Career

This Is How To Nail Your First Crowdfunding Campaign

I’m getting really sick of lazy Pozible pals. You know the ones. Of course I want your art show/doco/friendship bracelets to succeed. But what’s with all these digitally printed fruit of the loom tees that nobody will ever wear and DVDs I don’t even have a drive for?

The best crowdfunding campaigns have clear achievable goals and form part of a long term sustainable business model. The worst examples benefit only the funder, add useless junk to the world and often amount to little more than a one-off shakedown of flatmates and aunties.

Create rewards that don’t suck

Crowdfunding works as a pre-sale to test the waters for the actual thing you want to make or do. The key is to create rewards that people will actually use. If you direct a short film then of course all your pals will want to see it, but they don’t need a physical copy delivered in a tote bag.

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Louis CK: not a fan of tote bags.

In fact, if you’re making something digital it’s really easy because you can sell a video download or a pdf with no distribution overheads. Louis CK totally cottoned onto this when it came to selling his comedy shows online. To paraphrase, he pretty much just said “Wanna see my standup? Gimme 5 bucks. Here’s a link.” In my book, that beats making your soul bleed with homemade DVDs and lining up those inkjet labels from your HP Deskjet 500.

Give experiences, not things

Some people feel the burning need to order loads of stickers and printed tees because they fear that people won’t place a dollar value on something digital. If that’s the case, you’d be better giving them a good night out. Research shows that it’s experiences rather than physical objects that people value and remember over time.

So hold a launch night, be it a gig, a film, a fashion show, or a reading, and give away the tickets as crowdfunding rewards. Once you have a willing crowd of trendsetters, hit up some booze companies and get everyone sozzled on free cocktails.

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Another option is to get crowdfunders involved in your project directly. Let contributors be extras in your film or have input into your product. To your biggest fans, sell workshop places and teach people to do that thing you do.

Don’t overdo it

You can shear a sheep many times but crowdfund only once. I once contributed to a campaign for an art project dreamed up by an old frenemy from uni. I can’t remember what the point of the project was but lots of us wanted to see him succeed and were happy to toss in a few bucks.

A couple of months later he was back with another campaign. This time it was a documentary. About his life. And let’s just say people weren’t as excited as the first time.

Set credible goals

To see Pozible done right check out Tsuno, a social enterprise that sells subscriptions for sustainable sanitary pads made from bamboo and donates 50% of profits to the International Women’s Development Agency.

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Roslyn Campbell, Tsuno creator.

The project successfully met a goal of $40k, which is a large amount – but it was very well thought through. This amount was the cost of producing a whole shipping container full of the pads, and the economics at this scale meant that Tsuno was buying cheaply enough for the end product to cost the same as major supermarket brands.

Don’t over-promise

If you do raise the big bucks, another risk is to be too ambitious with your rewards and become overwhelmed by delivering them. Crowdfunding seemed like a dream come true for popular Chicago comic artist John Campbell. He raised a whopping $50k, far exceeding his $8k goal to print hardbacks of his presciently titled work Songs for Sad Children. It’s a shame that comic talents don’t always transfer to business acumen.

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Let’s avoid this.

John had a meltdown after spending much of the money on vacuum packed bees, failed to deliver many of the orders and later posted live videos where he would burn a book in response to each negative email he received. To be fair, at least he isn’t boring.

Think long term

Instead of burning out, you should plan to make your passion project an ongoing concern. Your best bet when crowdfunding is to set your reward levels up as an ongoing subscription rather than a one-off purchase.

Those Tsuno bamboo pads didn’t just raise $40k, there was an option for a subscription where you received a package of sanitary pads every three months, and which formed the basis of a sustainable business model.


 Matthias McGregor writes from Delillo’s fictional Pop Culture Dept, here to “decipher the natural language of culture, to make a formal method of shiny pleasures—an Aristotelianism of bubble gum wrappers and detergent jingles.”