How to Make Your Crowd-Funding Campaign Stand Out

ARTS SHRINK is a regular column designed to answer questions from artists and arts groups related to their arts business and practice. The Arts Shrink brings two decades of experience as an arts consultant, teacher, and mentor to the table as she responds your questions.


We've all heard stories about wildly successful Kickstarter campaigns. Like the one about the guy who raised over $50,000 to make potato salad. It all sounds so easy. Pick a project, slap up a couple of photos and a plea for money, and away you go! But the reality is that about 60 percent of Kickstarter campaigns fail and, of those that fail, less than 1 percent raise more than 80 percent of their goal.

Here are a couple of things that can help increase your odds:

There are some obvious things like making sure your project has a reasonable budget, a clear start and end date, and compelling visuals -- this is extremely important since most people respond to beautiful or interesting images.

Carefully consider the "rewards" or "incentives" that you offer your donors. What can you give people that will genuinely show your appreciation but not cost you too much (if any) money or time to produce? There are lots of ways to say thank you without sacrificing an arm and a leg. Acknowledgement in programs, press releases and/or brochures is effective and you can tier the acknowledgement font size according to the size of the gift. If you're a performing artist, complementary tickets could be considered and, in this instance also, you can adjust the number of tickets according to the size of the gift. Visual artists should be careful not to promise little original artworks as acknowledgements. Imagine yourself making 100 little drawings! Consider signing or otherwise personalizing prints instead.

And it's not just the personal or financial cost associated with over-incentivizing; there is another, more egregious, side effect. Offering prospective donors too much in the way of incentives can signal desperation which is something that prospects instinctively run from. Appearing desperate to a donor prospect is equivalent to discussing your thumb sucking problem on a first date. Enough said.

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Be strategic, here are a few more interesting Kickstarter stats:

Of the projects that have reached 20% of their funding goal, 81 percent were successfully funded. Of the projects that have reached 60% of their funding goal, 98 percent were successful funded. Projects either make their goal or find little support. There's little in-between."

Lesson learned: Make sure you have at least 20% of your goal secured before you launch your crowd-funding campaign.

Sample strategy: Let's say you have a total campaign goal of $10,000. Identify people who can get you to your 20 percent goal of $2,000. These will probably be people who are close to you and are familiar with your work. Meet with them in person if possible. Explain your project and the importance of reaching 20 percent of your goal (quote the stats shown above). If they agree to be foundational donors, let them know what day you plan to launch your campaign and when you'd like them to make their gift. Ask them to stagger their contributions over a few of days. In other words: Ask donor one to make their $500 gift on the first day of the crowd-funding campaign; donor two donates on the second day, etc. By doing this you are building momentum which helps favorably position your project.

If you are not able to raise 20 percent of your goal, you may want to reconsider the size of your campaign. Generally speaking, your ability or inability to raise 20 percent of your goal is an excellent indicator of your overall fundraising capacity. For example, if you can only raise $1,600 in foundational gifts then consider lowering your campaign from $10,000 to $8,000 to keep the 20 percent ratio.

If you absolutely cannot raise 20 percent prior to launch and you definitely cannot lower your campaign goal, then here's another strategy that might help: Ask the wealthiest person (or group of people) you know to create a challenge for you. Here's what you say, "I need to raise $10,000 for X project. Would you be willing to commit to a matching gift? In other words, if I can raise $5,000, would you give me $5,000?" It's an old timey idea that public radio and television have been using forever. They use it because it works. It doesn't have to be just one person making the challenge either, it can be four or five and it doesn't have to be a 1:1 match either. The important thing is that you consider this strategy and modify it to work for you. It's easier to ask someone to "challenge" you to raise the money you need, than to ask them for an outright gift; it's more sophisticated and sounds like you've really done your homework -- which you have -- which already puts you way ahead of everyone else. Making a challenge also provides the donors with a PR opportunity. If you have a challenge situation, you discuss that and, unless the person wants to remain anonymous, you say whose challenging you. It makes the donor look very good. You say something like: "Every gift you make to this project will be doubled thanks to the generosity of X." Pay attention the next time a public radio or television station in your area has a pledge drive to better understand how challenges work.

Investing a little time developing strategies before you launch your crowd-funding project will be time very well spent.


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