how to play the crowdfunding game – or – hey lady can you spare a few grand?

Petunia! by Gwyn Michael

The truth is, I don’t know much about how to play this game, but I have learned a few things, and I have a few opinions. People are raising funds all over the place for plenty of good causes (shelter dogs, for example) and more recently for independent projects (I want to make an album, for example). I did it myself back in May through Kickstarter, and while my project was not successful I got a lot from the experience.

I planned my project around a trip to Portland for the World Domination Summit. I love the NW coast and I had trouble with the idea of flying out there and not taking the opportunity to explore the landscape with my camera, but it wasn’t in the budget and thus was born my project. My goal was ambitious, $10,958 in 30 days. I only made it to $4,777, and while I can’t say I wasn’t disappointed it turned out to be for the best.

When I decided to use Kickstarter to raise money I did not know it was called crowdfunding and I did not know there are many platforms to do this. Kickstater, it turns out, I would not have chosen in hindsight. There are quite a few crowdfunding sites out there with all kinds of variations. More on that in a moment, but first here’s what I did wrong.

My project was too vague and too large in scope. I set a trap for failure.

Failure in raising the funds and likely in completing the project as intended. After an intense weekend of absorbing information, workshops, and socializing, it was my intention to spend a week driving over 600 miles along the Columbia River interviewing environmental artists and environmental restoration projects while documenting the Confluence Project and points of interest along the trail of Lewis and Clark. Meanwhile, I would be taking video (with no video experience), photographs, and keeping a daily journal of my experience. Whew, and that was just the beginning. Upon returning home I intended to create a book (which I’ve never done),  DVD (also never done), limited edition of prints, and have myself a showing of the work. If it had worked I’d likely be suicidal by now.

Young Gwynnie by Unknown

Save the world? WAY TOO MUCH!

If you are going to ask for money to do a project, be sure you know exactly what you want to do and have some idea how to do it.

Next, my motivation was to learn how art can be used to influence environmental consciousness, preservation, and restoration. Good enough, but the project I was focused on was outdoor art installations and I am a neither a sculptor nor an architect. I’m sure I would have learned a lot, but perhaps not much I could use in my work. Again, I think I’d have done better sticking to what I know.

Then,  given my skill at social media networking (which is not so good), I was going for too much money in too little time. I probably could have gotten there in 60 or 90 days, but 30 was not enough. I raised almost $5,000 which could have funded a good photo exploration and production of a book.  I could have managed that…oh well.

Lastly, being ignorant of any other options, I went with Kickstarter, which is an all or nothing fundraising platform. If you reach your goal or go beyond, the money is yours less a fee, but if you fall short, even by a few dollars, nothing. Which brings me to the options I’ve discovered, which are many. The following is a list I came upon and I’m sure there are more.

Some of these are specific to musicians or film makers, others for charities or startups, but for visual artists or crafters I’d suggest IndieGoGo. Why? The main reason is they don’t have the all or nothing payment model. You get what you raise less a fee regardless of making your goal. Secondly, they seem to be open to a wider variety of projects and have less restrictions. For more information on Kickstarter and Indie GoGo with some good suggestions for planning a project, check this article. The comments are informative, too.

Now lets get to the conversation part of this story. I still have some issues with all this fundraising and I’d love your opinions. Fundraising is nothing new, but this individual project funding is. Artists used to have patrons way back when, and more recently were funded through grants and fellowships through things like the PEW and NEAA. While these things still exist, it is increasingly difficult to get the funding and cuts are being made. So, what’s an artist to do? Do it yourself, it seems, but I question the integrity in that even though I’ve done it myself and likely will again.

I struggle with same old worthiness issues knowing that there are so many truly worthy causes out there that need money. To be honest, I get a little resentful (guilty) at all the requests I get to give, because they are all worthwhile and I only have so much. Even at a meager $10 a pop it adds up when there are abused dogs, and cancer, and no clean water, and films to be made, and on and on. Oh, and then there is this. My friend Colleen is raising $50,000 for her 50th birthday and donating it to Write Girl, an LA based non profit that empowers girls through writing. How awesome is that?

That makes me feel kinda jerky for wanting to raise money for art projects, but then again, who will fund the arts?

What do you think?

12 thoughts on “how to play the crowdfunding game – or – hey lady can you spare a few grand?

  1. Thanks for sharing the details of your Kickstarter campaign; it’s helpful for an inside view at what worked, didn’t, or might of.

    I recently heard about a new book publisher,, which is book writing and publishing via crowdfunding.

    I’m all for crowdfunding if it helps more artists get their work done. As for spending money on the arts, well, it’s donations! I like giving where I want and being able to support folks on the front end instead of on the back end.

  2. Thanks Laura. I feel the same way about supporting other artists, but I tend to question it when applied to myself…issues.

    I think my bigger dilemma is balancing the charitable giving with the creative giving. Can’t do it all!

    Likewise I would be foolish to raise loads of money for a charity when I am in the hole myself. When I have more I can do more.

  3. wow, this is a fantastic article, thanks for all the links too. i love the idea of people contributing to things, then they belong, and your circle as an artist opens. I wonder what kind of money could be made by just asking for a dollar? Wouldn’t everyone pitch in? or say maybe two dollars and double it.

  4. Thanks Victoria. Yes, the beauty of this kind of fundraising is the way it includes people and that every dollar counts. I like the idea of a $5 or less fundraiser.

  5. A few months ago I went to a Renaissance Festival (because I’m col like that) and watched a demo by an amazing glass blower. He has made custom glass installations valued at over $300,000. A lot of artists would love a commission like that, but you cannot sell a $300,000 installation unless you have a $300,00 art piece already.


    I slightly disagree, which is where your project aspirations come in. What if you have made a $200,000 piece and you are hungry to up your game?
    What if you’ve made beautiful digital art and you are eager to apply your talent to videography? I say, you show people what you HAVE DONE and tell them you can LEARN TO DO MORE. Maybe you could create a scholarship section on your website. People will be there because they want to see your work (or they already have). Now give them a mission statement and a plan. Offer a hypothesis about the affect of art on environmental understanding, social awareness, psycho-therapy. Devise a way to test your hypothesis, to answer questions. Tell everyone the skills you want to develop in order to do this project.

    And ask for their help. In short, write a grant proposal.

    I think if you put forth effort at the beginning people will see you are serious. I also think you will feel more serious and it will affirm your knowledge that art is something worth funding. People should never be embarrassed to ask others to support a worthy cause. Even less so if they are being honest. I suspect you are worried someone will think you are begging under the guise of pursuing knowledge and saving the environment. You aren’t. You really are pursuing knowledge. You really are taking steps toward the bigger goal of saving the world. And yes, it is true, you will use some of that knowledge and some of your new skills to make art from which you will profit. But others will also profit from that art and we will all benefit from your knowledge and skills

    Have I gone on too long? I know asking for money is a struggle for you. but remember, University Students get scholarships all the time. The funding agents don’t ask for a specific return on their investment because they know a better-educated populace is better for all of us.

  6. Janice I love your input! I agree that expanding my talent is worthy of investment and I am still interested in learning videography. I fully inyend to create a book as well. However knowing myself I think that aspiring to all that together would have been a mistake for me at this time. While I get great response to my digital art I have yet to make money at it. I am leaning now toward taking what I do well and creating a project that can inform about the same issues.

    I need to get myself off the ground before I take on new mediums. That said I do love the idea of the scholarship section when I am ready. In the meantime I am yet again redoing my website with a new focus. Environmental issues still in my radar but a broader range for my work.

    BTW one of the sites up there Funding4Learning is an education funding site :-)


  7. I think it would be very valuable for more and more of us to start really having this discussion about:

    * Why is art important, if it is? Specifically.
    * What else is important to us in life? How can or can’t art relate to those causes? Specifically.
    * What is more important than art? When? Why? Specifically.
    * How should art be funded that is most in keeping with our deepest values? Are old models working? Are new models needed? Specifically.

    We could add a lot more questions to this. I’ve felt these questions in myself and I see/hear them rise up in other people, but mostly I think we are afraid to really, specifically discuss them. We’re afraid for a few reasons. I think one is that we suspect art is not important and another is that we know art is not valued by many, many people. We don’t want to fuel that fire by maybe, possibly, accidentally suggesting they’re right and art really isn’t important. We are trying to support ourselves financially with art and fear we can’t and fear this discussion will make it even more impossible.

    These hesitations (and more) prevent us from truly diving into this conversation with honesty, vulnerability, and the willingness to question. That means this conversation rarely, if ever, seems to actually happen. Someone might bring it up and someone else will say “Hey, art is is important and we have to support each other!” and that’s the end.

    There’s so much more to investigate here.

    1. Wow Emma you always bring it! There is a lot to investigate here and I plan to do so on my blog.

      These two questions *specifically* :-)

      * Why is art important, if it is? Specifically.
      * What else is important to us in life? How can or can’t art relate to those causes? Specifically.

      Makes me think of salon…

  8. Great article! I’ve been thinking about crowdfunding. It is key to provide a good value proposition for your funders (at least with Kickstarter, this seems to be particularly true).

    As with any project, controlling scope is key.

    There are some intriguing possibilities to gradually scale your creative projects through a series of growing crowdfunding projects.

    Is crowdfunding charity or pre-sales or ???? what works better?

    (Please make it easier to tweet and promote good articles like this!)

  9. Hey! I’m so glad I found this article tonight. Thanks for sharing your own experience with Kickstarter. I just recently made a big personal and business investment by purchasing (read: saving from becoming scrap metal!) an old letterpress printing machine. I’ve dreamed of having one since I was in art school 10 years ago, and while I love being a graphic designer in a digital age, I miss inky hands and messy aprons.

    I’ve been considering a Kickstarter (or similar) campaign to raise some funds to get my press into working order. It needs some fixing up, though each moment I get to spend doing it will still be a labor of love. As far as I know, I’ll have the only press of its kind in my area and I’m hoping to open it up for educational purposes once I get it running and become familiar with it myself. I’d love to be able to share my passions with other people here in our growing arts community (and anyone else interested, of course).

    I totally feel the pangs of self-doubt and apprehension—are my passions worthy of someone elses’ support … especially financial support? Who am I to reveal my needs (even if they are backed closely by those same passions)?

    Ah, but Jane’s response makes me smile so much. Growing personally (or professionally) and offering to grow others around you along the way is such a great perspective to take. Worthy cause, indeed. But Emma pretty much summed it up nicely with: “Hey, art is is important and we have to support each other!”

    Again, thanks so much for this. I have a lot to think about, but I’m really glad to know I’m not the only one asking these questions or wrestling these fears. :)

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