My daughter, Carla Kihlstedt, is a composer and a musician. She and her collaborators have been working on a remarkable multimedia song cycle about the oceans. Her project, Black Inscription, will premier at the Prototype Festival in New York next January. And it’s the basis for Kickstarter campaign to raise $42,000.
In the scheme of many capital campaigns, that’s not much of a goal. But for an innovative performance artist like my daughter, it’s as big as a $3,000,000 goal is for a nonprofit. So, she recruited me to help her with it.
I’m putting to use many of the things I’ve learned over the years I’ve spent advising organizations on the capital campaigns while making full use of everything Kickstarter has to offer. Here are eight important lessons I can share.
1. Fundraising Campaigns are Stressful
I’m sure you already knew this, but I’ve gotten a great reminder about how much easier it is to coach someone about how to raise money than it is to actually raise the money. My hat is off to you if you are responsible for making your fundraising goals year in/year out. It’s bloody stressful!
From now on, I’m going to appreciate fully the strength and courage and will it takes to be responsible for reaching your goals. And I encourage all EDs and board members to do the same.
A special note to EDs and Board Members
Support your development staff in every way you can. They are under the gun every day. Celebrate with them when things go well and stand by them with things go awry.
2. Deadlines Really Work for a Campaign
Kickstarter campaigns are all or nothing. You either get to your goal by the predetermined deadline or you don’t get any of the money. Period!
It turns out that only 35% of all Kickstarter campaigns actually reach their goals. The rest just fade away. Talk about stress-inducing! But that hard deadline does put the fear of God into you and pushes the work forward in a big way. It also motivates donors.
3. Fundraising Campaigns Ebb and Flow
Like a capital campaign, in a Kickstarter campaign, the initial period is full of excitement. Gifts are lined up in advance and you can feel the energy out of the starting block. Then, the initial glow wears off and you’re in the slog. It’s no longer new. There’s lots of work to be done and the end isn’t yet in sight.
Then, when you get reasonably close to the goal, a new energy infuses the campaign. People want to help with to be part of your success and help carry you across the finish line. You can go back to many donors and ask them to stretch a bit to help you get over the goal. In fact, in the Kickstarter campaign, many donors have told us that if we’re short, we should come back to them at the end.
Going back to early donors is a common strategy for capital campaigns too. Quite often, the initial large donors will kick in more at the end to ensure the success of the campaign.
4. Giving Levels Make Asking Easier
It’s a bit easier and more comfortable to focus people’s attention on giving levels rather than dollar amounts. My daughter has done a great job of coming up with names for each giving level that capture the magic and spirit of her project.
Every giving level is named for a bioluminescent sea creature. It’s fun to ask people to consider becoming a Luminous Sea Angel, a Sea Salp or an Atolla Jelly. Each of these giving categories (and many more) offers a lovely description of the creature. They spark curiosity about the project itself and prove to be a sweet way to suggest giving amounts without mentioning numbers.
I’ve made a practice of asking people to consider giving at one of two levels, one higher and one lower. And some people do give at the higher level.
5. You’ve Got to Ask
Carla and her team have been doing lots of work publicizing the campaign on social media, but of the 100+ gifts that have come in so far, approximately 50% of them are as the result of a personal ask, but approximately 80% of the money has resulted from personal requests.
Asking in a personal, respectful way turns out to be the lifeblood of pretty much every campaign, whether it’s a capital campaign or Kickstarter. The myth that crowdfunding happens by itself just by posting the campaign to Facebook is, well … a myth! Even crowd funded campaigns — unless they are for an item people want or something that catches the public attention like disaster relief — rely on asking.
6. Big Gifts Matter More
Just like capital campaigns, the bulk of this Kickstarter campaign will come from a few big gifts. I predict that by the end of the Kickstarter campaign, at least half and probably more of the campaign will have come from no more than 10 big gifts.
Sound familiar? That’s the standard for capital campaigns, too.
7. Efficient Systems Work Wonders
Kickstarter makes the business of a fundraising campaign easy. It’s easy for the person doing the campaign and easy for the people who are giving.
For donors, the gifts are given through Amazon. In the event that the campaign doesn’t reach its goal, the card isn’t charges. If it does, the cards are charged then and the money is collected and paid out by Amazon.
Every gift shows up in the backer report and it’s super easy to send an immediate thank you email to the donor. With the click of a button you can see how many gifts have come in at each level. And once the campaign is successful, it is easy to send post-campaign surveys right from within Kickstarter.
8. Progress Reports Keep Up the Pressure
Kickstarter makes it easy to see the campaign’s progress. It’s right there on the project homepage. You can see how much has been pledged and at what levels. There’s no escaping it. If the campaign stagnates, everyone will see it. And if it makes good progress, they’ll see that too.
But Kickstarter also offers an easy way to send updates to all of the people who have given. They can get updates both on the campaign progress, but also about the project itself. In some cases, these updates inspire people to increase their gifts. I suspect that by the end of the campaign, lots of donors will give more as a result.
How might you set up your campaign communication to inspire people who have already given to give more?
Take a Look
Take a close look at Carla’s Black Inscription Kickstarter Campaign:
If the campaign is still live (until November 1) you might enjoy making a gift and watching the donor updates. You can learn a lot about this process by being a donor, and this is a fascinating project that might tickle your curiosity about the sea.