Since I’ve been covering GeekMom’s Fund This! article for a while, I frequently get questions on crowdfunding and how to approach using community-based fundraising to launch a product or project. Having run my own successful Kickstarter, and perusing hundreds of other campaigns, I definitely have a few insights on what works and what doesn’t.
Campaigns usually fall into two categories. The first come from companies, organizations, or people with an established following who are using this platform to expand their offering. Great examples of this are The Oatmeal’s Exploding Kittens Game (which my family has been playing for about a week straight. Every night. Because it’s awesome.), NASA’s Reboot the Suit (in which the public proved that they valued something that needed funding outside of the regular budget), or Amanda Palmer on Patreon (in which one of my favorite artists took control of her ability to produce and connect with her fan base).
The second category is entrepreneurs. People who have an idea and are going for it. It’s this second category that needs the most support and the most thought before launching. But a well-planned campaign can make your project dreams come true and possibly launch a whole new business. There are also two other categories: the campaigns in which you are buying a product and the ones in which you are investing in a cause you believe in.
Probably the most common way that homegrown projects fund their startup costs these days is through crowdfunding. Websites such as Kickstarter, IndieGogo, GoFundMe, and Patreon allow your community to invest in your project. Some, such as Kickstarter, only fund you if you meet your goal. If you use this model, make sure you set an attainable goal amount. Other platforms allow you to keep whatever you raise. You should know that while all these companies take a percentage of what you raise (which should be calculated into your asking amount), some take a higher percentage if you do not make your goal. You are not charged an extra percentage for exceeding your goal on any platform. There are many choices online, but some of the popular platforms include:
Kickstarter: Probably the most well-known platform, great for launching new products. Advantages include popularity and sense of urgency, disadvantage is the funding is all or nothing.
IndieGogo: Another well-known site, but this one has the option of keeping what you raise, although the percentage they take is higher if you do not reach your goal.
GoFundMe: Personal fundraising website. Good for things like raising money to receive training or gain a new skill that relates to your goals or business.
Tilt: Formerly know as Crowdtilt, this platform is a great way to collect and track money for a project or cause, particularly from an established group.
Patreon: Platform to support artists of all kinds on an ongoing basis.
Choosing your platform is directly related to your end goal and who you think is going to fund your idea. When approaching a crowdfunding campaign, consider the following:
- Who is your audience?
- How big of a community will your space serve?
- Is there any component to your project that would serve others outside your community?
- How will you connect your mission to your audience?
- Who will write your campaign and film your video?
- What perks can you offer and who will fulfill them?
- Who will do the daily marketing required for your campaign?
- If you fail to meet your goal, what is your back-up plan?
The good news is that statistically, your crowdfunding campaign will either never make it out of the gate or you are almost guaranteed to fund, and that gives you some control. Preparing for a campaign by gathering and motivating your community, lining up local media coverage, and making smart choices around perks can set you up for success before you have even started. You don’t necessarily need a finished product, but you do need enough of a prototype or a plan to demonstrate feasibility and success.
If you are doing a crowdfunding campaign, my advice is to keep it simple and doable. I wish someone had told me before we launched ours the amount of daily work it would take to market and push our project in every direction we possibly could. I still would have done it, but I would have delegated more.
I also wish someone would have warned me about how much time and energy fulfilling our perks would cost. If your project is a product, the reward is fairly straightforward. For campaigns that are causes, physical perks such as t-shirts are costly and time consuming to mail, and honestly people generally do not want more “stuff.” Perks like “A Month of Making: 30 Days of Projects” sent by email, which was a reward of the Austin Tinkering School Kickstarter, offer an experience and information that you can provide easily with very little overhead and deepen your connection and value to your backers. Every person I have talked to that has run a crowdfunding campaign has stressed that while all the small reward backers add up, offering really dynamic rewards at the higher levels can make all the difference. Those backing at a higher level will have different expectations and you should plan accordingly.
Finally, my last piece of advice is you may not need any crowdfunding website. If you are running a local campaign or have backers waiting with money in hand, you could bypass using an external site completely and post your project on your website with a link to Paypal or another money collecting system. You would decrease the cost to your backers and keep more of the funding by appealing directly to your community.
So, what do I personally look for when I am choosing campaigns to feature on Fund This? First, was I able to make it through the whole video or explanation? Second, does it really offer something new and unique? Third, does it spark joy, do I want it? And finally, has the campaign demonstrated to me that they can accomplish what they have promised? I tend to focus on campaigns that appeal to our geeky audience, but since that is who I am, the research can be very personal as well. Therefore, campaigns that show personal investment and enthusiasm always catch my eye.
My (last) last piece of advice is to make sure you show yourself and connect with your audience. Passion is infectious, and can make all the difference.