instead of giving away band t-shirts, she offered her tattooing services. The band ended up selling three tattoos valued at $150 apiece to contribute to their successfully funded project. If you donate $80 to Remee, you get a pair of their trippy specs; some 3,000 people have ponied up at that level so far. There are only 20 donors so far at $15, which buys you just a paper journal and pen.
3. Be prepared to hustle
When Adam Schatz looked to Kickstarter to raise $75,000 for Search and Restore, his non-profit dedicated to showcasing new jazz and improvised music, his fundraising effort was a “full-time job” for the campaign’s 50 days. “I emailed every person I knew and was constantly asking people to help send it on to other interested parties,” Schatz says. “I went after the press right away, and though press tends to distance itself from fundraisers, I got some great pieces in Time Out NY and the Huffington Post, plus a big NY Times Arts & Leisure article on me that ran the day before we reached the deadline.”
Owing to a $40,000 windfall in the final week, he beat the goal by raising a total of $76,822, and with it spent much of 2011 creating a video library of jazz musicians and performances that can be seen here. “You should be doing a campaign that you can be active for during the entire duration of the campaign,” Adam says. “If you have any lag time or down time, you will actually have negative results.”
4. Appeal to donors’ ideals
COMMUNITY. Isn’t that what Brooklyn’s all about? My heartstrings are tied to the Bushwick Campus Greenhouse and the Bushwick News (BushwickBK.com) Kickstarter campaigns because I care about locally sourced produce and journalism. Other people care about these things in my community as well. Spend a chunk of time thinking about your endeavor’s philosophies and values, and how to project them on Kickstarter.
If you’re a band, don’t sell your songs; sell your ethos. When Bugs in the Dark was concocting their campaign, it was a no-brainer to play up their feminist/riot grrrl qualities, connecting themselves to a movement that inspires passion even among those who don’t know Bugs in the Dark personally. This is bigger than the band, or the tour, or the money they made. When putting a campaign together, ask yourself whether it would appeal to complete strangers. Don’t rely on your Great Aunt Bessie for this one.
5. Don’t be afraid to think big.
Sure you could play it safe and ask for the bare minimum you need to fund your video project, while dipping into your own pocket to feed the cast and crew and rent a van. But wouldn’t it be better to have $7,500 than $5,000? Schatz was advised against setting his campaign goal at $75,000, but without the full amount, he could not have been able to execute his original vision of a video jazz library. “It was incredibly risky, and many people advised me against it” he says, “but my feelings were that if we DID reach it, it would be the most inspiring thing ever within the scene, one that is historically pretty limited in the digital age so far.”
Adds Leuben, “The beauty of Kickstarter is that there’s really nothing to lose. The worst that can happen is that you don’t make your goal and are still at square one.”
Need help with your Kickstarter? Get at me @shadoodon Twitter! I’ve worked on several campaigns and can help you figure out how to make yours a success.