If you’re new to funding or running arts projects then crowdfunding can be a great place to start. It relies on your passion for the project, which you’re likely to have in spades, and largely uses promotional techniques which aren’t complex and don’t cost more than your time. Additionally, it can often be easier to do than applying for money from a funder and doesn’t require the level of monitoring, reporting and evaluation that comes with other sources of funding.
That being said, if you look on crowdfunding platforms, you’ll see scores of projects with a big £0 next to ‘amount raised’. Crowdfunding is not a magic wand. It requires planning and work, and the projects that fail to raise any cash are usually because the creator put it up online and then expected lots of unknown internet do-gooders to donate money. That’s not how it works, but there are lots of things you can do to increase your chances of success and get vital cash for your project.
What is crowdfunding?
Crowdfunding is a way of raising money by asking people for cash donations to your project. The basic principle is that rather than trying to find one or two people to give you larger amounts of money, which could be difficult, you find lots of people to support your project who each contribute a smaller amount. These people are often referred to as backers.
Backers offer or pledge donations in exchange for a small reward of some kind. This reward could be as simple as a thank you in the programme for your show or on your website, or it could be merchandise, artwork, or access to special events.
To set up your crowdfunder you use an online platform, or website, which will take you through the process step by step to create your own crowdfunding page and start your campaign. Kickstarter, Crowdfunder and Indiegogo are three popular platforms which a lot of creative projects use, but there are many more out there.
There are two main approaches. All-or-nothing funding means that if you don’t reach your target amount, the backers who have pledged donations don’t have to pay and you don’t get any of the money. Flexible funding means that you will receive whatever amount you have in pledges by the time the campaign finishes.
Flexible funding can be good if you just need some money rather than absolutely having to reach your target and obviously takes out the risk but there are lots of studies of crowdfunding projects which show that the all-or-nothing model is a great incentive both for people pledging and for you to get those pledges and you will usually raise more money that way. Platforms also take higher fees from you for flexible funding.
Which platform should I choose?
Search crowdfunding platforms online and look at the kinds of projects on there. Get familiar with how it all works.
Donate a small amount to projects on different crowdfunding platforms that have creative projects (you can donate £1 on some projects) and see what the experience is like. How easy is it to navigate and donate? How much are you encouraged to share that you have donated and what thank-you or confirmation emails do you get? Look at similar projects to yours on a range of platforms. How appealing are they to the potential backer?
Each platform will have a slightly different fee structure. Most take a small percentage of each pledge and there are usually some card processing charges too. These costs come out of the donations you receive so you don’t need to pay anything up front.
Choose a platform you think works well but also remember that almost all of your donations will come from the work you do to drive people to the page rather than from organic donations via the crowdfunder platform itself. Don’t lose sleep over which platform you’re going to use- the campaign is more important than the platform.
Planning and Running Your Crowdfunding Campaign
Do your research first
There are so many useful articles available online. Each platform has a series of how to and step by step guides and because they can capture all the data from existing campaigns they have loads of statistics about what makes a successful campaign.
Do the maths and do the budget
How much money do you need for your project and does this feel like a manageable target? Work out a rough estimate of how many people you may need to donate. For example, the most common donation on Kickstarter is £20. As a rough working, if you want to raise £2,000, you may need 100 people to donate. Does this sound manageable? Make sure you also account for platform fees and card processing fees and the cost of producing or posting any rewards.
Decide your rewards
With arts projects, people are usually supporting the crowdfunding campaign because they want to support you and the project and the rewards are not very important to them, so don’t spend huge amounts of time and money creating elaborate rewards. Think of what would make people feel appreciated and special rather than something that has a cash value and therefore costs your budget.
Tell your story
Most crowdfunders have a project description, some images and a video. People give money to people, so make sure it’s clear who is behind the project and share your enthusiasm for it. A genuine connection is more important than a beautifully edited video so don’t hide behind your art! A video filmed on a ‘phone is better than no video. Keep your project description clear, concise and free of jargon. Don’t make people work to find out what your project is. Engage both the Rational Brain (the “what” of what you’re doing) and the Emotional Brain (the “why” of what you’re doing).
Find your crowd of backers
Before you launch your campaign, you need to plan who your backers will be and how you will reach them. This is the bit that needs time and effort. Start with friends, family and colleagues and get some enthusiastic people lined up and ready to donate as soon as your campaign goes live. Campaigns that look like they’re doing well in the first 24 hours encourage others to donate. Once your nearest and dearest are on board and ready to support you as soon as it goes live, then start working outwards and create a list or map of how you’re going to reach backers. This might include online communities, local social media influencers, relevant bloggers, press, groups that you can visit or events you can attend to talk about your campaign, social media content to share, people or organisations you can email, well networked colleagues who may be able to help. Think about what networks you have access to through college, University, work, social groups, hobbies etc. Don’t skip over this stage. It’s vital to the success of your campaign.
Manage your campaign
Crowdfunding is an active process. Keep promoting throughout your campaign and keep working on your crowd. People often want to support you but need two or three reminders. Keep up the presence on social media and post updates on the campaign page. Plan a few ‘pushes’ to get more people to back you at different stages of the campaign. Thank existing backers and ask them to share on social media and encourage others to donate.
At the end of your campaign, remember to keep backers updated on the progress of the project and their rewards and ensure they feel appreciated. Your backers could be key supporters of future projects.