I recently wrapped up a kickstarter project that was trying to raise $10,000 for the production of a documentary film. During its 30-day run, and weeks of planning that went into it beforehand, I got my own crash course in fundraising and marketing. I’ll share what I learned in this article.
On October 15th, I launched a 30 day Kickstarter project. After much promotion, begging, and whoring ourselves out, we ended on November 15th with a final total of $3,419. Fail.
I’m going to walk you through some points that I feel we did well, and address some areas where we could have done something better to help us reach our goal. To give you some background information about the project, our synopsis was this:
Near the city of Pune in India, a diverse landscape that includes many rocky and mountainous areas goes largely unused when it comes to recreational activities. Sujay Kawale was born with these mountains in his backyard, but didn't discover his love of the outdoors, specifically rock climbing, until he moved to the United States. After being exposed to the western climbing culture, Sujay now seeks to petition the government in his home country to develop, and make available, rock climbing for the youth of India.
1. Planning Ahead
We knew about 3 months ahead of time that we would be running a crowdfunding campaign, and that it would be on Kickstarter. We had a rough outline of different media to put online, like Instagram photos, blog posts, Reddit posts, video clips, links on Facebook, etc. which we hoped would drive traffic back to our Kickstarter.
In addition to online promotion, we lined up speaking engagements in our local area, trying to spread the word to as many people as possible.
Where we went wrong:
We weren’t clear on a consistent link or tag on each social media outlet. There were times photos were posted, but it wasn’t easy to get back to the Kickstarter page for viewers. Crowdfunding is easily as time consuming as another full time job, so we didn’t make enough time to release as much media as we had planned. I personally wanted to edit another video or two and stagger their release, but I simply didn’t have the time to pull them together.
Get as many eyes on your project as possible, but don’t be surprised when only a small fraction of those views are converted to donations. Leverage social media outlets as much as you can without being a spammer– figure out what tags work across outlets and be consistent. Have your partners and close friends repost things, and leverage their networks when you can. Research blogs that have an audience who would be interested in the content your project is producing, and reach out to them on Day 1. Try to pre-create media that you plan to release during your campaign, and have written templates ready to go before your launch.
Below are the stats from our Kickstarter campaign, where it shows the sources of the people who donated.
2. Writing a marketing pitch.
We had several key points that we felt were compelling reasons for people to donate, so we tried to focus on those in our pitches. Working with a writer, we crafted what we thought was a decent pitch for kickstarter, with some variations for sending out to local TV news and print publications. I was careful not to embellish the facts too much, but that’s part of what marketing is all about.
Where we went wrong:
Our pitch was too soft, and didn’t excite like we wanted it to. For Kickstarter, our message should have created more drama and a sense of urgency.
Know the different outlets and audiences that you’ll be reaching out to, and write separate pitches as needed. For example, when contacting local media, we took care to note the local connections. When soliciting companies to promote us, we had to make it clear why it would benefit them. Write down your compelling project points, then find a writer who would be willing to spend an evening crafting your message for the price of a couple of pints. Don’t be afraid to hard sell at times.
3. Creating a pitch video.
I am NOT an on-camera talent, but being transparent and facing your potential backers is important. We put together a pitch video that we hoped would address our goals and challenges, while displaying who we were.
Where we went wrong:
Our video wasn’t watched that many times. We should have streamlined it and made it shorter, while injecting some personality into it. Perhaps we should have done it off the cuff while hanging from a cliff, at a pub, or something else that would have been more memorable or resonated with our audience more.
Spend the time to make your pitch video fun or standout in some way. If you are an example of the kind of person who might donate to your project, have a few pints with friends and come up with some ideas that make you laugh. Here are some examples of some videos I thought were well done:
4. Picking the right host for the fundraiser.
Kickstarter is the most popular online crowdfunding site, but they have some rules that might make reaching your goal more difficult. We chose KS since we were hoping to attract an audience outside of our own personal networks, and its popularity, easy sharing options, and good design seem to be best for that purpose. Most sites take anywhere from 7-10% for payment, so that was something else to keep in mind.
Overall, my experience using Kickstarter was a good one. It was easy to edit information and preview what it would look like BEFORE we pushed it live. They even make a preview link available for you to share so that others can proofread it and leave feedback before you launch your campaign. Once live, posting updates and tracking donations was very easy and intuitive.
Where we went wrong:
Our goal ended up being too high. We were so enthused from meetings with local supporters, we were over confident in our ability to raise $10,000. The majority of our backers were friends and family, so we failed at reaching a larger audience of supporters, which was the main reason for using Kickstarter in the first place. Had we gone with a host like Indiegogo or gofundme, we could have kept what little donations we received.
Choose your host and target goal wisely. Consider that each one will take about 10% off the top of the money you earn. Additionally, there’s no reason you can’t run a Gofundme concurrent to a Kickstarter… perhaps direct your family and friends to the gofundme, since they will be your easiest supporters to gain, and really push KS to your external audience with a lower goal.
5. PROMOTE, PROMOTE, PROMOTE
This was a grueling process. Damnit Jim, I’m a filmmaker, not a fundraiser! Besides blasting social media, we had high conversion from personal messages we sent out. I personally emailed something like 50 people that I had some connection with or had worked with in the past, and while it took a lot of time to do, we got some great backers from making direct, personal communications. I also made time to attend events that potential backers would be at, and tried to tell everyone I could.
We got an awesome shout out on a blog that is very relevant to our audience, and several social media supporters shared our links. This only happened because our team took the time to write to blogs and companies we thought might support our project.
When I wasn’t writing messages, I was developing content to post that we hoped would engage audiences and attract new supporters. Scenes from the film and photos were posted to Reddit, images to Instagram and Flickr, and video to Vimeo.
Where we went wrong:
Reddit pulled a few of our posts, as apparently posting Kickstarter links on certain sub-reddits is against some unwritten rules, even if the content and reason is relevant to the sub-reddit it gets posted in.... Ugh.
We reached out to several blogs and business owners that have a large following of people who are in our target audience, but only two re-posted our link. Out of about 10 local media outlets, we were only interviewed by one of them, and the article came out after our campaign had already ended.
There were a few other video clips and images planned for release, but we failed at finding time to edit them and share. In the middle of the campaign, I moved across the country, which made it tough for me to devote time for an entire week. Stupid life, getting in the way of stuff!
Craft your pitch for media outlets and blogs, and let them know why they should care. Reach out to any and all writers or promoters who owe you favors, and be willing to work with them. Learn Reddit, and use it carefully. Don’t make any plans for the duration of your fundraiser, it’s a full time job by itself. Have a team of people helping so that you can distribute writing/communication and promotional media creation.
My final piece of advice is to have some other plans in place as a backup. We failed to raise $10,000, but on the side we organized a raffle which raised a small amount. This was only possible because of the time I spent messaging outfitters and businesses to convince them to support our project, in return for promoting them in the film credits.
We’ve discussed re-launching our Kickstarter, or starting a Gofundme with a refined message and a lower target goal to help cover costs we’ve paid out of pocket already and for post production expenses. There’s nothing that says we can’t try again.
As for the project status, my visa application was ultimately denied, but the other photographer was able to go, and he captured most of the video we needed. He just got back from India about a week ago, so I’ll be pouring over the footage soon. The Kickstarter campaign came with some amazing highs and some terrible lows, but the learning experience was a unique and valuable one that I won't soon forget.