“What’s done we partly may compute, But know not what’s resisted.”

- Robert Burns, Address to Unco Guild

I recently benefitted to the tune of $11,215 (less the 8.5% taken by Kickstarter and Amazon) to do Prison Photography on the Road. It was one of the most exhilarating and productive experiences of both my life and work.

Since completing the road-trip, I have postponed the publication of the remaining PPOTR audio and the delivery of incentives to funders. This is due to the time required preparing for Cruel and Unusual, an exhibition that I consider an extension of the PPOTR mission.

I let funders know about this delay, but I am still a little uneasy.

This week, I spotted a couple of pieces published about crowdfunding.

Matt Haughey wrote Lessons for Kickstarter creators from the worst project I ever funded on Kickstarter.

The lesson here isn’t necessarily avoiding the mistakes Matt details because the mistakes were specific to the particular project. Rather, know that if you promise something on the internet to potential funders, you had best be able to deliver. Success AND FAILURES will be shared as widely as you originally cast the net for funding.

Matt’s piece was about process and about communication. Joerg Colberg’s article Crowdfunding is Not a Cash Cow is a bit about communication, but more precisely about relationships based upon transaction. Joerg:

“Artists need those relationships. In the past, these kinds of relationships were usually established with wealthy collectors only. Now, crowdfunding offers the chance to establish them with a much larger, much more diverse, much more democratic group of people.”

Joerg urges creators/artists to think of funders as patrons and not “cash cows”, that is that they might come back a second time if they feel you were straight, delivered on your promises and valued the relationship.

That’s pretty much been my position throughout PPOTR; not necessarily that people would come back a second time to give me more money, but that they’d come back a second time to have a conversation.

For people involved in such activities, making art or photographs or writing forms the basis of how people measure ones integrity. All of that is put to one side when you meet someone in person. Their measures of your integrity are now based on how you introduce yourself, how you engage them and how much you value the interaction. Appealing for crowdfunding is like introducing yourself to the world and winning funding is beginning a friendship.

I’ve been asked a lot about advice on how to mount a successful Kickstarter and up until now I’ve felt uncomfortable giving tips on the nuts and bolts of a campaign. That’s because crowdfunding is much more than that; crowdfunding is personal, it’s gut- instinct, it’s sometimes spontaneous and it’s about friendship and respect.

So, these are not the rules per se for crowdfunding. This is the etiquette of crowdfunding. Which, for me, are one and the same.

1. Make a blooming good video.

This is your elevator pitch. 30 seconds. Probably 2 or 3 minutes. Maybe 5.

Without a good pitch few other things can happen.

Anticipate the widest audience; explaining your project to people who’ve never heard of you and simultaneously to your longtime friends is tricky. Be clear and passionate. Let potential funders know why you’ve the skills to carry through the project better than anyone else. Not easy in just a couple of minutes.

2. Search out honest advice.

BEFORE

Seek advice from people in the know. For me, I contacted 20 other photobloggers and asked if they thought my plan was viable. They all said “yes” or “don’t know, but I’d be interested to see you try.” Without their support, I’d not have pitched PPOTR on Kickstarter.

DURING

Ask a trusted friend to tell you if your video pitch makes sense. You need to know if it represents your idea in the best possible way. I find it very difficult to establish distance from my work. Things I take as given are not familiar to everyone. People unfamiliar with your area of work need to be compelled enough by the pitch to buy in.

AFTER

Ask for feedback as your project comes to a close. Hopefully your funders will be happy with your efforts and relationship. If so, pat yourself on the back. If they’re not, you will still benefit from their feedback and from the honest-note you close on.

3. Incentives should be personal, imaginative, exclusive and offer potential funders a wide array of funding levels.

Be creative, even funny. Try to be non-virtual. Snail mail still exists. I underestimated the simple postcard but PPOTR funders loved them! The same goes for hand made art and prints.

People could back PPOTR with any amount between $1 and $1,750. This range is not unusual and often goes higher.

4. Have a really strong set of existing networks.

Cold calls don’t work at the best of times, and here they’ll just be a thankless time sap.

5. Be prepared to promote the crap out of it.

For a full month, I promoted PPOTR like it was a part-time job. Answering calls, sending emails; requesting info; co-ordinating photographers involved; doing interviews; keeping people updated on progress.

6. Involve the community.

If you’re asking for community funding then involve the community.

Firstly, it’s much more fun. Obviously, some projects are more suitable than others for community involvement. It was much easier for me to involve folk because I proposed interviewing scores of photographers, I slept on people’s couches, and I relied on prison photographers to provide the high-end Kickstarter incentives.

Another advantage to this is that all those people you involve will promote your project in their networks.

7. Be realistic about the amount of time and energy it will take to deliver the incentives.

I totally underestimated the time it’d take to write a postcard to every single funder. While on the road, with a little help from friends, I managed to send 100. But I still have 60+ to do and I consider myself fortunate that I’m currently in exotic climes such as the UK and Holland from which to send unique cards. Better late than never.

8. Treat your funders like royalty.

Folk have said they kept up partly with PPOTR via Facebook and Twitter. But folk are not funders.

From the start, I was adamant that ONLY funders would have access to behind-the-scenes information. I published the most complete updates through the Kickstarter website. It was important to me that funders saw my road diary as written for them and them only.

It would have probably benefitted me and my visibility online (on which I rely for maintaining a reputation) if had I made my diary public on Prison Photography blog. BUT, to do so would not have directly benefitted the trip.

By providing exclusivity to funders, I was investing in a select number of relationships.

9. Only ever do one Kickstarter.

I’ve made this “rule”, mainly for myself, since finishing PPOTR.

Partly, because planning a project, designing the pitch, launching and promoting it, completing the work, maintaining relationships with your funders and then delivering on the final product(s) is A LOT of work.

Partly, also it’s about image. You don’t want to appear greedy or entitled. For me, going back for more would look a bit tacky. That’s a personal opinion – more of a feeling – and I wouldn’t be able to debate it at length.

Any thoughts and any questions don’t hesitate to raise in the comments.

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