Proving wildly successful for some and a total wet fart for others, crowdfunding is a formulaic process that requires planning, perseverance and, preferably, an existing strong fanbase or audience for whatever it is you’re trying to achieve.
It’s easy to focus on the funds, but without a crowd you ain’t gonna get ‘em.
Alright kids, this is going to be a long post as it’s something I’ve been thinking on for weeks whilst I’ve been putting together a crowdfunding campaign for punk poet Rowan James. Stay tuned though, it could bag you some cash for your next project.
The practical tips are in bold if you’re not as obsessed with funding streams as I am *ahem* and I’ll give a case study of Rowan’s campaign so you can see it in action.
This is by no means a comprehensive guide to crowdfunding, just the ramblings of a producer on deadline day, which as we know is a rich source of strategic gold.
Crowdfunding, if somehow you’ve escaped being asked for money from your friends for their projects constantly since about 2008, is an alternative means of fundraising, utilising online platforms like Crowdfunder, Kickstarter, IndieGoGo and myriad others, to draw donations or investments from fans, strangers and friends to complete a creative, start-up, or charitable project.
Social media sharing and short films about the project form the basis of almost all campaigns, and rewards are offered to supporters as thanks yous. This reward structure has also been successfully used as pre-sales for products and as company investment shares, but for arts projects generally you’ll get tickets to shows, memorabilia and VIP experiences, thank yous on patron pages and shout-outs on Twitter depending on how much you cough up.
In theory, crowdfunding opens your ideas up to a world of generous benefactors, but realistically you’re more likely to get a tenner off your auntie by asking nicely than to be stumbled upon by a millionaire searching for that perfect niche project to drop a grand on. It does happen, it can happen, don’t stop believing, but get that cap firmly in your hand and be ready to ask everyone you’ve ever met to chip in if you want to do this.
In this regard, crowdfunding is somewhat problematic; why should our friends and family pay for our projects? Are we just passing the same fiver around between us in turn? Does a project have to be populist to be successful in this format? If you’ve previously been funded why should people help you now? If public funding is a question of worthiness, is crowdfunding a popularity contest?
Whilst I don’t think crowdfunding is a sustainable way of producing art in the long term, I do like its DIY style, the high-stakes all-or-nothing factor, the instant cash and for the complete lack of application forms, and for the opportunity to promote ideas and get people engaged ahead of a project. If you’re digitally savvy and well-connected you can get great things done. Crowdfunding is both a fundraising and PR exercise. Even if you don’t meet your target you’re still making new audiences aware of your work.
If you’re a lone star, unattached to venues, funders or organisations, then fundraising can be a bit daunting, and I’ll give it to you straight; if you don’t have a mailing list, healthy Twitter following or other network then it’s going to be tough, but not impossible.
Even if you do have those things you’re going to have to put the time into contacting people personally, asking directly and clearly for what you need and keeping the energy of your campaign up with updates and news. If you can assemble a team of champions around you this will become a lot easier; consider sharing the load of tweeting and begging with a collaborator, a team of friends or an organisation.
Some basic considerations before launching your crowdfunding campaign:
You probably won’t get many shots at crowdfunding as it’s so reliant on people close to you, so don’t launch one until you’re sure you’re really making a step up, taking a risk, or offering something nobody has ever dreamed of.
Recording your first album after gigging for years to delighted audiences? YES. Crowdfund it.
Creating an eco-creche in an area with crappy public services? YES.
Hoping to go on retreat sometime to write your first novel? Probably not, unless you’re the King of Instagram or you recently saved an orphanage from burning down.
1. Build your team- share the load. Crowdfunding is an emotional process and it’s best to have folks around you to share the highs and lows and to expand your reach. If you’re an artist with a producer then great, get to it, but if not then asking friends, fellow artists or colleagues to give an hour of tweeting/emailing time per week will help enormously.
For this campaign I’m working with the four Catalyst organisations, plus Rowan’s production team and Cambridge Junction. I’ve also listed all the influential people he’s worked with before to be our cheerleaders.
2. Make the best video you can afford as this is what will engage most of your crowd. Have fun, be clear, include as many voices and perspectives to vouch for you as you can. It doesn’t need to be a feature-length spectacular; between 2 and 4 minutes of interesting footage is fine.
Working with The Point’s resident film-maker Marina Moya and shooting fast during rehearsals we made the most use of the venue and time by organising ourselve ahead of time and planning as little disruption to Rowan’s schedule as possible. With limited time available we wanted to get a flavor of the show through capturing rehearsals and interviewing key team members about their experiences of the project.
Our first draft was over 4 minutes long so Marina trimmed it down to the snappy 3 minutes and 4 seconds you see now, the shortest we could make it without losing vital information.
3. Identify your crowd. What networks do you have, and where else can you tap in to? Basically, who thinks you’re cool? Don’t do anything sleazy like buying mailing lists, but do get in touch with everyone who has ever said they like your work and ask them to fund/pimp your project.
I spoke to Rowan about his gigging history and fans, and with Luke about the venues and organisations that have been supportive of the project throughout, as well as rallying all the Catalyst partners to engage their audiences through newsletters and social media, for which a schedule sharing the load of coverage was created.
4. Get press coverage- editorial is best. Make your project relevant beyond the fact that it needs a cash injection by writing an article about the themes your project addresses, or the people involved. Local radio is a great way to get the word out to tons of people and show yourself off as a charming swine to the public.
Lyn Gardner just listed the show as one of her Edinburgh picks and Luke Emery will be writing a piece for Guardian Culture Professional. And you’re reading this!
5. Transparency- be extremely clear about what you are spending money on. Include a budget breakdown if you’re asking for a large sum.
6. Make your rewards realistic to deliver. You don’t want to spend half of what you raise and all your rehearsal time hand-engraving silver plates, tattooing the names of all your supporters onto your thigh or whatever. If people give it’s generally because they like your idea, not because they desperately need a new hoody with your face on it. Can you find a company that would donate some nice merchandise as rewards?
We’ve put a limit on the larger rewards, and are offering rewards that can be delivered without costing the team excessive time and funds. The show’s the thing!
7. Do the maths; how many people can you think of that will actually give you that shiny £500? How long will it take you to contact the £10 crowd? You cannot predict who will give what, and there will certainly be surprises, but making a few estimates can help you stay focussed during the countdown to funding day.
8. Watch as many crowdfunding videos as you can- the good and the bad- to decide what is best for you. Interviews, a music video, animation, a spoof advert? Consider it all before getting in front of the camera.
9. Time scale; Yes, the longer your campaign the longer you have to badger people to give, however most donations will come in right at the start and end, no matter how long it is. I’m not suggesting you try and raise £120k in three days through sheer hype and excitement, but if your other commitments allow then keep it snappy at around 4-6 weeks.
10. With or without a safety net? If this is your one shot at your project happening what will you do if you don’t meet your target? Some sites offer a keep-what-you-make option, taking a higher percentage commission to people happy to part-fund a project. Maybe you can use the sum you raise online as the root of an Arts Council application; being able to demonstrate a demand and investment from your audience will really help your case. You may have to reassess what you can achieve, and you may have to wait, but don’t forget to thank your donors heartily and keep them updated on your progress.
Case Study: Raising £1500 for Rowan James’ “Easy For You To Say”
Back in February, my first day on the job at Dao, pencil case and shiny apple metaphorically packed, I attended a meeting between Dao, Salisbury Arts Centre, The Point and Stopgap Dance Company, all working together as Catalyst, a partnership investigating the future of funding and development in disability arts.
Previously, I’ve raised a few grand for my own Edinburgh Fringe run through crowdfunding, successful due to the existing audience and mailing list from cabaret and smut events I’d produced, my connections in arts and sex journalism, the favours I could pull in from top-quality film crew from various projects I’d helped out with, and the fact that I was going to be offering the show free of charge at the Fringe to make it accessible to everyone. Offline I also talked a celebrity gynaecologist into donating a grand in exchange for their practice logo in the show credits and lifetime guestlist to my vintage porn salons. Whatever it takes.
In Rowan’s case I’ve got a few advantages to work with; he’s been gigging for a few years, supporting big name artists, as well as teaching and kicking about the party and circus scene. Catalyst is made up of four influential organisations, giving us a great network to draw from, and the show we’re raising money for is part of the iF Platform at the Edinburgh Fringe, making it shiny and new and a bit fashionable, and the show is rooted in social commentary and human connections. Ideal.
My first concern with this campaign was that it not get in the way of Rowan’s rehearsals and preparation for his shows; I know exactly how stressful and all-consuming it can be mounting a new production and if raising money takes over creative work then I consider it a waste of time. The show, and Rowan, has to come first.
Meeting initially with Luke Emery, Rowan’s producer, we discussed what the team needed financially; technical and production support (people hours essentially) and per diems so that the cast weren’t paying out of their own pockets to do the show. Easy enough, essential to the show and a relatively small amount to raise.
I really like campaign videos that are a bit fun, a bit clever, and really show off the goods, and so initially I wanted to ask Rowan to write a script in rhyme and deliver a performance piece as the ask. Obviously I’d be violating my own rule of not stressing the artist so had to let it go in favour of working around the team’s existing rehearsal and performance schedule and using a more traditional interview format to sell the project.
The shoot took place at Cambridge Junction, and went like a dream. Everyone was articulate and great in front of the camera. Marina and Henry, our film crew, were consummate professionals and totally respected my plan to be as unobtrusive on the rehearsals as possible, and we were treated to a one-off soundtrack improvised by Marv Radio for the film as well as performances from him and Rowan.
Whilst Marina has been editing the film I’ve been putting together packs for our team of champions, including a schedule for everyone’s social media and newsletter output, making sure everyone takes an equal and manageable share of the work, and gathering press quotes, reviews and photos to share and keep the campaign lively.
Wish us luck! Or better yet, chuck a couple of quid towards the campaign and help out a cool artist on the rise.