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Crowd Funding Tips For African American Artists

Filmmaker Toolkit
by Darryl Wharton-Rigby
July 25, 2013 6:30 PM
1 Comment
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Are you an artist, photographer, filmmaker, or a singer?  Do you have a special project that you always wanted to do - publish a book, make a film, create a game, art project, or record a CD - but lack the necessary funds to get started? Well, there is money out there and people who will help you online.  

Back in the day when the rent needed to be paid, people used to hold rent parties.  At these parties, the tenant would charge a nominal fee in order to raise enough funds to ensure they kept a roof over their heads.  Today, that would be called crowd funding.  This is where a group of people put their money together to support a cause or fund a project on the Internet.

Kickstarter.com and Indiegogo.com are two of the main crowd funding sites on the Internet today.  Others crowd funding sites bursting on the scene are Rockethub.com, Newjelly.com, and Quirky.com, and Cofolio.com, which target specialty projects.  

Via these sites, you set a time frame and funding goal, create a page, and input all the information about your project.   Then over the course of a 30-day campaign people donate money and your project is funded.  Sounds easy, right?  Trust me, it's not. Pulling off a successful campaign takes planning.  

Last year, I completed a campaign for my latest documentary project, ‘Don Doko Don: The Yamakiya Taiko Club Story’ on Kickstarter.  I set a goal for $15,000 and raised more than $17,000.  I am an African-American filmmaker doing a documentary about a Japanese taiko drum group.  I admit as projects go, I set a high degree of difficulty for myself, but putting a plan in place helped a lot.  Reaching my goal took a lot of time and effort.  It was definitely worth the energy expended.

I know a lot of folks who have wonderful ideas for projects who are constantly spinning their wheels.  They simply do not have the resources at hand to make it happen.  In today’s interactive world, there’s no need to wait.  You don’t have to try to hit up the local doctor or lawyer.  Nor do you need to try and get a meeting with Tyler Perry, Bob Johnson, or Magic Johnson to get them to read your proposal. Crowd funding is one of the best ways to help get your venture off the ground.  

I am going to share 10 tips that can help you create a successful online crowd funding campaign.

  1. Choose the Proper Platform

Choosing the right platform is essential in making your campaign a success.  Do the research for your project.   There are sites for small businesses and for inventors as well.  Find the right site for your endeavor.  I’m using Indiegogo and Kickstarter as examples, because of my own experience with both.  

Indiegogo is one of the first crowd funding sites.  The biggest advantage for Indiegogo is that you get to keep whatever money you raise.  You have a set a goal and the number of days (generally 30-45 days) to reach your goal.  If you fall short of your goal, you still receive the money you raise.  If you make your goal, Indiegogo gets 3% of what you raise.  If you do not make your goal, Indiegogo’s cut is 9% plus 3% for credit cards fees.

Kickstarter is very popular in today’s crowd funding marketplace.  Just like Indiegogo you set a timeframe and funding goal.  Except with Kickstarter, if you do not meet your goal, you do not get funded.  Initially this sounds scary, but psychologically, you create a sense of urgency for your project.  The all or nothing angle encourages people to help you succeed.  Many projects on Kickstarter not only meet, but also surpass their goal.  Kickstarter’s take is 5%, plus a 3-5% fee for Amazon.com for processing if you reach your goal.  If you don't make your goal, they don't get a dime.

There are pros and cons for both sites.   I’ve had experiences with both.  I used Indiegogo for a short film project and enjoyed the process.  We did not meet our goal and I actually refunded some of the money to people who donated because that project fell through.  My campaign was under the old Indiegogo model.  Today, Indiegogo is very similar to Kickstarter in its layout and format.

For my latest project, I used Kickstarter.   I had friends who succeeded and failed with Kickstarter.  I used what I learned from my failed Indiegogo project for my Kickstarter project.   As a filmmaker, I liked the idea of creating a ticking clock towards raising funds.  It was exciting and definitely created a sense of drama for the project.

  1. Prepare Your Campaign

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “Proper preparation prevents piss-poor performance.”  For any campaign, you must prepare.  You cannot simply upload your project and expect that the money will come rolling in.  It doesn't work like that.  You need to do the work.  Give yourself two weeks to a month to really plan for your campaign.

First, you need to know your funding goal.  Know how much you need and why you need it.   Raise enough to get your project off the ground and/or completed.  

Second, decide on the number of days for your campaign.  This is not an easy decision.  For my project I chose 30 days.  Others chose less, some more.  Give yourself enough time to promote your project and raise your funds.  If you go too long people might stop caring.  If you go too short, it might not be enough time to get the word out.  Generally most campaigns are between 30 – 45 days.

Third, know your audience then think wider.  Friends, family, and colleagues will be who approach initially.  Since Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and other sites are online, remember that anyone around the world could see your project.

My documentary project is primarily set in Japan and I was pleasantly surprised when I saw people backers not only from the US and Japan but from France, Germany, and other parts of the globe.  It was an international effort.  

Be cognizant of the possibility of your project having an international appeal.  

  1. Create An Engaging Pitch

Once you have settled on that information.  Create a pitch video that lets your audience know about you and your project.  Keep your video under 5 minutes.  It does not have to be elaborate.  It should be effective.  The shorter the better, and just don't be boring.  Let your personality shine through.  This is your call to action for your potential backers.  Test your video out on people and get their reaction.  A good video will get people’s attention and keep them interested in reading your written pitch on your project page.

Along with your video you have to write a compelling narrative about your project and why you need funding.  What makes your project different and worthy of someone parting with $5 or $500 for your project?  What makes your film, book, or music great?  Who are you and what makes you qualified to do this project?

As a filmmaker, it took me more than two weeks to complete my presentation video.  I had more than 100 hours of footage for my documentary, but I also needed to make a solid pitch.  I used some actual shots from the documentary and created a video that would help people understand what I wanted to do.  I also knew I needed to deliver the pitch myself.   I asked some friends to shoot me talking about the project and asking for support.

Since my project was shot in Japan, and I wanted to also appeal to a Japanese audience, I knew I needed to translate my written pitch into Japanese.  This meant I needed to write out everything and proofread it before I had that text translated into Japanese.  This took more then two weeks.

Once you have your pitch, funding, goal, and time frame, there’s one more thing you must consider…

  1. Rewards

Rewards are incentives for people to donate to your project at various levels.  You can make funding levels and appropriate rewards at the $5, $25, $50, or $100 level.   The higher the level the more elaborate the reward.  

Your rewards do not have to be expensive.  Choose rewards that fit your project.  Rewards connect your project to your funders.  It gives people something to invest in you, whether a rubber bracelet, t-shirt, CD, DVD or a trip to a premiere these rewards will help a great deal as you promote your project.  

If you’d doing a CD or book offer an autographed copy of the final CD or book.  If you’re making a film, offer a lunch on the set with the Director or Star.

Make sure you raise enough to pay for the costs of the rewards that you offer your funders and at the same time fund your project.   Once your meet your goal, follow through and send out your rewards in a timely manner as well.

  1. Pre-promote your project

Create a build up and anticipation.  If you have Facebook, Twitter, Email, Tumblr, Google+, or Linked In you should pre-promote your project.  All of your contacts are now potential backers.  You never know who is going to give and how much they might give.

Let everyone know what you are about to do and why you will be doing it.  Create a sense of anticipation for your project.  As you are preparing your video and writing your compelling narrative, let the world know you have something exciting brewing.   Create a Facebook page for your project, which will supplement your project before, during, and after your campaign.

Generally, after you upload all of your information to Kickstarter or Indiegogo, it takes a few days before they approve your project before you can launch.  Use this time to pre-promote your project.  Create a count down so when you push that button you’re once step closer to making your dream project a reality.

  1. Promote Your Project

Now that you have uploaded your video, created a compelling story, selected great rewards, and launched your project, the real work begins.  You and/or your team have to work together to make your campaign a success.  Yes, sometimes it takes a team to help make a campaign successful.  For the next 30 – 45 days this will be akin to a job.  Don’t take this step lightly.

Promote your project everyday, several hours a day.  This is key to the success or failure of your project.  Send out emails, tweets, post on Facebook, blog and let the world know about your project.  Write personal appeal emails.  For my documentary, I personally wrote and sent out more than 1500 emails and messages.  My producers did the same thing.  We also asked our friends to post on their sites.  

If your project is about a special topic, reach out to groups that might be interested in your idea.  For example, my project was about Japanese taiko drumming.  I reached to taiko drum groups around the world to let them know about my documentary.  From sending out more than 80 emails, we were able to get a positive response from several groups, who became backers.  

I’ve seen projects where people had a great idea and thought that simply having a page up on Kickstarter or Indiegogo would bring in backers.  That’s not going to happen.  The more activity on your page helps create attention on the various sites, which can lead to your project being selected for “Project of the Day,” which only garners more eyeballs and potential funders.  My documentary reached created enough buzz that during the campaign it was considered a popular documentary for a while.

  1. Update Your Project

As your campaign moves forward, you need to send out updates about your project.  Talk about the current status of your project and let people know that you are currently working to make your project happen outside of the campaign.

If you’re doing a film and you find the star for your project, write an update.  In fact, show a clip of the audition tape.  

If you’re writing a book, post an excerpt of a chapter.  Better yet, post a video of your reading the chapter.  

If you’re doing a photography project, show your pictures.

For my project, I posted pictures and videos of the Yamakiya Taiko Club from my documentary.  Over the course of 30 days, I did about 12 updates and one once the campaign ended.  

Updates let people know that your project is alive, active and moving forward.  Even after your campaign is over, you should continue to post updates about the progress you are making on your project.

  1. Thank You goes a long way

As you gain backers, send them a personal “thank you” message.  It doesn't matter if they donated $5 or $5000, if they thought enough to support you, you should have the courtesy to say “thank you.”  It also helps to create a personal connection between you and your supporters.  Also keep in mind that your backers will be your supporters once you have completed your project as well.

A few of my backers supported others projects and quite a few told me that was the first time someone had written and actually thanked then for their donation.  Good manners never go out of style.

  1. Be Creative

As you reach out to your audience, you have to be creative to get people’s attention.  There are a lot of projects out there.  People are inundated with emails and Facebook posts all day long.  What can you do to stand out?  I read about one campaign where a guy sat on toilet for more than two days for his campaign.  The line I remember, “Give a crap.”   Was it crass?  Yes, but it was also effective.

For my project, I said I would post a video of me playing Japanese taiko drums if we reached certain number of funders.  It worked and we more than double our fundraising efforts in less than 24 hours.  Although we did not get to the actually number of funders, we surpassed a funding milestone, so I still posted the video.

10.  Don’t Quit

There will be lulls in the fundraising.  Be patient.  Initially, you’re going to get a bust from the people who jump in early then there will be a trickle.  This is when you have to dig in and be determined.

You and your team at this point must be consistent and keep plugging away.  Keep doing updates and sending out messages and promoting.   You’ve made it this far, so see your project through to the end.  

To be honest, there were days when I did not think we were going to make it.  We launched on June 11th, so when July 3rd rolled around and we had only raised 25% of our goal, I had doubts. Then, I pushed those doubts aside and kept plowed forward.  I had a plan.  No matter what, I knew I needed to stick with it.  By July 5th, things kicked into high gear and we had raised 79% of our goals.

It will be worth the sleepless nights, long days of anxiety, and tension.  And in the end you might be surprised who supports you.

These are few of the strategies that I used for my campaign.  In 30 days we raised a little over $17,000 from 199 backers.  That’s 113% of our $15,000 goal.  Thirty-eight percent of our funders came from Kickstarter and the other sixty-two percent were a result of consistently promoting the project.  This all happened while I was traveling from Baltimore to Los Angeles to Fukushima, Japan.  

Through jet lag, my team and I worked everyday on the project to make it a successful campaign.  There were days I was stressed and added a few new gray hairs.  Just like life, not every project is going to be successful.  But, it’s always good to minimize what could go wrong and be ready for anything to happen.  This is why I wanted to share these tips to help others, so they can make their dream project a reality.  There is no greater feeling than seeing the words “funded” once your campaign is complete.  

You can take a look at my project ’Don Doko Don: The Yamakiya Taiko Club Story’ on Kickstarter at: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1241316848/don-doko-don-the-yamakiya-taiko-drum-club-project.

I would also recommend supporting other projects.  If you see something that you like, support it financially.  The world is round and sometimes paying it forward can come back to you in a successful campaign of your own.

Darryl Wharton-Rigby is an award-winning filmmaker and professor.  He taught film for Morgan State University’s Screenwriting and Animation Program. He wrote and directed the feature film, “Detention,” and wrote for NBC's "Homicide: Life on the Street." He is working on two books, “Suspicious,” an anthology of stories about racial profiling and “The Lazy Filmmakers Guide: Creating Cinematic Capital,” which discusses independent filmmaking strategies with personal anecdotes. His latest short film “Obon,” shot in a tsunami ravaged town in Japan premiered at the 2012 Pan-African Film Festival and his film “Prodigal,” screened at last year’s Cannes Short Film Corner.  He is currently living in Fukushima, Japan with his wife and three children and working on the documentary, ‘Don Doko Don: The Yamakiya Taiko Club Story.’

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1 Comment

  • Dawn | July 26, 2013 1:20 PMReply

    Awesome information. Thanks

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