Andrew Thaler

CEO at Blackbeard Biologic

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Managing a Successful Crowdfunding Campaign

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Image: Crowd of people in Times Square on V-J Day / World-Telegram photo by Dick DeMarsico

The time has finally come. You’ve carefully considered the benefits and pitfalls of crowdfunding scientific research and spent a solid month or two preparing your campaign and rallying your core community. Launch day is imminent. At this point, it may feel like you’re coming down the home stretch and all that preparation is about to pay of.

Hate to break it to you but you’re just getting started.

It’s time to make a video. All of your plans are in place: You’ve honed your campaign message, settled on the appropriate platform, and decided on the rewards you’ll offer for contributions. Now you need a video. It’s not optional.

Almost every successful crowdfunding campaign has a decent video. It doesn’t need to be perfect, and there’s something to be said for the downhome charm of a self-made video, but it needs to be short, engaging, and pithy. Ideally, your video is going to spread beyond the crowdfunding platform, so it needs to make sense absent any other context. The video needs to clearly and succinctly describe what you’re doing, why it matters, and what you’re asking for. And it should be three minutes or less — unless you’re really good at making compelling videos.

Rally the troops. By now, you’ve built a solid core community that’s ready to support your project. Most crowdfunding platforms will give you a review link to share before you launch. Use it to solicit feedback from your core community and neutral reviewers. Once you launch, any changes you make are going to hurt your funding goal, so anything that might be weird, off-putting, or confusing should be polished out in the days before the official kickoff. Pick a date and a time for launch and stick to it. Let your core community know exactly when the campaign starts and let people know explicitly that having as many people as possible contribute on the first day is essential for success.

Contact the media. Put together a short press release (300 to 400 words) and send it out, with the review link, to any appropriate media a day or two before launch. Reach out to prominent members of your field who have sizable social-media presences and to general scientists with large audiences. Also reach out to anyone in your field with small social-media presences, and general scientists with tiny audiences. Basically, reach out to everyone. Contact anyone with an online presence who does anything related to your field, to open science, and to crowdfunding science, or who would be interested in you project.

One thing you may have noticed: At no point have I recommended creating a Twitter account, Facebook page, or any other social-media profile for this project. The reason is simple: If you don’t already have one and have invested time into building up a decent social-media audience, creating nascent accounts right before launch is not going to have a very good return on investment. You’re better off using that time and energy to contact people who already have a good-sized following. If you do already have a sizable social-media presence, congratulations, your account will be the most vocal proponent of your campaign.

Go ahead, hit the launch button. Now take a deep breath and take 15 minutes to relax. Don’t check the Internet. Don’t constantly refresh the page hoping to catch that first funder. Have a banana. It’ll be your last break before the campaign ends.

Never stop promoting. Welcome to the long slog of crowdfunding. You should be constantly seeking out new sources to promote your project, chasing down every lead, reaching out to everyone who expresses an interest. If people tweet a link or make a post about your campaign on Facebook, thank them. If a journalist picks up your project and writes about it, send a thank-you note and an update. Seek out podcasters, bloggers, viners, instagrammers — anyone who might continue sharing your campaign. When people ask questions on the campaign page, answer them, even if you’ve already answered the same question a dozen times already. The goal is to ensure that there is constantly new content, articles, or posts engaging with your campaign. If all of that seems daunting, that’s because it is. Which brings us full circle to a point I made in the first article in this series. Crowdfunding is a lot of work for a relatively small reward.

Keep your core community updated, but don’t spam. Whenever you hit a major funding milestone, update the campaign page. On most platforms, that will push an update to your funders. For more-modest developments, a short update to keep your core community energized is appropriate. What you don’t want to do is send so many emails that your community starts ignoring them.

Practice good long-term management. Your funders are now your core community. These are people who believe in your work enough to give you actual money to continue that work. Even after the campaign ends and the check is cashed, make sure to keep your core community updated on the status of the project. Most platforms will now let you continue to update on the crowdfunding site, but it may be more useful to create a central location to coordinate news away from the crowdfunding campaign — a mailing list, Facebook page, or stand-alone web page, for example.

Keeping your core community informed as the project continues is not just good manners, but it will help you maintain an active group of supporters should you decide to crowdfund your next project, too.

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