How to Succeed an Indie Online Fundraiser

I have had now two successful fundraisers online. How many? TWO! As my alter ego would say it. I figured I would share a bit on how that was possible. And I warn you, this page is chalk full of information 😀

So to elaborate my already elaborate title: How to succeed a small indie online fundraising campaign without outside help.

What do I mean by outside help? I mean those companies that fill your inbox with messages noting how your campaign is bound for success but that claim you can’t do it without their help and who claim they will get you: views, exposure, backers, etc. The ones that say their prices have never been this low before, and who would charge you $200 when you’re trying to raise $500. Those guys. Don’t worry about anything they are telling you. It’s what they do, they work in sales. But you don’t need them. Not for anything under $5000, I reckon.

All right, here are some fun approximate percentages: 50% of the work happens before the start of the campaign, 30% during the campaign, and 20% after the campaign has ended. I’m going to go through each step, assuming you’ve never done a campaign before, and if you have, perhaps you can gain from this as well. It took me a couple of embarrassingly awful campaigns to have some successful ones and I’m pretty sure I will keep learning and improving the more campaigns I do. In which case, I will probably add additional notes in that event, so that anyone visiting can maximise their potential for success.

What do you need to do BEFORE you start your campaign?

  • Your To Do list (I know, I’m being cheeky!)
  • Decide what platform to use and find out the fees.
  • Calculate the amount you need to raise.
  • Write your story for your viewers.
  • Decide on perks and perk amounts.
  • Write your breakdown for expenses.
  • Prepare some images for your campaign and to accompany perks.
  • Record, edit,etc, your campaign video.
  • Set yourself dates and prep-up a campaign calendar.
  • Write up most of your posts and Tweets and schedule what you can.
  • Write your list of potential contributors, first day contributors, your team, etc.
  • Reach out to people: First day contributors, your team, etc.
  • Prepare a spreadsheet to keep track of contributors and their chosen perks.

To write your To Do list… No I’m just kidding. When you calculate the amount you want to raise, you have to know the platform you will be using and the fees they charge. The platforms will also prompt you on the type of campaign you can have, such as Fixed or Flexible funding. Fixed is where you receive money only if the goal is reached, Flexible is where you get the funds regardless whether or not the goal is reached. Some platforms have different fees for the different types of funding. I’ve done all my campaigns on Indiegogo so far. Kickstarter and GoFundMe are also good places. Kickstarter only allows Fixed funding.

You can also select how you’ll receive your funds. I like the PayPal option, it’s safe and efficient and people can use their credit cards even if they don’t have a PayPal account. Keep in mind that PayPal also has fees. So whatever amount you set as your goal, you will receive that amount minus platform fees and minus PayPal or bank fees. Sometimes you can set your goal a little higher to compensate, depending on the amount you need to raise. I like to set my goal for the bare minimum that I need. Too high can scare people. Remember this is for small indie projects, like a short film, book publishing, your company, something more personal, etc. Really calculate your budget, set the minimum required for each item on your budget, discard anything you might not need or that is secondary. Also include expenses related to perks, such as DVD cases, or the cost of T-shirts. Best set the goal low and raise more, than set it high and raise less. Last year I raised $1500 on the dot. This year it was $515, my goal was of $500. Remember that the higher the amount, the more hands-on and proactive you’ll have to be. In my second successful fundraiser, I took a much more laid-back approach, knowing I had less to raise.

I’ll jump to the breakdown of expenses right away. People like transparency and they tend to like pie-charts. Make them fun and colour coded. Give your fundraiser a fitting title and use that as your theme for your images, for your perk titles, your pie chart, etc. I’ll note here some feedback I received about how 2D pie-charts are actually more accurate than 3D pie charts, due to the distortion the 3D image gives the chart. However, the 3D look is nifty. If you want to go for something that will show the most accuracy, depending on your project, then 2D is preferable. Otherwise, 3D will do the job and people will understand the graph just as well. The choice is yours. Have fun with it.

02-Greening Binky Expenses

This was the Pie-Chart used for the Greening Binky Venture, with green themed perk titles and therefore 5 shades of green in the chart.

When choosing your perks, take time to check out other campaigns for similar projects. Get inspired. Choose perk titles that match your fundraiser title. For the Moving Forward Fast campaign, I had Shout-outs in Fast Forward and such. For the Greening Binky Venture, I really went green-themed and chose Topiary, Fern, Green Fuzzies, Emerald.

Perk ideas: Shout-outs on social media, merchandise (T-shirts, coffee mugs, tags, stickers, etc.), DVDs, digital posters, name on contributors page, name in credits of videos or film, Sponsor title, advertisement, promo posts on social media, banner ad or logo in videos, film credits, specific credit title (such as Associate Producer, Sponsor, etc.), credit on website, letters from characters, short scenes, promo packages, early preview of film, ticket to screening, paperbound copy of book, e-book, IMDB credit, Skype call, etc. Those are just some I’ve had and seen people with similar projects have as well. I’ve seen indie game developers include perks where the contributor has an NPC with their name, looking like them, standing around in the game and says one phrase that that contributor decides. Some films will have the contributors decide on the name of props or places. Some perks have an unlimited amount and others have a limited amount. So 1 lucky contributor can choose the name of the great warrior’s sword, 5 contributors can receive signed T-shirts, everyone else gets regular T-shirts, etc. Good amount tiers are: $5, $10, $15, $25, $50, $100, etc.

In your story, you need to show your expenses, of course, and your perks, of course. You also need to explain why you’re doing this campaign, what this project means to you. You need to reach out to your future contributors. Talk about the risks and challenges. The platform you choose also fills your Story section with prompts and ideas of what to include in your story, so study that and think about what to write with that as your aid. Then once your story is written, and saved on your campaign page, you need to say it in your video.

Some videos are funny skits, like for films and such, all depending, but they include the perks, expenses and the story, just in a different format and somewhat shorter format. I tend to go for the all out exclusive breakdown and show of transparency. Whichever you go for, you need to show your product(s) or project in the form it is currently in and explain where it’s going. It’s good to introduce your campaign and its theme, show the expenses, explain your goal, explain why it’s important, explain your perks and what everyone receives in return for the different contribution amount, and include a brief conclusion that usually includes a call to arms, which becomes your slogan. Such as: “Help me stay in the green!” or “Let’s move Forward Fast together.”

Include images of your perks in your video. Include lists, your pie-chart, include clips of the film if it’s in post-production, showcase your product or project. The video is mostly you talking to the camera, but you can certainly add anything that is relevant in there as well. You can also create images for the campaign, to include on the page as well as in the video. Create title banners to your perks if you’re able. You don’t need to be a Photoshop expert, since a fancy font in Word set to a specific colour can do the job too. I used Photoshop because I wanted to add texture, but those are details and the viewers will be just as happy to see colour and variety on your campaign page, no matter the tool you used.

21-Greening Binky

All right, your video is complete and up, your campaign is all set, your images all set. What’s left? Well your posts are very important. Unless you want to spend time thinking about what to write and how to write it for every single day of your campaign, you might want to do that slightly more tedious bit beforehand. I had a document dedicated for that. It had my campaign calendar, the date I would e-mail people to ask to be first day contributors, the start of the campaign, Day 1, Day 2, etc. The days I would take a break or just post on Instagram and Twitter. I wrote up a post with detailed information, a shorter version with less details, one geared towards the perks, one for each perk, one all about the expenses, etc. Only near the end of the campaigns did I take what I had pre-written and changed it up a bit, or rewrote altogether.

Then you want to reach out to your potential first day contributors, also make a list of the people you want to contact personally throughout your campaign and on which day. During Moving Forward Fast, I e-mailed about 500 people, using copy and paste, but still. This is how I found an Indie Game developing company willing to contribute $250 to be an Associate Producer. For Greening Binky, many of the people who donated the first time, were more than happy to donate again. Some people could not. Some people could only re-post and Like, but that is something I am very grateful for as well, because it helps. Every bit helps. I had reached out to an indie web radio, you may have seen me mention them a lot now, TacticalFM. The guy who runs the web radio donated for Moving Forward Fast. He also helped me create an audio ad that he would play during his show. That’s great collaboration! For Greening Binky, he did the same, contributed an amount and played an ad during his show. Partners are also fun to have, people who have worked for you and with you, and with whom you have a relationship for mutual exchange. These are the people you want on your team.

My team usually consists of my husband, of course, but since he used to be part of a choir, he knows a lot of people who in turn have connections. Mascara and Popcorn, who has been partners with Binky Productions for several years now, is always on my team. Those are the types of people you need to ask to help you out the most, to e-mail people too, to re-post and create their own posts for the campaign. People involved in the project are also good team members.

How do you manage all this social media posting? Well, I use Hootsuite. It’s free. You can link up to 5 social media platforms, such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ page. You can’t link your Google+ profile, so I’d post there way early when I had scheduled everywhere else. You can put in links (and shrink them), you can include images, and you can set the date and time that you want the post to go live. I also scheduled posts on my website. If you have a blog site, take advantage of that as well. I’m on WordPress, but there are other great blog sites as well.

Sample of Campaign Spreadsheet.jpg

A sample of a Campaign Spreadsheet “à la Binky”.

To keep track of incoming contributions and the perks people selected, I created a spreadsheet in advance that lists the contributor’s name, the amount they donated, whether or not they took a perk, with colour coding for when the perks are delivered, etc. Look to the above sample for more details.

Moving on, you can now begin your campaign.

What do you need to do DURING the campaign?

  • Certain perks, such as Shout-outs, as contributions come in.
  • Keep track of contributions, contributors and perks.
  • Schedule more posts for social media.
  • Personally e-mail, call, and visit people to ask for contributions.
  • Create alternate versions of the intro to a post or the post itself near the end of the campaign.
  • E-mail contributors to personally thank them for their contributions.
  • Post updates on your campaign for new visitors and addressed to contributors.

This list is self-explanatory. Keep track of everything in your spreadsheet and on your calendar. Mark what’s been done, create an additional To Do list in a notebook if you want. Do the perks you can do right away, such as shout-outs, names on pages, sending digital media, etc. Follow the list, but most importantly, have fun, and do take time off to relax. During Moving Forward Fast, I got so stressed I got myself sick with a cold near the end. During Greening Binky, I made sure to schedule in days where I would not even go on social media sites. I would schedule posts the night before and would not go online until the day after and then post live and schedule another day’s post. It’s important to enjoy the process. It’s a fun learning experience, a way to meet new people, create new contacts, new partners, new friends, people who you can help in the future, who will in turn be loyal to you and continue to help or contribute in the future. This is your campaign. Enjoy it! True, don’t slack, but don’t over do it either. Find the system that works best for you and create a balance with that.

Yay! You finished your campaign. You did it! Either you reached your goal, or you were a bit below the mark. Hopefully you reached it and even surpassed it, because the ones that had failed for me were the ones where I had not done all that which I mention on this page.

What do you do AFTER the campaign has ended?

  • Consolidate perks and contributors.
  • Post a general “Thank You” on social media.
  • Deliver your perks (write those letters from characters, send out those DVDs, etc.)

Post one last time on your campaign and on social media. Remember to thank even those who could only share or Like. They did what they could afford and it does not mean they did not want to give. As much as you can’t be afraid to ask for money, you must remember that a lot of people just can’t afford it and they wish they could. They will remember your gratitude. Some who could not donate during one campaign, might and will donate during another one, and vice-versa. Thank your team. Thank anyone who took particular initiatives. Remind people of possible set dates or deadlines for perk deliveries and take your time. You are no longer on a schedule you don’t have to rush. Once your perks are complete and delivered, you can give yourself a pat in the back. Well, you can probably do that before too.

You just successfully completed a campaign. What if it’s not a successful campaign? No campaigns are unsuccessful, because the worst that can happen, is you learnt how not to do it, you learnt what works and what doesn’t. This isn’t a fail proof help list, but following it is what helped me have successful campaigns. I hope it can do the same for you. Whatever the outcome, be proud of yourself. It takes courage to show enough vulnerability to ask for money and help, and to show transparency.

Congratulations! And good luck!

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