A First Timer’s Guide to Creating a Successful Kickstarter Campaign
Project: Chinafornia, an animated comedy series. Unable to pay the $10 trillion it owes to China, the U.S. comes up with a plan: it gives China the state of California.
Funding goal: $23,000
Amount raised on Kickstarter in 60 days: $31,586
My writing partner, Peter Dowd, and I had written what we thought was a pretty unique and hilarious pilot for a half-hour animated series, Chinafornia. Being new to Los Angeles, we shopped it around to the limited contacts we had, and were lucky enough to receive an overwhelmingly positive response. Despite the praise, agents and producers consistently said, “This is original, this is smart, and I have no idea what to do with it.” So, as is often the case in Hollywood, our project was uniformly praised and passed upon. What’s a filmmaker to do?
Rather than shelve it, we decided to adapt it as a web series and apply at the last minute to a live crowd funding and pitch event at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival. I honestly never thought I’d launch a Kickstarter campaign, since the idea of asking friends for help and money made me really uncomfortable. With the support of the festival, I decided to take a leap, hoping that the SFIAAFF audience would help give it the kick start it needed. I had no idea what I was getting into. Here’s what I learned…
Fees. Kickstarter’s total fees (8-10%) are a little higher than Indiegogo’s (7% if you meet your goal; 12% if you miss your goal). If you are a nonprofit, or have a nonprofit fiscal sponsor, you can set up your project to receive tax-deductible donations on both.
Application process. Kickstarter pre-screens applications to ensure that each one meets its eligibility criteria for creative projects. Indiegogo has no pre-screening process, and you can raise funds for any type of campaign.
Visibility. Being featured on the front page of either site is the holy grail; you’ll get the attention of a ton of new visitors who might potentially be interested in your project.
All-or-nothing? Kickstarter is all-or-nothing funding (if you don’t meet your funding goal by the deadline, you get $0). Indiegogo has two funding options: all-or-nothing, or a flexible funding campaign (where you keep all the money you raise regardless of whether or not you meet your goal).
It was a tough decision, but I ultimately chose Kickstarter, because it has lots more unique visitors monthly than Indiegogo, and I thought those supporters of the arts might be more enthusiastic about our project. Also, as hair-raising as the process was, I wanted the all-or-nothing pressure to help our project meet its funding goal.
BEFORE LAUNCHING YOUR CAMPAIGN…
Give yourself 2-4 weeks to prepare all the materials you will need to launch a Kickstarter project.
First, learn as much as you can about the process by visiting Kickstarter.
Prepare your Kickstarter project description.
Produce a video. Kickstarter says that the most important piece of your campaign page is the video. Be creative, and be yourself.
Produce additional visual materials. The richer your visual materials are, the more compelling your campaign will be.
Choose your funding goal. This is the part I had the most difficulty with.
♦ First of all, when budgeting your project, don’t forget to add 10% to your budget to cover Kickstarter and Amazon fees. Add an extra % to cover reward fulfillment.
♦ If you have an existing fan base, fans and newcomers will jump on board to support you, and you could probably aim for an ambitious funding goal.
♦ What if you don’t have an existing fan base? Books tend to do well, because they’re essentially a pre-sale. For $20, you get a book. Well-designed products in development and video games also tend to do well for the same reasons.
♦ Films and videos are a bit trickier if you are unknown. How do you communicate your idea and get people excited enough to donate? How much can you reasonably raise?
Our biggest challenge was the fact that animation is labor-intensive and expensive to produce. To create one 5-minute episode, I would have needed $19,000 on a barebones budget. Even that seemed a bit much, to expect friends and strangers to give that much money in exchange for a short animated video. I had to cut as many corners as I could, to bring the budget down.
Next, I asked myself, “How much money could we raise from our friends and friends of friends?” My best guess was $20,000… which is how I eventually arrived at a funding target of $23,000, to produce two episodes.
Rewards. Most of my friends give to Kickstarter to support the person or the project. Sometimes it’s about the rewards.
♦ I would recommend that you try not to offer rewards under $50 where you have to mail anything. For my rewards under $100, I offered digital downloads of various items.
♦ The best reward I had to offer was the opportunity for a backer to appear as an animated character in our show, with input on the type of character they wanted to be (heroic, villainous, oddball, nerdy, etc.). Since this was one of my best prizes, it was priced at a higher level, $1500 for a one-time character and $5000 for a recurring character.
♦ To make things fun and to reward backers who couldn’t afford to contribute at that higher level, I came up with the idea of a drawing. For $50, backers could earn one entry into a drawing to become an animated character. For $75, they received two entries. For $100+, they received three entries, plus some additional rewards like DVDs, artwork, and digital downloads. Overwhelmingly, people loved this, and I think it encouraged a lot of people to give.
Choosing the length of your campaign. Kickstarter recommends 30 days, so you can keep a steady momentum and not lose yourself or your friends to fundraising fatigue. Since I was rushed into a campaign, and had no email lists and no social media presence, I knew I needed 60 days to build momentum.
Try not to have your campaign end around major holidays or when tax returns are due!
Prepare your email lists before you launch. You can throw all your friends, family, work colleagues, etc. onto one list, or create separate lists if you have a slightly different message you’d like to communicate to specific groups. Email is far more impactful than Facebook. You will need to use both for a successful campaign.
Prepare your written materials for your email blast and your initial Facebook post. In your email, ask your friends to donate within 7 days if possible, and ask them to “like” your Kickstarter page. Explain that this type of viral and donor activity straight out of the gate will likely raise awareness of your project amongst the Kickstarter staff, increasing the possibility that your campaign might be featured as a “Staff Pick” or on the home page to attract new donors. This will hopefully motivate your friends to donate now, rather than put it off and forget about it.
Build a project page and a presence on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.
AFTER LAUNCHING YOUR CAMPAIGN…
Email all your friends, family and colleagues at the very beginning. It’s important that your friends engage in your campaign early, so you might have a better chance of getting a Kickstarter “bump” by being featured on the front page.
Post on your Facebook wall, and encourage everyone to “like” and share your Kickstarter page. Tweet about your campaign, and post updates to Tumblr. Don’t rely only on Facebook for your outreach.
I only sent my email once. I posted to my personal Facebook account three times. Many friends shared my wall posts and the word spread virally. We tweeted a lot of jokes with a link to our Kickstarter URL, and we enjoyed a decent number of retweets.
Do what you feel is best for you, without reaching the point of being annoying. You don’t want friends and donors to suffer burnout.
If you have relationships [with film organizations], ask if they would be willing to share your Kickstarter link on their Facebook page, and tweet about your campaign. Many film organizations have curated Kickstarter pages.
Post Kickstarter updates regularly, ideally with new images or video, to stay engaged with your backers and your Kickstarter audience.
Keep in mind that strangers will likely not give you any money at the start of your campaign, unless you are fortunate enough to be selected as a “Staff Pick” or are featured on the home page. 95% of your early donations will likely come from people you know.
I was never featured on Kickstarter’s front page or as a “Staff Pick,” and I never got the Kickstarter bump. Despite that, I was honestly amazed and completely humbled that we met and exceeded our goal. In the end, 20% ($6,445) of our funding came from the Kickstarter community, and 80% ($25,141) came from friends and friends of friends. If you do your homework, if you encourage a flurry of Facebook and donor activity early on, and if you are lucky enough to be featured on the front page, you might expect that ratio to be 50/50… and you might expect to raise a lot more money than you first imagined.
Ellie Lee is an award-winning director, writer and producer of animated, fiction and documentary films, which have screened at the Berlin Film Festival and over a hundred festivals worldwide. She is a five-time National Emmy Award nominee and won the 2009 Alfred I. duPont Columbia University Award for excellence in broadcast journalism. She often performs for The Moth, and proudly serves on the Board of the nonprofit Karen Schmeer Film Editing Fellowship. Follow Chinafornia on Twitter.