August 28, 2014
My writing partner and I created two seasons of a web series without any formal film training. That’s scary. But one of the scariest things we had to do was create and run our crowdfunding campaign.
To begin at the beginning: I met my writing partner, Jessie Jolles, in an Upright Citizens Brigade improv class in the spring of 2012. After a volunteer shift at the Del Close Marathon (a 56-hour improv festival), we decided we wanted to create sweet, sweet comedy together. Fast-forward eight months and we began shooting our web series, “DIBS.”
We didn’t know where to start—we were two beginner comedians, both insecure in our new surroundings. Luckily, the New York City comedy community is supportive, welcoming, and knowledgeable! Due to the help of a few great comedians, a Panera Bread in Midtown Manhattan that lets patrons roast until closing, and our own obsessive nature, we somehow pulled together a professional web series set without any formal film education. Season one was a blast!
Like any overly ambitious comedians with a basic sleep deficiency, we decided to shoot our second season only four months after season one was released. But one not-so-minor detail stood in our way: we needed funding for season two. Jessie and I had the privilege of funding our first season and it was a great accomplishment. But in order to create a bigger and better season two (or a season two at all), we needed help.
Alongside many artists with a dream, we decided to crowdfund. To us, the crowdfunding campaign was an unknown monolith. We had so many questions: “What were the best methods? Where should our focus be? How will this affect our personal finances?” Along with— “Is okay to ask for money? Will we annoy people? Will people want to help us?” Also, let’s not forget— “What does this take? Where do we start? How do we finish?” We needed answers, so we decided to buckle down and do our research.
Another tiny detail relevant to our journey: I have experience in traditional fundraising in higher education. So while mocking up our campaign process, I whipped up some fundraising basics to help us prepare a P.O.A (plan of action) and take the fear out of fundraising. (That’s a cute little slogan if you want to use it. Or you can be like most people and never say cute little slogans. Your choice, Rambo.)
Here are 8 important things that will help curb the crowdfunding night terrors, making you feel pumped and ready for your campaign!
1. Make your “case.”
Before you set up your crowdfunding page, make sure you can easily explain why your project is important. There’s a compelling reason behind your project and it needs to be heard. This might sound simple but it can be hard to express. So work on getting your case down! Jessie and I believed in a female written, starred, and directed series that showcased a truthful, relatable, funny friendship. It is important to have honest, comedic portrayals of women, told by women. Ladies gotta rep ladies.
2. Who are your backers and how can you knock on their door?
Now that you know your case, you can identify a community of backers that will help you reach your goal. Identify them ASAP and tailor your communication towards those prospects. Use social media like the powerful force it is. Whether it’s by email or phone, be thoughtful, respectful, and passionate. Even strangers want to give to things they believe in, especially if you truly believe in it. (Corny but true ya’ll. Corny but true.)
3. It’s okay to ask. The worst people say is “no.”
This is in reference to the biggest fear I had to conquer: just asking. Even though I have experience in fundraising, I had never asked for a donation. I feel weird if I need to send back food at a restaurant. I am just uncomfortable “inconveniencing” anyone. But the one piece of advice I had to remember is that it’s totally fine to ask. Most people don’t mind! So just take a breath and speak.
4. Your campaign wants that weird purple hat…seriously.
Crowdfunding campaigns just want to stick out in a dressing room full of crowdfunding campaigns. Give yours its feathered boa, its sequined headband, or its sandal and sock. For example, to differentiate our campaign from the rest, Jessie and I would have themes for the different days of our campaign. We had #DIBSFLASHBACK days, in which cast and crew were encouraged to highlight some of their past work with the hashtag #DIBSFLASHBACK. #DIBSFLASHBACK was our weird purple hat.
5. People have grocery lists, actual children, and dates with Netflix.
This is a footnote to #3. It’s okay to ask, but be conscious about how you ask, whom you are asking, and how many times you do it. Everyone’s planner is full and the last thing you want is for your backers to think you’re looking at their face and seeing a big, fat, money sign. There will be those that need to be reminded, but kindly remind them once (and if it’s weeks later, maybe twice).
6. I need to submit real government forms for this? Huh?
If you reach your goal, you will be taxed on the money you receive. Speak with an accountant. We posted on Facebook and found an old friend that is an accountant. I’m not even going to pretend to give you an advice on this. I’m not an accountant.
7. You said you were going to give people gifts. So give ‘em.
One of the best pieces of advice we received early on was to make our gifts reasonable. So that’s what we did. It’s important to think about the gifts, particularly how you will get them to your backers, the cost of creation and mailing, and the time frame. YOU’RE GETTING TO DO YOUR PROJECT! You at least owe them their fancy t-shirt.
8. Donor fatigue is a real thing.
After your campaign, be extremely conscious of what you ask from your backers. Especially if you are considering doing another campaign for another season or project, you need to think about the time frame and your donor base. Every good project deserves the same attention and backers need time to be revitalized. Remember, some of these people have grocery lists, actual children, and dates with Netflix.
Hopefully, these 8 tips make it a little less scary to tackle a crowdfunding campaign. My ninth piece of advice is to look into Seed&Spark or a site like Seed&Spark, one that has available staffers to help you through this process. "DIBS" was lucky to have the Seed&Spark team for support.
Either way, you’ll be okay. Promise. You will get through this will a little ambition, hard work, and belief in yourself. I know that’s corny, but it’s true ya’ll. It’s corny but it’s true.