Many of you have undoubtedly heard the buzz about Kickstarter. Kickstarter describes itself as "a new way to fund creative ideas and ambitious endeavors." It works like this:
1) You post a project description on Kickstarter. You make a pitch video. The video isn't a strict requirement, but almost all funded projects have a video. You come up with a set of "rewards" for different pledge levels on the site. You set a funding goal and a time frame for your project.
2) Kickstarter staff look at your proposed project and provide feedback. Hopefully, they approve your project and it's posted on the site.
3) Your project goes live.
4) If you don't hit your funding goal in the specified time frame, no one's cards get charged and you don't receive any of the funds.
As mentioned above, the Kickstarter staff review postings before they appear on the site. Kickstarter wants you to have a rich selection of rewards that provide a lot of value to pledgers. For instance, something that seems like it ought to be worth $50 should be priced as close to market value as possible in the reward selection. In the past, I almost gave up on using Kickstarter because the approval process appeared to be pushing me toward a reward selection that would really cut into my real, post-reward funds.
This raises another important point: Kickstarter staff want your project to succeed. Their filtering process helps Kickstarter ensure high quality, successful projects and also lets them push project creators to maximize their chances of success with well priced rewards. Kickstarter does have an ulterior motive here. With each successful project, Kickstarter gets a 5 percent cut of your funds.
The Kickstarter "Mold"
In order to launch a successful Kickstarter project, you have to do certain things to meet your funding goal:
1) Produce a video about why you want to raise money. This helps you focus your message into a couple minutes. This helps you fundraise.
2) Write about, and provide updates, why you want to raise money. Again, this forces you to focus your message.
3) Widely publicize your project. This is magnified by the next point ("All-or-nothing").
Your project will also be sitting alongside many other interesting projects, so just "hanging out" on Kickstarter may help your fundraising effort seem more legitimate. However, you may not get many pledges from traffic originating from Kickstarter.com -- this really depends on what type of project you have.
All or Nothing
Kickstarter pledge drives are "all or nothing," meaning that if the goal isn't met by the specified time then no one's credit cards are charged and the project doesn't get any of the pledged funds. Surprisingly, the all-or-nothing nature of Kickstarter is its greatest asset in ensuring projects hit their funding goal. Once a project has reached a certain threshold of funding, the project creators and pledgers feel an intense desire to "unlock" the money. In fact, word has it that something around 90% of projects that reach 25% of their funding goal are eventually fully funded!!!
Having projects be all-or-nothing was probably a decision made by Kickstarter to support projects that need to meet a concrete goal, such as printing the first major run of a new book. These are, by and large, the sort of projects Kickstarter excels at funding -- projects where, if a certain amount of money isn't raised, the project simply isn't possible, or isn't worth it.
It's not all milk and honey, though. There are some hidden drawbacks and costs to using Kickstarter. Here are a few to consider:
Kickstarter takes a 5% cut of your pledges and Amazon will take an additional amount (around 2%) on top of that. If your margins are slim, this could be significant.
It's hard to take Kickstarter fundraising offline
It’s extremely difficult to move offline funds back onto Kickstarter. You're not permitted to "pledge" toward your own project, which means you need to find a trustworthy third party to agree to pledge any offline funds. This also means the offline donors won't be noted on Kickstarter. For local community-based fundraising efforts this can be problematic.
The all-or-nothing system is a bit confusing
Unfortunately, the all-or-nothing pledge system can be a bit confusing. Many folks think they have already given or donated money before you even hit your funding deadline.
My fundraising period was 90 days -- the longest allowed by Kickstarter -- and so there were lots of people who'd simply forgotten they'd pledged by the time their cards were charged. Thankfully, Kickstarter is astonishingly good at collecting funds (they pester pledgers with an email every day for a week if their card is declined), and I only saw a few pledges that never came through.
Is Kickstarter for everyone? Obviously not, but it does provide an excellent and unique opportunity to raise funds for interesting and creative endeavors. To be honest, most artists I know personally have NOT had much success with Kickstarter. Kickstarter is not a golden hen. It will not magically make things happen for you. In order to be successful, it takes a lot of time and promotion. If you are willing, however, to promote, promote and promote then Kickstarter might be a great solution for you.