5 lessons learned from a successful crowdfunding campaign

5 lessons learned from a successful crowdfunding campaign
By Maxime Leroy, 09 August 2012 

If you are thinking of starting a crowdfunding campaign any time soon. If you believe you will easily reach total strangers. If you think Twitter, Facebook and mailing list updates will be enough for your backers. Or if you think the money will grow, every day, just like that, because your idea is amazing. Well, this article is made just for you: indeed, there is a big chance that none of the above will happen.

Kiss Kiss Bank Bank wall of successful projects at their HQ

When we decided to make an interactive documentary on the collaborative economy, called Collaborative Cities, it was obvious for us that crowdfunding was the way to go. We thought we could financed our project smoothly and as planned. But in fact, everything that happened during the campaign came as a surprise – some of it good, and some of it bad. Luckily, it all ended very well last week with our project reaching its fundraising goal by 112%, thanks to our friends at Kiss Kiss Bank Bank who opened our eyes to a few things:

1 – Your first backers’ friends are your next backers What crowdfunding offers is to see your project supported by individuals who really believe in it. Who are ready to pledge anywhere from a symbolic to a substantial amount of their own money to make your idea happen. They all have a reason to do it: they will get a nice example of your product, they will brag about it to their friends, you blackmailed them, or it is your mom. Their common goal is to get your project crowdfunded or their investment will have had no impact, even if they get their money back. So they are not just backers, they are ambassadors. They will talk about your project, share it through their networks, and in the end, convince their friends to support it too. What you should be working on is helping your first backers, giving them the tools and materials (information, visuals, goal, agenda) to efficiently convince their friends. They will reach them better than you will with your random, send-to-all tweets.

2 – Don’t count on going viral, before you actually go viral Please don’t. You might end with 20% pledged on you project, the day before the end of your campaign. You should plan your campaign based on realistic forecasts: how many friends can you convince? What would be their average pledge? How many different networks could be interested? For Collaborative Cities, our interactive documentary has been made possible by the help of OuiShare: a community of people passionnate about this new economy. People we know in real life. So we planned on reaching our 12,800€ goal with 200 pledgers (half of our community) with an average pledge between 60€ and 70€. Obviously this did not work at all. On one side we over-estimated a *little* bit the number of backers from our community. And on the other side I completely forgot other networks which have been very impactful: friends, former classmates, colleagues. I also under-estimated who our top donors were and how much they could pledge. We ended our campaign 2 weeks ago with 149 backers and an average pledge at around 100€. Our project did go viral, but on the last 4 days. So unless your are making the new open Video Game Console, you should be happy to see your project go viral, but not count on it when defining your campaign’s goal and length.

3 – One-to-one is the new one-to-many This one is easy to explain. Sending one tweet to all your followers will maybe get you 2 backers (at the most). A facebook status? 1. A mass email? Don’t even think about it having any impact: you know what you do when you receive that nice newsletter-ish email right? Remember that you need to ask people for money, so the first thing you should consider is to thank them personally (this should be your first pledge package by the way), and start to get to know them. The more you know about each one of them, the better you will shape your campaign’s strategy to gain new backers. Plus you will have created this nice, caring, community around your project. And around you. Believe me, when days come when you see that fundraising number not moving by an inch, you will be happy to re-read these encouraging emails and comments from your new friends.

4 – A linear campaign? I’m laughing now. Here is an approximate transcript between Kiss Kiss Bank Bank team and us, when I started the campaign: Me: 12,800€, 67 days, that means we will have to raise 191€ per day right? Kiss Kiss Bank Bank: Hum. Logically yes. But this will never happen. Me: Ok let’s try!

Our fundraising graph, 67 days later:

Over coffee, one week after the campaign’s end: Kiss Kiss Bank Bank: Indeed? Me: …

5 – The tumultuous path from your friends, colleagues, and family to complete strangers So you still have in mind the graph just above. What happened?

1 – People who are convinced about your project because they know you, or share a bond with you that goes beyond your project, will pledge. No matter what. They will pledge when you are still at 10% of your fundraising goal. They will pledge even without that useless tweet you tried to send them, or that newsletter you are trying to craft (what did we tell you?). They will pledge higher amounts. They are nice. They are your friends, family, ex-lovers, etc. … 3 – Strangers will start pledging. They heard about your project through someone’s online curation, or one of your random tweets (ok sometimes it works). There can be many of them if your campaign is successful. But they pledge a little less on average, so your big fundraising goal is reached slower.

Wait – what about 2? There is no 2? No there is NOT. There are many chances you will experience that big gap, that moment when you face your excel forecast alone, endlessly refreshing your crowdfunding page. Stop it! Chrome won’t pledge! You just need to get out there. You need to talk about your project everywhere and to everyone. Do so at as many events as you can (even those you are not invited to). At the coffee machine. At your subway station. To that sister’s boyfriend you disapprove. You are a digital beggar now, at least, look like you know why. Oh, and give yourself some challenge: you know that thrifty friend of yours? The one who always gets a calculator out of her or his pocket to divide the bill (and tip) at a 10+ people party? You must have her/him pledge. She/he will be your new indicator of fundraising mastering.

Last advice, forgot everything you just read, because each crowdfunding campaign is completely unique. This is what might be the most interesting about it. Aside from a few guidelines, you can reinvent everything and customize it to your own project. Browse successful and less successful crowdfunding campaigns.You are not applying for a grant. You are generating the interest of hundreds (to thousands) of people supporting your idea. That changes a few things.

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