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Guest Post: Jennifer Fox "The Next 14 Things I Learned From Our Six-Figure Kickstarter Campaign"

By Ted Hope | Hope for Film May 25, 2011 at 3:00AM

Yesterday, Jennifer Fox shared with us six things she recommends doing BEFORE launching a Kickstarter campaign. Today she brings the list up to twenty. She's giving us a lot. She's got a few days left on her campaign. Perhaps you can give back?
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Yesterday, Jennifer Fox shared with us six things she recommends doing BEFORE launching a Kickstarter campaign. Today she brings the list up to twenty. She's giving us a lot. She's got a few days left on her campaign. Perhaps you can give back?

The campaign continues and we keep marching forward. There’s nothing like this excitement as we approach our 90-day goal! Doing Kickstarter is not just about the work, but it’s also about creating that right frame of mind. Here are some more tips my team and I have gathered during the last 85 days campaign of Kickstarting:

7. Write, Write, And Write:

As you may have noticed, my writing style can be a bit longwinded. Early on in the process, I would send my eblasts to my team to edit. We thought one page max – so they cut and cut. Then we noticed that we were receiving the most donations following longer, more personal messages. They received overwhelmingly positive feedback. What at first seemed like a weakness, turned out to be one of our strongest tools. Writing became fun. As some of you may know, being on the road with a film can be the one of the most uncreative jobs one does over the course of film. But suddenly, writing these weekly Kickstarter updates and email blasts became a creative outlet for me. That leads us to #8:

8. Turn Your Negatives Into Positives:

I think the key to any creative producing is to turn your circumstances into strengths. In our case, we were really worried that the film was already screening on the festival circuit. I couldn’t change that, so I used it as an excuse to make regular video updates for our website, eblasts and pitches. The other thing I started to do, which I would have never thought appropriate, was talk about our fundraising campaign during every MY REINCARNATIONfestival screening. Here is an example of one video (Part 2 of 2) we posted from the film festival in Singapore. We made postcards with the Kickstarter pitch on one side and the film’s artwork on the other. I hand them out at every screening. I aso privately ask festival programmers to ask me a question on stage about financing during the Q & A, giving me an opportunity to talk about the campaign. I always try to have one of my postcards conveniently in my hand to wave at the audience to remind them! Most of you reading this will not have to raise funds for a completed film that is already touring. But wherever you are in the process, try to use that place to generate stories and images to support your campaign.

9. Evaluate Your Email List.

Thanks to Peter Broderick and many others, every filmmaker should know that you need to build a mailing list to survive as an independent in America. We already had a 7,000-person mailing list built during the theatrical campaign for my previous film, FLYING: CONFESSIONS OF A FREE WOMAN. The problem was that it was not exactly the right list for a Buddhist film! So we had to work hard to broaden that list.

10. Build your mailing list.

Everyone tells you to have people sign up for your mailing list on your website. But I have found that very few people do this. Most people prefer to get film updates from our Facebook page (which we post to frequently). However, many people are not on Facebook, especially the older generation. Building an email list requires active, ongoing work. We ask people to sign up on our website, get names from festivals goers, and as with the NYC Sneak Preview Screening, gather all ticket buyers’ emails addresses. (It is important when making deals with venues to try to get them to agree to this as the Rubin Museum of Art did prior to making a screening agreement.) In addition, we actively built our US mailing list by researching every Buddhist, spiritual, Tibetan, New Age, religious and family organization on the web. We are still building that email list now. When we have the time, we make phone calls to organizations to get them to personally connect with the film and share information about our Kickstarter site with their members.

11. Reach out to Appropriate Partners to Help Blast for your Campaign / Befriend the Tastemakers

The first tier we reached out to were listserves connected to the students of the film’s protagonist, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu. Rinpoche has centers around the world, so we regularly write new, special updates to be blasted to their membership. These letters are less chatty than the ones I send to the general mailing list or post for our Kickstarter patrons. In these letters, we always try to have additional information – such as upcoming festivals or new video clips – so that it is not just another request to donate. We started a web series called OUTTAKES FROM THE FILM (O.F.F.) that we edit and post online and in our Buddhist eblasts to give those communities new video to enjoy and entice them to become more involved with the project. So far we have posted five O.F.F.’s. They have helped assuage Buddhist students around the world, who are anxiously waiting to see MY REINCARNATION and are not so happy that they have to wait for the distribution rollout. The other thing we did – but could only do with the Sneak Preview NYC Fundraising screening – was offer incentives to appropriate organizations to blast their membership on behalf of our campaign. We gave the heads of each organization a free ticket to the screening in exchange for sending out an announcement. And of course, this is laying the groundwork for establishing partners and building and audience for the film down the line.

12. Use Web 2.0: Facebook, Twitter, Bloggers…

This is absolutely obvious in today’s world, but we are posting updates on social networking sites many times a week. We work hard to build up our Facebook and Twitter pages daily. We also post on other organizations’ and individuals’ pages and walls – searching for related topics like “Buddhism,” “Tibet,” “Spirituality,” “Religion,” and “Yoga” – with information about the Kickstarter campaign, new videos, incentives and screenings.

13. Blast Often, Regularly, and Best at the Beginning of the Week

Get those eblasts out on Monday or Tuesday. Later in the week they get lost in people’s over-loaded inboxes. It’s important to keep up the pressure. It’s hard to know what the “tipping point” is for someone to make a donation. It can be the first letter or the twentieth letter that brings them over to the Kickstarter site.

14. Write Personal Letters and Ask Questions

When I write my patrons back on Kickstarter, thanking them for their donations, I ask them where they heard about the campaign. I often get answers back proving the wide reach of the campaign. By asking questions you engage your patrons’ participation. In a post to the entire group, I asked for advice on how to get the message out and I got several good solutions, one of which was to improve our web page and clarify some of the writing. Three of our patrons decided to make it their personal hobby to help get the word out and have been eblasting and working the web. One person wrote a letter on Kickstarter asking everyone to double their donations and several people responded by doing so. When I get an interesting letter, I often post it in an update. It takes a village and this is a community movement.

15. Widen Your Team:

Since many people in the Buddhist Community do not have much disposable income, we wanted to make one of our incentives non-monetary. We created the first level incentive – “Outreach Partner” – at a donation level of $1 for people who want to get involved by spreading the word about the campaign and the film. By spreading the word, they get their name on our “Donor’s Wall” on our website. In fact, every level of donation, large or small gets their name on our “Donor’s Wall,” giving an immediate level of gratification like having your name in the film’s credits.

16. Cultivate A Positive Attitude:

No one asked you to be an artist in the most expensive art form in history. Being a filmmaker is a privilege. Have perspective; some people have “real” jobs. Having to raise funds is a rite of passage. Try to find a way to frame the campaign as fun, playful, and joyous. This is where building a team (Tip #2) really helps. Laughter is key.

17. Stay Away From People Who Are Negative About Fundraising.

There are always people who think asking for money abhorrent and will find all sorts ways to pull you down. Don’t let them inside your head. They can still be friends or lovers, but it’s better to avoid the subject around them. But don’t forget about # 18:

18. Be Aware Of Cultural Differences.

Crowd funding is a very American way to raise money that may seem strange to many outside our borders (although it is slowly coming to Europe). Be ready to explain the system, and back off when your “go-get-em” attitude is too much. We were semi-blacklisted from one main international Buddhist listserve, because the manager felt I was asking for money too much. Rather than confront him and risk being kicked off that site forever, we broke up the territories and tried to get on individual country’s Buddhist listserves. Not as effective, but better than nothing. In certain countries – such as Singapore – donors prefer to give cash or checks than to donate on the Internet. So, we have also accepted some cash donations…

19. Go Beyond Your Limits

Every step of the way on this journey, I have had to go beyond my comfort zone to publicly ask for money: on the web, in emails, in person, on stage – over and over again. At every point, I have had to push through my reticence, fear and a general “I just don’t want to do it again!” attitude. Facing these inner demons is necessary if you are going do this type of campaign. Forgive me, but once again there is a Buddhist teaching in this! We all fear being the fool and being foolish. Believe me, crowd-funding certainly pushes those buttons, but it also requires you to let go and not listen to your ego so much…

My motto is, “Never say die!” Despite years of experience facing rejection, it can still be hard to pick yourself up each time. Somehow we have to find a way not to take rejection personally and move on. Of course, with some potential funders, you just have to give up, back off, and try somewhere else. But I am often reminded of something my Father said when I was making my first film, BEIRUT: THE LAST HOME MOVIE, “No is never no, it’s just maybe.” A person, who says no today, may still say yes tomorrow. If you give them new evidence to change their mind, they often do.

20. Be ready – to be absorbed. It is a full-time job.

I couldn’t have imagined how much work a Kickstarter campaign is. I have had many sleepless night thinking about how we could achieve our goal, but I have also felt enormous glee when a wave of donors contribute. It has been a huge learning experience that I suspect has changed me for the better. I’ve come to realize that time moves differently on the web. When we started, I thought 90 days would never be enough to achieve our goal. But then I noticed how many unique things could happen in 24 hours. Every day provided opportunities to reach out to people. Everyday people wrote us. Most days at least one person (and often more than one) joined the campaign from somewhere new. Even on Sundays. The campaign has shown me how a time limit can work for you. Today is day 84 in our campaign and it seems like I have been doing this for a lifetime.

* * * * * * * * *

In my next post, I’ll talk about how Kickstarter Campaigns create communities that dovetail into distribution and outreach campaigns. I’ll also share important information about the positive things people receive from participating in Kickstarter campaigns: a crucial thing to understand to properly craft a campaign.

Stay Tuned as we countdown towards D-Day… Our Campaign ends on May 28th and we are still hustling to get to those 6 figures!

-- Jennifer Fox

Jennifer Fox is an internationally acclaimed, award-winning Producer, Director, Camerawoman. She is known for her groundbreaking work on both documentary features and series, including BEIRUT: THE LAST HOME MOVIE, AN AMERICAN LOVE STORY, FLYING CONFESSIONS OF A FREE WOMAN, and now MY REINCARNATION. She is the subject of three films on filmmaking, TO HECK WITH HOLLYWOOD!, CINEMA VERTE: DEFINING THE MOMENT and CAPTURING REALITY: THE ART OF DOCUMENTARY She has Executive Produced many award winning films, including LOVE & DIANE, ON THE ROPES and UPSTATE. She teaches and consults on directing and producing internationally at institutions such as New York University, the Binger Lab in Amsterdam, the University of Zurich and many others.


This article is related to: Crowdsourcing , Financing, Guest Posts