Crowdfunding: What They Don't Tell You

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Crowdfunding. Everyone's doing it, it must be easy, right? 


Having just finished a very successful crowdfunding campaign, I wanted to share my experience with you guys. If anyone is planning on trying out the CF thing, here's some insights before you begin. This is not to deter you. I worry that people jump into crowdfunding without REALLY thinking about it first. So here are some things to just think about.

1. Prepping for Crowdfunding. I see crowdfunding campaigns popping up ALL the time and I'm like "oh, they're doing crowdfunding? that's random." Something we did before our campaign even went live was let everyone know it was ABOUT to happen. This is honestly 2-fold in my opinion. First, you build an audience, you build a fan base. You get down and dirty on Facebook and Twitter and you get those likes and those follows and you share creative, fun content for months (at least) to get people hooked. You make sure people see that you are worth their time before you EVER ask them for money.  Then, when you're actually doing all the prep work and back-end stuff, Let people know what you're up to. Get people excited about your perks. Show bloopers from your pitch video or screenshots of your editing process. Stuff that will show that you are, indeed, working on something. When people are excited about something before it even starts, it is SO much easier to convince them that their dollars are going to be well spent. So many people are crowdfunding now that these campaigns are a dime a dozen (ESPECIALLY for film) so you want to make sure people think yours is special -- not random.

2. Post often and post thoughtfully. This is what social media is for, y'all. Post at least once a day on both Facebook and Twitter. ALWAYS include the link to your campaign. I even posted teaser pictures on my Instagram! (it's harder on IG because you can't just click a link, but if you can reach your fans that way, do it). However, because you're posting so often, you know some of your followers are going to get annoyed with you "begging for money." This is where posting thoughtfully comes in. I found that a couple of things worked.

-When you post little goals ("we're only $50 away from 25%! Do 5 of you have $10 to spare? We appreciate it!") people are more likely to donate. They see a huge number (we raised $20K) and are overwhelmed. They think their $5 isn't going to help. You let them know that that $5 is going to get you over a mini-hurdle and they will feel really good about helping you.  

-Another thing that works is taking an altruistic approach to your posting. Make your posts about THEM, not you. No one wants to see you beg for money over and over again and feel entitled to other people's hard earned cash. Thank them for donating and tell them why you love them. Show them the beauty that THEY are creating. This thing isn't about you. It's about them. What is your film without an audience?  

-One thing that worked VERY well for us was creating extra visual incentives that cost nothing for us to provide so that people had something visual to get excited about. For example, last year, we did 12 short films and I recently had a talented graphic designer friend design posters for us. So, every time we reached another thousand, I'd post a poster on FB & Twitter. (i.e. Thank you guys SO MUCH for supporting our Seed & Spark Campaign. We are only $200 away from $7k and when we reach that goal, we will release another poster! Who's excited?!) We also made fun video updates to keep people excited. People want to see your faces and see how truly grateful you are. One of my favorite things we did was make a fake music video to the FRIENDS theme song showing our fans how grateful we were that they were "there for us."

3. Building audience. If you treat your campaign as an audience building tool and not a money building tool, the money will come. People want to know that you care about THEM not their money. In that same vein -- let people know how much it means to you to have them share your content. Don't force them to, that will turn them off even faster than just straight up begging for money, but let them know how much it means to you. Let them know that getting the word out is JUST AS GOOD as money because without audience, you don't have a film. It'll make people feel good and make people happy. Happy people are generous people. Keep your people happy.

4. Provide AWESOME incentives that don't cost you very much. Start low. $5 gets you a social media shoutout. Hey, 17k people follow me on Twitter. That means thousands of people are gonna see how great of a person you are for supporting a good cause (especially because I'm going to take the time to let my altruist side shine and make you look super good for doing it) and it costs you almost nothing. Nothing makes me more mad when I open up a crowdfunding campaign and it's like "$15 gets you a virtual hug and a thank you on Twitter." No. Sorry, I don't want to buy a Twitter shoutout for that much money. By $15 you should be providing maybe a digital download of your film, or something physical for them to hold on to. People want to help you, but they also want to feel like they are gaining something worth it. But, on that note, come up with creative incentives that will mean a lot to your contributors but won't cost you big dollars. (remember, you're trying to gain money, not spend it) Things like digital downloads, behind the scenes photos and exclusive blooper reels are GREAT incentives for small dollar amounts that make your fans feel special. One of my favorite incentives from our campaign was "if you donate $25, Duncan (our resident writer) will write you a personalized poem." That's something that is unique to both us and our fan and they know it took time and thoughtfulness to come up with it. When the numbers get up there, cooking them a meal is a popular and thoughtful incentive (we used that for our $250 perk). Think about things that will further your brand but will also make your consumer feel good. I hear all the time "no t-shirts! they're expensive and no one wants them!" Regardless, we already had t-shirts, so we included them in a "TurtleDove Swag Pack" (t-shirt, sticker, poster & DVD) and they were fairly popular.. honestly, I think it was BECAUSE so many physical items were included for a small amount (we did this for the $50 perk). I like giving away swag because people will wear the shirt and its like free advertising. However, I advise against it unless you already have t-shirts printed or you find an amazing deal on a Vistaprint sale or something. And ALWAYS let your incentives build -- "for $25 you get a personalized poem on top of the handwritten postcard and the social media shoutout!" When you have the right combination of good perks at low amounts and a slow build to the next tier of incentive (i.e. for $5 you get this, but the next perk level is $10.. I might as well just do the $10 since it's hardly any more money!) your campaign will prove to be SO much more successful.

5. Never apologize. Never let people know you know you're annoying them. If you're providing them with thoughtful content throughout your campaign, they will be happy for you and will not be annoyed. As soon as you apologize for being annoying, you become annoying. Be strong. Be proud of your product. Promote the shit out of it. People want to follow confident people. Be confident and the fans will come.

6. Always thank EVERYONE. First of all, if you have a super low perk level for social media shoutouts, you're doing yourself a couple of favors. 1. you have a reason to post EVERY TIME someone donates. You don't have to get repetitive and always say "please donate to my campaign" and sound like a broken record. You get to say things like "Thanks to Jane Doe for contributing to my IndieGoGo campaign for This Is The Title Of My Movie. She has been one of my dearest friends since junior high and her support means the world to me! If you'd like to follow in Jane's great footsteps, here is our link:" 2. TAG THEM in these posts. Every time you post something about your campaign and you tag someone in it, your post shows up on their wall or in their feed. They have the opportunity to re-tweet it or re-share it without having to go to great lengths to find your post. That's MORE FREE ADVERTISING. 3. When your lowest level incentive is a social media shout out, you're giving your contributors something back IMMEDIATELY. They feel the love and you've already knocked out some of your perk-giving duties.

7. This brings me to my last point. Post-Campaign. Follow up with your contributors and send them their incentives in a timely manner. Hey, you might have had a really freaking successful campaign. So successful that you might want to do another one someday. If you don't send those incentives in a timely manner (or at all.. which I've heard that people actually skip out on this part and it drives me CRAZY) then people are less likely to contribute to you again. If you don't even plan on doing a crowdfunding campaign again, it still hurts your reputation. People will talk crap about you. "Oh, yeah, Elena Weinberg never sent me my incentives for that Crowdfunding thingy they did. If they can't even send me the postcard they promised me, how are they ever going to finish their movie? I bet its crappy."  Word of mouth is everything, and you want to make sure you do everything that's in your power to keep those words positive. (Sometimes, you just can't help when people talk crap. It's beyond your control. They make things up about you for whatever reason. Don't let it be about something valid. Keep your reputation gold.) Also, keep your contributors updated. Don't storm them with updates, but if you have a couple of kick ass production photos, go ahead and share those on your campaign page so people see you are actually doing what you said you would. Remember, these campaign pages stay up forever. People can look back at your old campaigns and see if you did everything you said you would before contributing to your next one.


So, yeah, those are my thoughts on crowdfunding. Like I said, these are just my thoughts and opinions after just having completed my first campaign ever, so take it for what it's worth. Also -- shoutout to James Christopher of Twitchy Dolphin Flix for planting some of these seeds in my brain. He's had several successful campaigns on IndieGoGo and did a great panel on Crowdfunding at the Barebones Film Festival last month which definitely influenced some of my post here.

About the author


Elena is an actress, filmmaker and social media manager. She got her BA in Theatre Arts from St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas. She co-owns Austin-Based Film Production Company, TurtleDove Films, with Duncan Coe.

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