Crowd Funding for the Arts: Being Personal, Developing Trust and Creating Visuals

posted in: Blog | 2

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about crowd funding recently.

This thinking is partly fuelled by the sheer volume of crowd funding notifications that appear across my networks in a given a month, but also because I have for the first time donated to a crowd funding campaign four crowd funding campaigns.

I want to ask the following questions:

1. What is the real purpose of a crowd funding campaign?
2. Why did I, a non-crowd funding supporter, suddenly start donating?

It happened a week or so ago. Checking my emails and I notice one to my A Younger Theatre address from someone I don’t know. This happens a lot and I’m always intrigued, “what’s this person offering” I wonder. It was an email from someone asking me to donate to their crowd funding campaign. Okay, it wasn’t necessarily to me, it wasn’t really addressed to anyone, just a “Hello”. From this I gathered it was a blanket email sent to a bunch of people BCC’ed. I immediately disengaged. You can’t be bothered to write me a personalised email to introduce yourself, and yet you want me to support your crowd funding campaign? Think again.

 

When it comes to crowd funding it is all about the personal.

 

Significance

A few days later and an email from Halcyon, a company who I share office space with at IdeasTap, lands in my inbox. Another crowd funding campaign, but this time the email is personalised, or at least it is tailored to a group of us who know them. They’re looking for a small pot of money to support the film they’re creating. I’ve not seen much of their work before aside from glances over their laptops but I know Alex and Jack, they’re talented and genuine guys, so I’m intrigued by their focus on this creative, and more importantly, personal project.

This is what got me from their email:

Enough said for our plea. Only that we’d love for you all to be part of this something special that we’re putting together…

It’s sincere and I like the sentiment.

I donated to their project Significance for two reasons:
1. I know the creative team
2. I genuinely want to support their work

 

90% of your crowd funding supporters should come from people you know or who are already connected to you/your organisation

 
Fake it till you Make it

The next two crowd funding campaigns I supported have a common theme, so i’m going to bunch them together. Chris Goode’s Ponyboy Curtis Launch Project and Bryony Kimming’s Fake it till you Make it.

I’m a huge fan of Goode’s work, partly because of the time I spend with Maddy Costa who is Chris Goode and Company’s resident critic (Maddy is always singing his praises) but also because Goode’s work is some of the most inspiring and challenging theatre I have experienced. Similarly Kimming’s work I’ve had the pleasure of seeing develop over the last few years. She’s an artist and theatre-maker who continually questions what it means to make work, and Fake it till you Make it is no different.

I’ve invested in both Goode’s and Kimming’s work over the last four years. I’ve written about them, I’ve brought tickets, heckled them on Twitter and read both their blogs (Goode’s here / Kimming’s here) with eagerness. I’m invested in them as theatre-makers and I wanted to show my support for their making and their willingness to put themselves out there.

Ponyboy Curtis I’ve supported because:
1. I’m interested in the context of the experiment: it relates directly to a personal interest.
2. I trust Goode’s work unreservedly
3. I know a number of the collaborators

Fake it till you Make it I’ve supported because:
1. The video made me cry (it really did).
2. I trust Kimming’s work unreservedly

 

Ensuring your [potential] supporters trust you and your work is paramount. Leave no room for doubt.

 

 

Liberation

The last project I supported caught me off guard. I wasn’t going to support The Alchemist’s Liberation project, in fact I was kind of frustrated with their approach to targeting me as a potential supporter. Using Twitter they sent me two tweets asking if I would support them. I’ve not had any interaction with them before, and they were using Twitter in all the wrong ways (here’s an article I wrote about best use of Twitter for arts organisations) but I do look at everything that comes my way, even spam stuff.

It was the video that got me. I should have guessed that one of my favourite theatre photographers, Richard Davenport, was behind the shooting of the trailer. I sat captivated by it.

i even got a bit excited about it on Twitter:

I’ve said this countless times before but I’m a visual learner. When it comes to learning and especially when it comes to theatre and the arts I’m all about the visuals. It’s my method of engagement and the video produced for the crowd funding completely won me over, even if the company’s Twitter skills didn’t.

I supported Alchemist Theatre’s work because:
1. The video asking for support was beautiful

 

Visuals to accompany your crowd funding is essential for giving potential supporters a visual understanding of your work.

 

 

I realise that all of this is highly subjective to what I’m like as an individual, but I do think there are some takeaway points that distil my reasons for why I donated and why other potential supporters donate.

Crowd funding for me is all about the personal. You use it to get people you know to support a specific project that you’ve been waiting for them to support you on. It is a call to action: now is the time to donate to support my/our work. Crowd funding is about the supporter having a trust in the product and especially a trust in the provider. Without a level of trust your supporter might as well throw their money in the air and call it donating. Finally, it is crucial to have a powerful, emotive and visual identity and stimulus for your potential supporters to see the work they’re funding. We work in the arts, our medium is art, so why not create some good art in the visuals we provide for our art? Take a look at the Kimming’s and The Alchemist videos for excellent examples on their Kickstarters.

Lastly I just want to touch upon my first opening question at the start of this blogpost, ‘what is the real purpose of a crowd funding campaign?’. For me crowd funding is all about harnessing those you’re already engaged with and giving them the prompt to donate to something right now. The real purpose, at least on a small scale arts organisation or individual basis, is less about audience number boosting, but developing a deeper more enriching audience engagement and reach. It is about drawing strategic supporters closer to your work; the question you have to ask yourself is who are those supporters and why are they your strategic choices.

Have an opinion on why people donate to crowd funds? Chuck me a comment below.

Main blog image by Richard Davenport for The Alchemist. Other images by Halcyon and Bryony Kimmings.

2 Responses

  1. Chris Unitt

    I agree with lots of this (use a personal approach if you have a personal relationship, invest in visuals, use crowdfunding as a way to strengthen existing ties), so standard apologies for picking up on the small bit where my experience differs.

    I’ve given to a handful of arts (drawing a distinction from tech/product) crowdfunding things over the past few years, all of them friends/acquaintances. To be brutally honest, I’ve not really cared about the work most of those people wanted to produce. I hope somebody does, but my motivation really comes from liking them personally and not wanting them to fall on their faces, or because they supported me in the past and it’s a way for me to give back. Not because it’s a piece of work I desperately want to see realised.

    That’d make me part of your mooted 90% of existing connections. If they’re raising 90% of their funding from people like me then that doesn’t seem very healthy. It sounds like they’re either producing work that’s not really suited to crowdfunding or they’re not very good at communicating outside of their immediate bubble. Neither of which I mind, but if that’s the case then I’d rather they asked me for support directly, rather than wasting time, energy (physical and emotional) and money (a video, a % of fees, etc) on a crowdfunding campaign.

    Accepted wisdom (based off some much-quoted Indiegogo stats about the likelihood of projects reaching their target) seems to be that you should use donations from friends/family as a leg up, and that having a project reach 30% of the target seems to give enough credibility to reach beyond your immediate network.

    With that, I’d add something to your last paragraph. As well as giving people you know a prompt to donate, it’s also giving them a focal point for them to advocate on your behalf.

    One more thing on giving back to people who’ve supported me before, there was a comment from a small theatre company in the recent Digital Culture 2014 report (on p33) about how “People in our sector tend to analogise this process [crowdfunding] as akin to ‘passing a fiver round’. I help fund my art-friend’s project, and at some point they pass the fiver back as they help fund mine!”.

  2. Jack Haynes

    I just made my first donation to a crowd-funded project because they are connected to me through my current workplace. They weren’t asking for much and it seemed like a good project. It made me feel good to support fledgling work. I haven’t met them yet but it might be a nice conversation starter: “Thank you for supporting my project!”.