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How to craft a winning crowdfunding campaign

The holy grail for any project seeking crowdfunding is, of course, to go viral in the vein of the Pebble watch (Kickstarter’s most-funded project to date) or Amanda Palmer, the first musician to break the $1 million mark, also on Kickstarter.

While not everyone can hope to achieve those levels, and the majority of hopefuls don’t have huge followings to start with that they can leverage, getting the basics of a campaign right is a good start.

At a session at last week's Survive and Thrive conference led by Mohawk Media’s Helen Baxter, creatives, including a rep from New Zealand crowdfunding platform Pledgeme, came together to share their experiences with crowdfunding.

The consensus was that the general pattern begins with an initial bang, followed by a middling lull, and picking back up again towards the end. Those last few days are crucial and often bring a big boost. And if you can get trending by racking up a lot of pledges in a short time (ideally at the start), your project will earn a spot on the homepage and pick up more traction going forward.

Baxter defines the key steps in the crowdfunding process as: Release (the launch), Communicate (your story and objectives), Publish (maintaining contact and updating followers), Deliver (making it happen) and Thanks (self-explanatory). See this diagram for more.

Launching right

Between 30-60 days is optimal, according to the general reckoning, but you’ll need to put in the groundwork before hand to hit the ground running. Plan out a target audience, marketing strategy and define what it is you’re offering and why.

Videos are also key to most successful campaigns. They help generate interest, Baxter says, and while they don’t need to be fancy, they do need to convey your message in a genuine manner.

Rewards

Incentives offered to those who donate to a project can range from a credit at the end of a film to a personalised poster or lunch with someone interesting.

“There’s a lot of intangibles around crowdfunding – people buy into the experience,” Baxter says.

Her advice for devising great rewards for pledges? Come up with something clever that money can’t buy, be it an acting role in a film or having the project creators shout your name from a mountain top.

Be transparent

Make it clear exactly what you’re raising money for, where it’s going, and when you need it by. Kiwi FM’s Fleur Jack is an example of a local musician who raised enough to fund an album.

“She publicly showed the budget – ‘this is exactly what we’re doing with your money’,” says Baxter.

Stay in touch

It’s just as much about building relationships as it is about raising cash, Baxter says.

Keep followers up to date on your funding progress, whether it’s through Twitter, your blog or simply your project page. Celebrate milestones and stay on the radar of fans by being active – throw an event, host a webstream.

According to Baxter, the 80/20 rule applies – the vast majority of funding will be pledged by a select few people. Attendees on the day who’ve been through the crowdfunding mill all said their own readymade networks were the most valuable. That said, a bit of traditional media and PR outreach can’t hurt.

Testing the market

“The really exciting thing is that quite often people continue to donate after you’ve raised what you’ve asked for. It’s like market validation. You don’t know how big the market is till you get in there,” Baxter says.

As well as money, you also get feedback and fresh ideas, and expand your audience along the way.

But ultimately, you’re also more accountable. Baxter says it’s vital to maintain that contact with fans throughout, and if your project meets its goal (there’s no shame in failing to do that) you need to be able to deliver on your promises.

“You’ve got to deliver. You’ve got to follow through.”