I got a lovely email today. It was another “oops, I didn’t fill out my survey” email from a Kickstarter backer. From a project I did in 2011. I say lovely because this one was for a digital reward and the person was super nice. AND they helped me to make a book that I never could have put out without them so emails from backers about almost everything are lovely. But here’s the thing, if it was from a backer in Australia who got the two book and a robot deal (now approximately $65 to ship) I would still send them the books and the robot and be in the hole significantly more than they originally paid. I’d do it though because they bought them and paid for them through Kickstarter and I owe it to them.
There seem to be a lot of misconceptions out there about crowdfunding. I’ve even heard on the grapevine that people are telling MFA students to “just do a Kickstarter for your seed money” as if it’s an easy thing to do. It’s the word JUST that I have a problem with. I wrote 5 Reasons You’re Not Ready To Crowdfund about reasons people might not be ready to jump into the fulltime job of asking everyone they’ve ever known and strangers for money. Those reasons are all good reasons to hold off. There are also reasons that some projects or people might not be a good fit at all.
If you succeed there is no backing out. If people get behind your project and send you their hard earned money you owe them the thing. Not making the thing after a successful campaign is not an option. Sure, it happens. There are several high profile examples of this, but I’m not even going to link to them, because they are shameful!
Obviously if someone has a drastic life change and they are unable to do the project giving all the money back is an option. But if it’s even a consideration in the back of your mind then don’t crowdfund. Find another way to make your thing.
If people give you money they expect customer service. Creative projects almost always take longer than you think they’re going to. The time scales for books and movies and video games can be years. There will be people who email you before you’ve shot your crowdfunded movie to demand to know where their DVD is. There will be people who give you a negative Amazon review because they thought a friend’s project that was unsuccessful deserved the attention you got. Your response to all of these things needs to be what you’d expect from someone you gave money to.
Communication is key here. If you drop off the face of the earth as your deadline sails by then people will be rightfully angry. But if you explain the delays and keep up communication then the crowdfunding community continues to be supportive. They wanted to be a part of your project and most people realize that things don’t always go smoothly. If you are a jerk and cannot handle people wanting things from you then find another way to make your thing.
Stress can stress you out too much. Running a crowdfunding campaign is really, really hard. It can be demoralizing, ruin your self-esteem, send you into deep shame spirals, ruin your ability to sleep and encourage comfort eating. I say this having done three successful campaigns. This is how you feel when you succeed. If this is the kind of thing that puts you in a dangerous situation emotionally then crowdfunding is not for you.
Obviously there are positive feelings too. You feel amazed and grateful and have a wide-open Sally Field getting an Oscar heart, but the negatives shouldn’t be ignored.
Only go a little bit beyond your limits. One of the amazing things about crowdfunding is that it can let people do big things they’ve never had a chance to do before. You should go big! Just don’t go so big you fall on your face.
If you’ve never even made a short film or been on a movie set raising $500,000 for a feature might be too big of a leap for you. You don’t have the tools.
If you’ve made tons of Internet videos and you have a script and a line producer and a DP and half of your locations and some actors then go ahead. Press launch on that campaign.
You do not want to be in a position where you can’t conceive of delivering your project. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you’re doomed to fail. You owe it to your backers and yourself. Also, if you start with a smaller project then you are building your audience. That is one of the most important things you can do!
Crowdfunding is a truly wonderful way for people to get to make creative projects. A quick browse through the Kickstarter archives will show you 1000’s of amazing and exciting things. But every single one of those creators signed on for a big responsibility when they clicked that launch button. Make sure you’re prepared to deliver if you decide to take the plunge. Good luck!