The Cardinal Rules of Crowdfunding:The Five Basic Tenets You Need to Follow for a Successful Campaign

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last seven years, you or someone you know has ventured into the depths of crowdfunding.

In this short time the previously marginal—and vaguely suspiciousfunding process has experienced a mainstream explosion, ushering in a democratized fundraising world in which people bring their projects to life while simultaneously building an army of fans and advocates. As crowdfunding enters 2016, it’s established itself as a major method by which independent moviemakers turn their dreams into reality. You wouldn’t be faulted for assuming that any film produced by non-studio hands had a crowdfunding campaign somewhere along the line, from The Babadook to Anomalisa.

Long gone are the days of one-size-fits-all strategies and basic pleas for support on social media. In a world overflowing with content creators vying for attention, moviemakers need to ensure they stand out from the pack. How? Capture dollars and hearts with these all-important ground rules.

Start Before You Think You Need to Start

Neither Rome nor any successful crowdfunding campaigns were built in a day. In fact, our team of film specialists spends anywhere from two weeks to six months working with filmmakers to get them ready for launch. Start planning now, like this:

Research Past Campaigns

Begin by combing through the most successful completed campaigns for films that are similar to yours. Look at each element of those campaigns and see what worked for them. What do they have in common that propelled their success? (Hint: It’s going to be that winning recipe of interesting perks, fresh content and a compelling call to action.)

Make a Calendar/To-Do List

Create an editorial calendar for the whole run of your campaign, outlining the day-to-day strategies for social media, campaign page updates and media coverage from news outlets and popular blogs.

Soft Launch Commitments

Nobody walks into an empty restaurant unless they know the owner. The same can be said for a crowdfunding campaign. The first 30 percent of your funding goal should be locked down before you ever hit the launch button. So, start early on soliciting that soft launch support! A “soft launch” means that you launch your campaign by quietly reaching out to your inner circle of supporters, so you can secure their contributions within the first 48 hours. If you’ve raised your 30 percent when you announce a “hard launch” (i.e. telling everyone you know about your campaign via social media, blogs, etc.), your existing momentum will serve as validation and make a wider potential audience more likely to contribute.

Be An Expert on Your Subject and its People

A crucial step in any crowdfunding campaign is building and engaging your audience. Though its size may vary, every film has an audience. The key is being able to identify these people and find out where they congregate—online and in the real world. Infiltrate that world and become an active participant in it. Be the authority on what’s important to your community.

Start by posting online to establish your presence in the community. Keep your messaging consistent and gauge which posts get the best response. Give back by contributing to other film campaigns, commenting on them, and having an ongoing rapport with other creators to establish mutual trust. And be your most authentic self. If you’re genuinely passionate about your project, people will take notice.

If you already have a fan base, get them on board with your project early. For example, Wong Fu Productions tapped into their two million-strong YouTube following to fund their first foray into film, Everything Before Us. They went on to raise over $350,000, opened the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, and recently released the film on Vimeo On Demand

Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson on the Anomalisa set. Photograph by Todd Williamson

Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson on the Anomalisa set. Photograph by Todd Williamson

Design Your Page With Purpose and Thought

You’re an artist. Get just as creative with your campaign as you would with your film. Your campaign page should look aesthetically pleasing and professional. It should reflect the mood, tone, look and feel of your film, and outline the film’s journey to production in language as clear and clean—proofread, please—as possible.

Video

Your video is going to be the first thing people see. It should be entertaining, yes, but also have a clear message about why people should get involved. One caveat: Never explicitly ask for money. Show people that they’ll be part of the process of making the film, instead of simply funding it. Remember that filmmakers have an advantage in this department over other types of campaigners—flex those skills you have worked so hard to cultivate! Your video should look good, feel good and make people laugh, even cry. Production values really matter. Do not, and I repeat, do not shoot your pitch video on an iPhone in front of a white wall with black and white text at the bottom of the screen. Make that mistake and absolutely no one is going to know your campaign exists.

Body Text and Graphics

Put yourself in the readers’ shoes: A five-page essay about your film inspires “TL;DR” reactions. (That’s “too long; didn’t read,” for the uninitiated.) Keep it concise. Who are you? What will the funds be used for? How else can people support? Yes, you may have covered many of these topics in your video, but repeat them for good measure!

Additionally, custom headers, infographics (think pie charts), and additional embedded video content tell a more complete and exciting campaign narrative, one that helps the overall package feel more engaging.

Perks

There is certainly nothing wrong with the standard social media shout-outs, DVDs, digital downloads, printed screenplays or merchandise. Yet your campaign is going to be much more meaningful if the perks are relevant and personalized—an extension of the project you are trying to fund. Your donors aren’t funding you to do you a favor, so offer something truly desirable, not a seeming afterthought.

The perks that tend to work best in today’s crowdfunding landscape are ones that make people feel special, and (importantly) cost a campaigner time, but almost no money. Follow these basic guidelines for the types of perks you should offer:

  • Experiential: Make supporters a more intimate part of the process with unique, one-of-a-kind experiences like meet and greets, set visits and screenings.
  • Personalized: Give the personal touch. Offer signed postcard updates from set, custom poems, songs, recipes or selfies with the cast.
  • Limited Edition: Granting limited access to perks—whether limited by time or quantity—makes people part of an exclusive group.

Put in the Social Media Hours

Social media is going to account for a significant portion (on average, 22 percent) of visitors to your campaign page. These channels should be developed and honed way in advance of launch day. If you have zero social presence to speak of, you’d best postpone your crowdfunding plans and get to posting, because a campaign cannot be successful without it.

Keep your posts fresh and relevant to the project’s subject matter. Repeatedly posting “support my campaign” is not just going to be brushed aside by your audience, but annoy the heck out of them. You want to be respected by your community, which means curating exceptional content that is relevant, engaging and shareable. Highlight interesting news in your field that pertains to your project to inform and entertain your audience. If you can present yourself as an industry authority, you’ll become a more trusted source of information, which will lend credibility to your project itself. Encourage a dialogue, rather than simply blasting out content. Respond to comments on your posts and update your audience regularly. I know this takes time and can be a challenge, so consider planning posts ahead of time with scheduling services.

Most people do not have the bandwidth to be on every social media platform, and it’s really not necessary to do so. Pick the ones that are most relevant to your film and that your audience is most active on. Besides the obvious (Facebook and Twitter), some great additions are YouTube, Instagram, LinkedIn and Reddit.

Whatever you use, your campaign page is the central hub for all project-related content. No matter how many channels you leverage, make sure each includes a clear path back home so that your audience can contribute as easily as possible!

Keep Things Real with Your Goal

A lot of thought and research should be put into setting your monetary goal. Never go into crowdfunding with the intention of raising your entire budget—it’s a piece in the financing puzzle, not the whole picture. Be very strategic and specific about what the money is for.

The main thing to consider when setting your goal is how big your email list and social media presence are. Do you know where the first 30 percent of your funds are going to come from? (Hint: It’s always going to be your family, friends and inner circles.) Can you get that initial 30 percent in the first three days of your campaign? Based on the answers to those questions, work backwards to assess how much money you can commit to raising—which is different from how much you actually need. Take into account the platform and payment processing fees, and the costs of any physical perks you’re offering and how you will ship them.

Remember that you can always fund your campaign beyond its goal. In fact, 89 percent of Indiegogo campaigns that reach their goals surpass them. If you reach your goal you’ll have the added benefit of entering into Indiegogo’s exclusive InDemand program, where your project can continue funding forever. Or as long as you want, if “forever” sounds too daunting. MM

This article appeared in MovieMaker‘s Complete Guide to Making Movies 2016. Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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