November 30, 2012
In April 2012, the team behind the film I co-wrote and produced, Farah Goes Bang, raised $81,160 of our $75,000 goal on Kickstarter in 32 days. It damn near killed me. When our team began planning our campaign, I was convinced that crowdfunding was a formula I could solve. I was right. Especially if you have to hit a certain target before any of your hard-earned funds are released, as in the Kickstarter and Seed&Spark models, I learned that crowdfunding for a film requires a smart, strategic, and incredibly committed approach. Here’s the formula: You have to go all in if you don’t want to come out with nothing.
You’ve already heard the standard advice: the optimal target range for a campaign is about 30 days, the quality of your video is really important, your incentives should be things that people actually want. Here’s some insider tips that go below the surface, from someone who’s been there.
1. Create a highly informed target figure. I’m stunned when I talk to people who are surprised by the 5-8% cut that nearly every crowdfunding site takes from successful campaigns. Seed&Spark addresses this impact by processing payments itself, thus limiting its cut to 5%, and offering supporters an opportunity to subsidize the 5% difference—but still, for god’s sake, factor it in! If you really need $25,000, don’t set your target lower than $26,250. Manage the cost of your campaign by offering services and digital deliveries as incentives wherever possible, and factor in cost-per-unit estimates of any incentives that will cost real money, like posters, DVDs, and postage. Early-stage business services like incorporation fees, legal bills, and website construction can add up fast, too, so even if you’re fundraising for production, make sure you take stock of pre-production costs. Your first task is to create a budget not just for your film, but for your campaign.
2. Get your ducks in a row before your campaign launches. Crowdfunding is a full-time job for the duration of your campaign, and if you’re doing your job right, probably for the month or two before your campaign launches, too. You need to plan as much as you can ahead of time, because once the campaign is open for business, every minute has dollar value, and you’ll feel like you’re underwater.
At least a month before you launch, collect every email address your team has—and I mean purge the addresses from the Gmail account you’ve had since 2005, weed out the randos you once bought a chaise lounge from on Craigslist, and keep everyone else. Get your communications system ready to go—we used MailChimp. Make a spreadsheet that details what will be happening on every single day of your campaign—when you’re emailing people, when you’re releasing new incentives, what your financial targets are. Finalize your incentives. Submit your project proposal to the crowdfunding site at least two weeks in advance, with your finished, polished video included, so you have time to make any necessary changes, and so you’re not panicking if they’re slow in getting back to you—I’ve heard of cases in which Kickstarter has taken up to ten days to approve a proposal. In the game of crowdfunding, it literally pays to be hyperprepared.
3. Soft launch before you hard launch. The basic principle of crowdfunding is that you’re building a community on your credibility, and the most effective way to recruit people into that community is to make them believe two things: 1) you give a shit about this campaign (more on this later), and 2) they’re picking a winner. So when every one of your Facebook friends clicks on that precious link, it’s best if they don’t get to your page and see that you’re three days into your campaign and have only raised $75 of your $45,000 goal.
We got some great advice from our friend (and now post-production supervisor) Mark Stolaroff of No Budget Film School: triage your email list based on likelihood of donation. Make a list of the people you think are “sure things”—your best friend, that aunt who always loved your art projects, that mentor who’s always been behind you—and launch the campaign to them before you launch it to the world. We opened our campaign on a Friday morning with an email blast to 200 of our nearest and dearest, asking them humbly and specifically to donate between Friday and Monday. Then, when we blasted the campaign to our 6000-person email list, social media networks, and the rest of everyone we’ve ever met on Monday, we’d already cleared more than 20% of our goal, making the momentum behind our campaign look unstoppable from the outset. I once heard a statistic that 80% of campaigns who raise 20% or more of their goal in their first week succeed. Looking unstoppable is why.
4. Tailor different parts of your campaign to different constituencies. Just like it’s a good idea to subdivide your contacts into how likely they are to donate, it’s also a good idea to triage them demographically. We were up against some unique challenges in how to market our film, which is about a girl trying to lose her virginity, and generally has a youthful, raunchy tone. Thus, we determined, men over 70 were much less likely to dig our shit than women under 40. That said, it can’t be denied that the over-40 crowd has a lot more spending power than our penniless twentysomething friends—so craft a marketing strategy tailored to each constituency, because you’ll need them all. For people of my parents’ generation and political orientation, I wrote email blasts that emphasized the patriotism of the film, and for my college friends, I hyped up our mission of young female empowerment. Same goes for your incentives: make the lower-level ($10-100) rewards something that your friends will love, and make the higher-level ($250 and above) ones something that your mom’s friends will love, too. Similarly, Seed&Spark’s wish list can be tailored to these different constituencies: if you ask for a variety of big stuff and little stuff, you make it easy for everyone to help you however they can. You’re going to need all four quadrants to succeed, so make sure you offer something for everyone.
4. Get ready to Facebook your ass off. I literally sent so many personal Facebook messages during our campaign that Facebook, um, thought I was a spambot (I’m not a spambot! I’m just a girl with a dream!). Here’s a sample:
Hey Emily Best!
I hope this finds you better than well. Quick favor to ask you, under the umbrella of Lady Film Geeks Sticking Together: could you cut and paste this as your FB status today?
My friend Laura Goode has 3 days to raise $10K for her film Farah Goes Bang! Help this amazing team close the gap today: http://kck.st/FGBKickstarter
So much gratitude,
What I just did there operates on several devious communicative levels. First, I’ve made the object of my solicitation feel like we’re already part of a community together. Two, I’ve increased page views by multiplying my Facebook friends by THEIR Facebook friends: every time someone reposts your link, you’re reaching a new community. And three, I have not asked for money at all—I only asked my recipient to do something that costs zero dollars and takes 2 seconds. This strategy was the home run of our campaign’s final ten days: I firebombed people’s news feeds for a short, intense amount of time (I think the high-water mark was when I logged in and saw that 86 friends had reposted our link), making our campaign impossible to ignore. Warning: you can only be this shameless for about a week before people get crowdfunding fatigue and hate you, so save this strategy for the final stretch.
Bonus Facebook tip: thank every person who donates ON THEIR FACEBOOK PAGE, WITH YOUR LINK. This will spread your link even further, and also shame people into donating: once you get some momentum going, the non-backers with no thank-you note on their page start to look like stingy jerks. Shame sells!
6. Flex your multimedia skills. I’m the most textual person ever, so this didn’t come naturally to me, but boy, is it important: words are great and pictures are way better. People respond emotionally to pictures, and, better yet, moving pictures! My partner Meera is a visual genius (that’s why she’s a director), and she was a one-woman meme machine during our campaign: every day of our campaign, we released Photoshopped pictures of President Obama holding up an FGB T-shirt, impassioned videos from our parents about how they’ve watched us come to this cinematic journey, and my personal favorite, a friendly rip-off of The Social Network’s tagline. You’re a multimedia artist, right? Show them what you can do.
7. Find an angel. The grand ulcer of non-flexible-funding crowdfunding is knowing that you have to hit a certain target or all your work is for naught. Therefore, it’s a good plan to find a safety net. If you can, and I realize not everybody can, find a “crowdfunding angel” who can commit to closing your gap if you find yourself a few dollars short at the end of the campaign. You don’t have to ask that person to actually donate the amount you need to release the rest of your funds; all you’re asking is that they lend you the money to put you over the top, and you can pay their loan back once your funds are released. That way, even if you don’t hit your target, you don’t have to cash in the 75% of your goal that you did raise.
The bigger fish to snag, obviously, is someone who actually will commit to donating a large amount to your campaign. If you can find someone who will donate a very large amount (like $5000 or over), ask them to donate that amount during your soft launch or as close to the end of your campaign as possible, so their bump doesn’t discourage other people from donating. Better yet, it’s a silver bullet to find someone who’s willing to match a certain donation level—every $250 donation becomes $500, or every $500 donation becomes $1000. It may sound outlandish, but you’ll be surprised by how infectious the energy of your campaign can become.
8. Stand up and ask for it. Asking for money can be hard and make you feel like you need a shower all the time, especially when you’re sending 300 emails and 500 Facebook messages a day. But here’s the thing: if you can really, truly, stand behind your film as the product you’re selling, you have every right to ask your community to get behind it. It is not easy to stand up on the internet and ask everyone you know to make an investment in your career. It is not possible to promise grand returns on that investment apart from the satisfaction of helping you, so in essence, you are the product you have to stand behind. The only way to do this is to believe deeply that you and your film are not full of shit. So if you intend to succeed, do this first.
It’s also helpful to remember that you’re not just asking for money: you’re asking for in-kind donations, you’re asking for free publicity, you’re asking to be reminded that other people think great storytelling is important, too. You’re asking for support in any form. So if you sincerely believe that the project you’re funding is important, don’t ever apologize for needing support. Trade your guilt in for some gumption and stand up and ask for it.
9. Be sincere. This, I believe, is the single most important precept of crowdfunding: you have to show people you care about what you’re doing. You have to campaign like you mean it. Stolaroff, who sees dozens of campaigns a week, told us that he could tell whether the project managers gave a shit about their campaign within 5 seconds of looking at the page. Some people will donate because they think your film looks really important even though they don’t know you personally. Many, many more people will donate because they realize that this is really important to you, and they care about you, so they want to help.
You're telling a story not just with your film, but with your campaign. You're showing the world how much you want what you want, and what you're willing to do and give in order to get it. You will recruit supporters by making that story suspenseful, heartfelt, compelling, and about something bigger than yourself. Tell a great story, and your audience will come closer to hear it.
The internet is rife with snark, and this is a huge opportunity for you: these days, nothing can stop a person in their digital tracks more than a truly sincere sentiment. The story you must tell sincerely begins, like all things, with gratitude. Say “thank you” in your video, on your page’s text, in every email, backer update, and Facebook post. I ended every thank-you note I wrote in any medium with some version of the statement “Your donation means so much to me.” There’s this magic formula that if you show people how much you really care about something, they will start to care too. Use your campaign to care out loud.
Laura Goode is the author of the novel Sister Mischief and the co-writer/producer of the film Farah Goes Bang. Her writing has appeared in New York Magazine, the Los Angeles Review of Books, IndieWire, and other publications. Follow her exploits on Facebook and Twitter.