There is a ton of information and so many great resources on how to raise money for a project with crowdfunding these days. So I’m going to skip the tips and show you proven strategies to fund your projects no matter what they are.
I have designed and managed several successful crowdfunding campaigns over the last few years. The largest of which, raised just shy of $28,000 for an ongoing photography project called panAFRICAproject by the legendary photographer Lou Jones. This was a big achievement as crowdfunding large amounts of money for a photography project rather than a physical product like a lens or photo book is considerably harder. I am currently running a new campaign for Jones that has already raised over $30,000 and is on track to reach $40,000 by the end of the month. I will be using this campaign as the basis and example for this three-part series on how to use crowdfunding to fund personal projects, art books, and more. So please take a second to check out the campaign and project page.
Crowdfunding, specifically on a platform like Kickstarter, is an incredibly difficult thing. We hear about all the amazing success stories and the huge amounts of money being raised and it's easy to think its just free money waiting for you to collect.
The truth is that only 36 percent of all campaigns succeed and only 31 percent of photography specific ones do. A quick search through the most and least successful, shows you that having a great or worthy idea does not ensure success and sometimes a seemingly niche idea can raise massive funds. Typically this is because the campaign failed to properly do one or both of the two most import steps in designing a campaign. Understand who your audience is and design a budget that reflects what that audience is capable of funding.
Understanding Your Audience
Easily the most important thing for any fundraising effort whether traditionally or crowd-sourced is knowing who your audience is, how big it is, and the best way to reach them. This is important for a number of reasons. I can tell you theoretically how much money you can raise by the total number of people you have access to. From there we can find out if your proposed budget is too high and where you need to put in extra effort to reach more people.
Who is your current audience? If you are looking to raise only a few thousand dollars most people can easily rely on family, friends, and co-workers to raise this amount. Schools have been doing this for decades with great success. So we will assume you need to raise 10,000 or more for your project. Start with your social media. How many followers do you have on all the different platforms you're active on? Then export your email contact list to an excel sheet. Make a list of every person not on these lists that you can think of. Do you have a Christmas card list? A newsletter? Now tally all of this up and this is your core audience to which you can market to.
Kickstarter provides a wealth of statistics and smarter people than me have compiled this info. Each different category has its own stats and success rates but on average 1 to 2 percent of all campaign views converts into actual pledges. With that info, we can estimate a theoretical dollar amount raised. Let's say you looked at all your possible contacts and came up with a number of 3,000. 1.5 percent of 3,000 equals 45. That means with a network of 3,000 people we can estimate you will get only 45 of those people to actually back your project.
Let's take it a step further. With an estimated backer number of 45, we can figure out the dollar amount possible based on average pledges within the photography category which is $50. Using this equation: Goal = (# of Backers) x (Average Pledge) and at least two of these factors we can estimate all kinds of data. For example with the number of backers and the average pledge amount, we can expect to raise $2,250 = (45) x (50).
Let's say you know you need 15,000 to produce a book. You plan to sell the book for $65 and won't be offering any other rewards. So you use 65 as your average pledge amount. $15,000 = (231) x (65) or 1.5 percent of 15,400 views. That means you would need to sell 231 books and get roughly 15,000 people to view your campaign. If this was your goal you would need to either raise the number of pledges or the average pledge amount by creating more expensive rewards. Either of these is possible solutions but depending on who your audience is and what you can offer as rewards this may be difficult.
The campaign I am currently managing has an average pledge of $180 which is considerably higher than the overall Kickstarter average. We achieved this by including a variety of rewards that targeted Jones existing audiences interests. We combined this with extending his core audience to reach a much larger network of people.
How to Expand Your Audience
Now that you have estimated your core audience unless you already have a sizable following or substantial newsletter list, it's time to look into ways to expand your extended audience. The first step is to go through your entire core list and pull out all the people who you have a close relationship with, anyone who has a sizable following or has access to some kind of editorial outlet. These are what I like to call your "Champions." They are the people who will share, tweet, post, email, and publish your campaign on your behalf, because they want to see you succeed. Their networks are your networks and this is the best way to expand your audience. You don't want to wait until you launch to reach out to these people. Take advantage beforehand to inform them about your project, asking them to be a part of the launch efforts. By including them before you launch you increase the potential for a bigger initial launch. But more importantly, you show them that you value their help in making your project a realization.
Look for potential partners to team up with. A great place to start is your project idea. Maybe you are photographing something to build awareness for a culture or cause. Reach out to the people who have helped you along the way. Organizations who share your vision and both have a large network of similarly minded followers and a desire to see you succeed. Is there a community involved or interested in the topic you’re photographing? Maybe you are publishing a book on cosplay photography you can reach out to various clubs and organizations who have a built-in interest in your content.
Look at the reward options you've created and who is producing them. Maybe they would be interested in partnering up for publicity and can share your campaign with their network. Jones current Kickstarter has several fine art prints being offered as reward options. They are being printed by the very talented team at Digital Silver Imaging. We reached out to them before launching and came up with a mutually beneficial partnership. If you're designing a book, who is the designer, the printer, or publisher? All of these people have an interest in seeing you succeed but may not have even thought to help you market your campaign.
Start building a list of media outlets and bloggers that might run your campaign. Not every Kickstarter is of interest to the media but that shouldn't stop you from trying. It only takes one good story to boost your views. Look for outlets that are interested in your subject matter, some of the highest funded projects are niche topics that reached that specific audience through the press. Target popular photography news sources, newsletters, and organizations like ASMP. Try to spin your project into a topic that is interesting to their viewers. Fstoppers probably won't write about your photo book Kickstarter, but what is the subject of your book and project? We may write about how your project is documenting an important issue or subject matter. Maybe your project covers something humorous or pop culture related. Fstoppers does write about interesting and important photography projects. If an article runs during your campaign you can funnel that traffic into your Kickstarter.
Local and National News
Pitch your story and project to local news outlets. With the rise of web-based news, there is always a huge demand for new content and that sometimes includes local business stories and puff pieces. Mike Kelley had a lot of success getting local Los Angeles TV and newspapers to cover his Kickstarter campaign providing a huge boost in exposure.
National news coverage is highly dependent on your overall project topic but doesn't let that discourage you. Do a search for articles related to your project and make a list of all the publications and more importantly the writers who wrote them. Contacting these people and proposing your project might have a higher chance than contacting the press desk. Work on your pitch and tailoring it to their audience. I’ll cover this in more depth in Part 2.
Start Long Before You Launch
If you wait until you launch to try and build and market to an audience you've already lost. Start the minute you have an idea. Tell everyone you know about your idea. Get their feedback and most importantly be open to it. Create your elevator pitch so when asked you're ready to talk about it even if you only have a few seconds. Start compiling lists of contacts right now and find out where your weak spots are. Ask the people you know who have influence or large newsletters if they would be willing to be involved. Create your own newsletter and start creating buzz for your project. Get people excited long before you launch.
The most important thing I can stress is that just starting a crowdfunding campaign on any platform isn't going to get you a ton of money for your project without work and planning. These websites like Kickstarter are a tool for you to use to funnel traffic and give you the resources to collect funds. So many campaigns fail for the simplest reason that the creator assumed just making a good campaign and putting it online would bring in the money. Once you put in the time to build your audience and researched possible extended networks to market to, then you are ready to build your campaign page. Stay tuned for part two, where I will cover everything involved in designing your campaign page, marketing strategies, press releases, budgets, campaign video, email templates, and more.
If you have a second please check out panAFRICAprojects current Kickstarter campaign. Lou Jones through panAFRICAproject, has set out to create a contemporary visual portrait of modern Africa devoid of popular preconceived, western ideas. He has spent the last five years traveling country by country each for one month at a time documenting the many communities and people who go to work, raise and educate their children, preserve traditional rituals, cultivate their natural resources, and innovate new technologies. I have been lucky to participate in this project and travel to Africa as part of it. The imagery that has come out of this project is breathtaking and is sure to enlighten you about the everyday lives of so many.
All images used with permission of Lou Jones.