Your guide to running and optimizing a crowdfunding campaign
If you’re not familiar with what a crowdfunding campaign is, they’re a way to raise money through pledges from people who want to see your idea come to life. In turn, supporters (also called backers) receive unique rewards offered at different price points. Crowdfunding campaigns create community buy-in. They help ensure there is a market and demand for what you’re creating while generating buzz and gathering feedback. Most notably, they provide capital for your project, product or event without giving away equity.
The most successful crowdfunding campaigns fall into three main categories: technology (video games, smart watches, digital music players, 3D printers); creative (film, music, magazines, books, comics, events); and product design (board games, coolers, food, clothing). This guide will walk you through how to optimize your campaign for success and best practices for smoothly running a campaign.
Crowdfunding campaign considerations
It’s important to understand what exactly a crowdfunding campaign entails before diving in. The first consideration is where you’re going to host it. There are several options, so we put together a platform guide for choosing which is the best fit for your goals.
Many don’t realize the extensive time commitment crowdfunding campaigns require. A campaign can easily be a full-time job, especially if one person is managing it on their own. It’s important to understand how much time a campaign will need – covered below.
Although it’s possible for one person to run a campaign, it will run much smoother with help. Whether you recruit friends or community members to volunteer their time or hire someone, find people with skills and relationships that complement yours to conquer and divide the tasks to be done.
Freelancing while running a campaign is a great option for allowing yourself the flexibility to communicate with your team and supporters while supporting yourself financially. Plan out what jobs will allow you to spend the time needed on your campaign while living comfortably. You’ll avoid burnout by properly balancing your workload with external support. Think through your financial plan before getting started.
There are various expenses associated with running a campaign. One is the fees associated with your platform of choice (covered in our platform guide). Another is the cost of fulfilling rewards, covered below. Finally, you’re responsible for paying taxes on what you raise. You can avoid paying taxes by spending all funds raised on your project or business in the same year. We highly suggest consulting a tax professional before launching a campaign.
With these considerations, crowdfunding campaigns are still a fun and effective way to rally your community behind your mission. If you’re ready to launch, here’s how you can best run an optimized campaign through its four stages: planning, building, promoting, fulfilling.
Phase 1: Planning your campaign
After you’ve decided on your platform, you’ll need to determine other crucial elements of your campaign, such as the story you’re telling and your financial goal.
Set your goal
Have a goal amount you’re working towards, even if you selected flexible funding. Your goal should include the amount needed to complete the project, cost of reward fulfillment, platform fees, taxes and a little bit of a cushion – because everything always costs more than you think it will. If you’re working on your project full-time, consider including labor costs unless you have another resource covering it.
Keep in mind that 74% of successful Kickstarter campaigns in 2014 raised less than $10,000. Assess what exactly you’re raising for. The founder of Indiegogo suggests breaking your project into chunks and raising the bare minimum – what you think you need now. This will keep your goal more realistic.
Make a list of what you think you want your rewards to be with the cost of each (including shipping). Then determine how many you would need of each to reach your project goal. Reuben Pressman developed a handy tool for calculating what your goal should be based on reward and project costs. It takes project and reward costs and predictions, then works backward to estimate how many backers you’ll need to reach your goal. Here’s an example:
Plan your rewards
Kickstarter requires rewards to be a product of the project you’re raising for. Keep them related to what you’re working on. Common examples include early access to a product or event, listing their name somewhere (such as film credits, book sleeve), swag such as stickers or t-shirts, or access to exclusive experiences like a mentor session with an expert. Digital rewards are great because they don’t require packing and shipping. Examples include playlists, Google Hangouts, digital parties, letters, templates, and PDF downloads.
If you’re running your campaign yourself or on one of the smaller platforms, you don’t need rewards. Peep Krista Gray who worked on our sister company, The Fetch’s Kickstarter with Kate and who worked at Tilt – another crowdfunding platform – said:
“Many successful campaigns do not offer rewards or prizes. Not only is this more work for the organizer, but our research during my time at Tilt proved that people are still inclined to contribute without expecting to get anything in return. Not being able to finance or handle reward operations shouldn’t deter people from trying to run a campaign about something their community cares about.”
Develop a timeline
Kickstarter suggests setting your campaign deadline for 30 days or less. Shorter durations have higher success rates and create a helpful sense of urgency around your project. Their research showed that anything more than 60 days is less likely to be successful.
We suggest running your campaign for one month (30 days). On top of that, plan for three months to prep and another two-three months for reward fulfillment after your campaign is over. Most fundraisers work on their project as the campaign is running. It’s important to keep your backers updated throughout the process. Keep that in mind as you plan your schedule. Most importantly, once your campaign is over, you’ll want to take a few days or a week for a break – trust us. With that, you’re looking at a time frame of five-six months:
Month 1-2: Planning and production (video, story, copy, images) and pre-seeding (sharing with existing community and networks)
Month 3: Press announcement, campaign launch and promotion
Month 4-6: Break, thank yous and reward fulfillment
The best time of year to launch a campaign really depends on who your audience is. For example, if the majority of your community members are in Europe, don’t launch in August when everyone is on vacation. Consider things like holidays, traveling and taxes (is your audience more likely to owe or to get a return?) in choosing when to launch your campaign.
The general consensus around the best day of the week to launch your campaign is Tuesday or Wednesday. People, including journalists, are typically swamped on Mondays and begin checking out on Thursdays and Fridays. They’re more likely to see updates and check email in the middle of the week.
An important consideration is campaign approval time (the time from when you submit your campaign to when it’s approved). This will differ from platform to platform so check the FAQ for whichever platform you’re using.
Phase 2: Building your campaign
No matter which platform you use, certain elements will be required before you launch your campaign including a title, video, images and captivating story. Make a list of everything you need for your campaign and outline who is responsible for each. Here are the essentials for an optimized campaign.
Storyboard your video
Your video is especially important in telling your story. People have short attention spans and are typically visually-driven. You don’t need Wes Anderson to direct it, but it should tell a compelling story that speaks to your community. Cover the five W’s of journalism in your video: who, what, where, when and why, as well as how. Start with the captivating why behind your project, explain who it’s for and who’s involved, your timeline (when), where you’re building if location matters to your community, how you’re making it happen and how exactly your supporters are helping make it happen.
If you glance through Kickstarter projects, you’ll find anything from mini-documentaries to people speaking honestly and authentically to their computer camera, to glorified infomercials. It’s the story you’re telling that matters most. No matter which approach you take, storyboard your video and draft up a script. Run through the script until you’re comfortable with it before getting in front of the camera. This will save on production time pre and post-edit. If you don’t have any experience with this, we suggest hiring someone who does or recruiting help.
Outline your written story
Although your video is the first thing supporters will see, some will scan past it directly to the written story. It needs to be just as compelling and easy to read. Start with an outline covering key points. From there, keep it simple and don’t worry about adding fluff. Try telling as much of your story as you can with images, as they will catch the reader’s eye. Create the files and save them in organized file folders now. That way, when it comes time to build and launch your campaign, it won’t take much time.
Create a compelling title
As for your project title, keep it simple, clear and interesting. Something that will intrigue the casual viewer while giving them an idea of what they’re about to click on. It should state what your project without being too dry. Some examples include:
- Exploding Kittens
- Reaper Miniatures Bones: An Evolution Of Gaming Miniatures
- COOLEST COOLER: 21st Century Cooler that’s Actually Cooler
- Pono Music – Where Your Soul Rediscovers Music
Share your draft with your community for feedback and revise
After you have your title, copy, images, video and confirmed rewards, add all of these elements to your platform of choice. Before submitting for approval, send your drafted campaign to a few key community members and friends for feedback. It’s best to share it with people who fit your supporter profile – with people who will want the thing that you’re building. Take the ideas and suggestions that resonate the most with you and apply them to your campaign. These folks will likely be the first to share your campaign after it’s live. From there, you’re ready to submit for approval!
Phase 3: Launching and promoting your campaign
Once your campaign has been approved by the platform, you’re ready to launch it! But first, make sure you have a solid communications plan in place.
Share your campaign with your community pre-launch
The most important part of promoting your campaign is the pre-seeding. It’s informing your existing community that you’ll be launching your campaign. Most importantly, it’s about getting them excited about it. In many instances, crowdfunding campaigns are used to build something that an audience already wanted. This is your chance to tell them how they can help make it happen. Create fun visuals to announce the campaign and get your community involved. Reach out to them to help. Ask them if they’re willing to help with various elements of your campaign, such as the video, press outreach, social media, reward partnerships, etc.
Get your friends, family and personal networks involved pre-launch as well. Let them know that you’re working on the campaign and ask them if you can count on their support. That way, they will be ready to support the campaign when the time comes.
Prep for press outreach
Create a press and blogger list far before you launch your campaign. Do a search using free tools like Submit.co and PressFarm to find relevant channels that might be interested in your story and compile their contact information with notes into a spreadsheet. When reaching out to press, focus your pitch on your larger story – the thing that you’re raising funds for more than the campaign itself. The story should be “there’s a need for this one thing, we’re building it to make your life better, here’s how you can help make it happen.”
Create a social media calendar and pre-written tweets
Social media isn’t the most effective channel for driving support, but it is an effective way to get the word out. During the planning stage, develop your messaging and a timeline. Create countdown images and messages showcasing rewards. Develop a calendar based on your campaign duration to make sure you’re communicating consistently throughout. Create pre-drafted tweets with links to share with your community and friends to help you spread the word with a click of a button using a tool like this one. Do this for various stages of your campaign to change up the messaging. Countdowns have proven effective.
Most campaigns see most of their funding at the beginning and end of the campaign. With that in mind, try to time social and press coverage for the middle of the campaign for a consistent flow of awareness. Consider using a tool like Trello to plan out your comms schedule.
Now that you have a fully fleshed out communications calendar and timeline, it’s time to hit launch! Whoo! Your campaign is live! Now, share it with the world – immediately.
Update your supporters regularly
Once pledges start rolling in, communicate with your supporters regularly. Celebrate milestones and update them on the progress of your campaign. Most platforms make it easy to share updates with supporters. Video is especially effective for sharing quick updates and building a rapport with your supporters. Show them behind the scenes of the making of your project – make them feel like they’re a part of it and show them what they’re helping to bring to life. Videos don’t have to be fancy – phone videos will do just fine. Short text updates with a fun gif here and there go a long way too.
If you find that your campaign plateaus and pledges slow, ask those who’ve supported it to help spread the word. Make it easy for them with pre-written messages and/or images. If you need a big boost – as them to increase their pledge. Consider adding new, attractive rewards for them. Most importantly, do that math for them. Use statements like “If everyone contributed $5 more to the campaign, we’d hit our target goal.” This is the most effective way to reach your goal if you think you’re falling short. Remember, you’re all in this together.
Phase 4: Fulfillment and thank yous
Appreciation goes a long way. Once your campaign wraps up, make sure to thank all of your supporters. Then, after sleeping for 48 hours (kidding, not kidding), it’s time to work on the fulfillment of your rewards. Although this will look differently for everyone, we suggest getting it done as soon as possible so you can shift your focus back to your project asap.
Keep in mind things like packing, shipping, managing schedules, ordering swag, etc. If there’s ever been a time to recruit help, it’s now. The more hands working towards the same goal, the quicker it will be accomplished. Fulfillment will take longer than you expect – so be prepared. Communicate with your supporters and let them know when they can expect your reward.
Final words of advice
Communication doesn’t stop when your campaign ends and rewards have been fulfilled. Keep in touch with your supporters. Let them know how the project is going and when different phases will be complete or when they can expect to see the final product. Remember, they supported your project for the project, not for the rewards. These are your most loyal customers. Get to know them, ask them for feedback – make them a part of your community if they aren’t already.
Need help with your crowdfunding campaign? We have plenty of Peeps available for hire with successful crowdfunding experience.
*Above image from bigstock.com*
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