Shortly after finishing my last piece, on what I wish I had known before I decided to crowdfund my oral-history project a year ago, I realized that I never offered anything like a "how to" guide based on my experience. So what follows is a collection of more practical insights from my Kickstarter campaign. Here are a few lessons that can help guide your first foray into crowdfunding:
Research your platform options. Since my oral-history project focuses on African-American history, I had decided that if I were to do a crowdfunding campaign, it should run in February to coincide with Black History Month. However, I only decided to commit to crowdfunding very late in January. So I didn't get to research the different platforms as carefully as I would have liked.
At the time, I went with Kickstarter because the site seemed to have the best- developed network of donors. In a sense, that paid off: I did receive a rather sizable donation from someone who appeared to contribute regularly to different projects, and who found me through Kickstarter's main page. However, I only realized afterward that Kickstarter required me to hit my target in order to see any money. Indiegogo, on the other hand, would have allowed me keep a portion, albeit smaller, of the pledges had I not hit my target.
It didn't matter in the end—I exceeded my goal—but I might have decided differently at the outset if I had researched more thoroughly. Since my campaign ended, other platforms, such as GoFundMe, seem to have become more popular, but Kickstarter and Indiegogo appear to still be the two big heavyweights when it comes to crowdfunding creative projects.
Understand precisely how much of the donation total you’ll receive. I was aware that Kickstarter would take a cut of the pledges. But I didn’t realize that Amazon Payments, through which Kickstarter routes the money, would take a cut as well. This meant that I received several hundred dollars less than I’d anticipated.
Careful research at the front end should solve this problem. But in general, be aware that at least one other service in addition to the crowdfunding platform may take a portion of your proceeds.
Let your project guide the rewards you offer. The reward levels I offered included a mention on the project's Wordpress page, rubber wristbands printed with the words "FIGHT AIDS," a personal acknowledgment in the finding aid for the oral histories, and a copy of the book that I plan to produce. You might also offer a shoutout on your project's Twitter account, if you have one. Or a producer credit if the final product for your project will be a film. or a program acknowledgment if your project will result in an exhibition. Rewards like these are also nice because they are impressive and exclusive, but they don't require a trip to the post office on your part.
Plan for your campaign to take time. This may sound like an obvious point. But I was honestly surprised by the amount of time I ended up spending each day checking Kickstarter page analytics, sending out announcements over Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks, and writing updates for the project page. At the very least, plan to spend an hour a day on your campaign while it's running.
Promote your project on all of your social networks, including those that you don't use very often. Ideally you’ll already have built an audience around your project that you can tap into for your crowdfunding campaign. But you'll want to tap into your network of family and friends as well, because they're invested in your success!
For example, I got some nice donations from a handful of posts that I put on Google+. And while the joke about all Google+ users being Google employees is pretty on point, Google employees have a lot more disposable income than do academics, and they're unlikely to see your flurry of crowdfunding Facebook posts.
So there you have it—some tried-and-true practical tips for crowdfunding success. Are you interested in crowdfunding your academic project? Feel free to leave a question in the comments below!