Kickstarter may have raised $10 million for the maker of a high-tech wristwatch, but people who have successfully used the crowdfunding site say that it is still, by and large, a place to raise small amounts of money to complete creative projects. Crowdfunding is something of an art, and success depends on many factors. The key is to have a solid strategy going in. 

First thing's first: Set a time period for your campaign that's long enough to raise the money you need, but not so long that you'll burn out doing it.

“They recommend you set the campaign for 30 days, which for me was the right amount of time,” said Rubidium Wu who used Kickstarter to raise more than $12,000 for a season of The Silent City, his Web series about a zombie apocalypse. “You’re up every morning working on it and checking it, and anything longer would have broken me.”

Wu made his comments during a panel discussion on using Kickstarter at the Blogworld & New Media Expo in New York Wednesday. He was joined by fellow Web series producers Desiree Akhavan and Reed R. McCants, as well as Jamison Tilsner of Kantar Video, who moderated the panel.

Setting a Fundraising Goal

All three filmmakers said the number one question they hear is how much money prospective Kickstarter users should set as a fundraising goal. If a project does not meet its goal within the timeframe set, it gets no funding.

“Tricky balance to get right,” said Akhavan, who used Kickstarter to fund a second season of The Slope, a Web series about two “superficial, homophobic lesbians.”

Akhavan said she figured the bare minimum she needed was $5,000 and the ideal number was $20,000. She ended up establishing her minimum at $8,000 and ultimately raised $8,415 from 207 contributors.

“Don't make it too high because you will miss out if you don’t reach it. But you don't want to go too low, either, and make it seem less impressive than it is,” she said.

“The fairy-tail situation, where some donor gives you a million dollars, is not going to happen,” added McCants, who raised $6,212 from 27 backers to fund his Web series, 40 and Leroy. “I think if I were doing it a second time around, I would have asked for more money.”

The Promotional Video

While Kickstarter project descriptions include plenty of space for words and photos, most projects succeed on the strength of a well-conceived and produced video. All three filmmakers on the panel had already done a season of their shows, which allowed them to include clips to give viewers a clear idea of what their contributions would support. But it’s also important to give potential backers a look behind the scenes.

“Show that there are real human beings behind this project,” Wu said. “Getting images of yourself into the campaign is crucial.”

Akhavan’s promotional video (below) combined clips from the show with an on-camera interview in which she and her co-creator poked fun at other Kickstarter campaigns.

 

Rewards for Donors, Perks for Creators

The most successful campaigns usually give donors some kind of reward: a copy of the DVD, CD or book being produced, an invitation to a performance, a T-shirt. Many creators offer different perks for different levels of contribution, much like a public radio fundraising campaign. The pitfall is that many creators underestimate the time and expense involved in fulfilling those promises.

“I spent so much time sending DVDs internationally,” Alkhavan said. “Make sure you make good on your perks and that they don’t cost more than the amount you raise.”

Offering cameos or naming a film or book character after a donor is becoming a popular perk. Keeping your audience informed can be a reward in itself. Even people who can’t afford to donate to a project will want to see the end result.

In some campaigns, however, the creative team itself gets perks in lieu of funding. Wu, for example, gained access to two cameras he would not have been able to afford. Other donors offered promotion, technical assistance and volunteer production help.

Either way, Kickstarter's crowdfunding model is hugely empowering to creative people and small businesses alike. “It's really about the small guy against the juggernaut,” McCants said. “Kickstarter, to me, is a great addition to whatever your project is. Things kicked up for us being involved in Kickstarter.”