Kick-ass Kickstarter campaigns

kickstarterNonprofits should at least know about the potential of Kickstarter for crowd-funding small to medium-sized creative projects. Even if you don’t use this tool yourselves, your supporters and/or grantees might be interested.

Over the past year, I’ve watched a few friends launch successful Kickstarter (KS) campaigns for very worthy causes, but I wanted to learn more—especially from the communications perspective. Happily, there was a recent presentation on the process by local expert Lou Abramowski—sponsored by one of my favorite Minneapolis design agencies, bswing. I want to share Lou’s wisdom with as many people as possible in the nonprofit communications world.

One big lesson I came away with is that any crowd-funding campaign is going to require a significant amount of time, planning, and organization (not to mention creativity and knowledge of  your target donor audience)..and some up-front capital. Think about that before you make the decision to undertake a KS project. Also, make sure your project has a clear beginning and end date—KS requires that. This platform isn’t for funding start-up businesses or anything long-term—it’s specifically to raise money to fund the completion of finite creative projects. Be sure to check KS’s funding categories to make sure that your project fits easily into one of them.

If you have resources to devote to a KS campaign, think first about a budget. How much do you need to raise and approximately how many donors will it take (each giving say $50 each) to get to your goal. Remember, you’ll have to reach out to many times more people than that final number of donors—so consider if that’s feasible given your resources. And don’t count on Kickstarter (or any other crowd-funding platform) to get you to the finish line. Abramowski estimates that typically only about 3% of your donors will come from KS traffic. The rest come from your own aggressive outreach—emails, phone calls, videos, blog posts, Facebook and Twitter posts, other social media, events, etc.

When you’re figuring out how much you’re going to have to raise to carry out your project—consider that 5% of your contributions will go to Kickstarter and another percentage will go to Amazon for processing the transactions. Also, you will want to produce donation incentives (rewards you’ll mail out to contributors if the project reaches your funding goal), e.g., a copy of your project, calendars, frig magnets, greeting cards, events, etc. to spur various levels of giving and get people more engaged. Those cost money, too. So does the postage for sending them out, and the postage/printing for any mailings you’re going to be doing as part of campaign promotion or follow-up. If you want to recoup those costs, include them into the amount you need to raise. You absolutely need to be prepared for success, so make sure you have a plan and funding to carry out after-campaign follow-up, right from the beginning of the campaign.

Also think realistically about how compelling your project is. When you talk to people about it, do they get excited? Is there a great story to tell—something that can arouse the same kind of passion in others that you feel? The most important part of any KS campaign is the quality of the project. But, as Abramowski points out—people are not only investing in your cause, they’re investing in you. So make sure your personal or organizational story is also exciting and human—i.e., not institutional pablum.

As for choosing Kickstarter over other other crowd-funding platforms, Abramowski recommends it because it attracts a very high number of unique visitors. It’s the largest crowd-funding platform for creative projects in the world; that means a built in audience for you and good brand  association for your project. But be forewarned, the support staff probably isn’t going to be as helpful as staff on smaller platforms, like Indiegogo.

Here’s some of Lou’s best advice for mounting a “kick-ass” campaign on Kickstarter.

  • You’ll need a great video. Hopefully, you’ll be able to produce this yourself with smart phone or videocam footage and free online editing software. Tell the story behind the project, emphasize the need and the fact that this project just won’t happen unless people contribute. DON’T FORGET THE ASK!!!
  • Create fun rewards for different levels of donation. Try to get people to the $60 mark, but reward many levels of giving.
  • Build anticipation. Start marketing while you’re setting up your campaign on Kickstarter (which can take several weeks). During the actual campaign, a good rule of thumb is to focus 70% of your marketing on the first three and last three days. It’s crucial that your campaign period covers at least two pay periods during the month (Fridays). And time the campaign ending date so it gives people a chance to donate right after their second paycheck–which is more likely to be discretionary money.
  • Partner wherever you can. Find friends, colleagues, freelancers, and agencies who believe in what you’re doing and are willing to contribute ads, copywriting, videography, event venues, anything that can lessen your out-of-pocket costs and help spread the word.
  • Write exceptional copy. This is all about storytelling, authenticity, passion, and honor. Use natural language, no jargon. Keep it conversational. Make your KS pitch as creative as your project is. Stay honest.
  • Be yourself. This doesn’t have to be a Hollywood production. People need to feel the authenticity to share your excitement. They are investing in you as much as the project. Don’t read a script, tell a story. Keep it simple and engaging. And don’t forget the call to action!
  • Market like crazy.  Marketing is going to be responsible for 95% of your success—and 95% of your work! Be everywhere everyday. Over-update on social media. Answer every email. Take out ads. Do mailings. Throw a party. Get creative! (But don’t forget to build these costs into your total funding goal.)

After all this, if you’re still interested in trying KS, here’s a great post from Mashable that goes into much more detail about ensuring KS success. Good luck. And thanks to Lou and bswing for sharing their KS expertise.

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