Crowdfunding for Artists

Sep 13, 2011 by     No Comments    Posted under: Producing

I’m not gonna lie – things have been a little nutty recently in Cronican-land (which is like Disneyland with the incessant singing but without the funnel cake.) As many of you know, in addition to me being a professional actor and a career coach for actors, I also self produce, through The Seeing Place Theater, which I helped to found.

The idea for this week’s blog came during my utter lack of time management skills for the week. You see, each day I look at my various to-do lists (overbook much?) and I started to notice that I kept setting this blog aside for another project that has been taking over my life:

A fundraising campaign I’m heading up, which includes a crowdfunding component through IndieGogo. And then it hit me — a cool way to talk about what I’ve been doing is to share my process of setting up a crowdfunding campaign for funding my self-produced theater company. Let the blogging commence!

First of all, let’s define “crowdfunding.” USLegal states,

“Crowdfunding refers to the collective cooperation, attention and trust by people who network and pool their money and other resources together, to support efforts initiated by other people or organizations.”

Using that definition, most of us are already familiar with crowdfunding. Think about the last time you sponsored someone in the charity walk/run – this is was a crowdfunding campaign to support a non-profit organization in their charitable efforts. Nowadays, artists are using crowdfunding to mobilize their fan base online, and audiences from across the globe are using these platforms to make donations of all sizes, the reward for which is more than a tax donation. Donors are now being treated to extensive perks and behind-the-scenes involvement in the creation of the artistic works that they’re funding.

My theater company, The Seeing Place Theater, is a young, ensemble driven company with members who range from ages 23 to 65+. In our first two seasons, we’ve done a good job at developing audiences and defining a mission & focus for our work. As we start our third season, I called on our ensemble members to start developing our fan base using social media. We created a professional page on Facebook and started a Twitter account. And in an effort to engage a younger audience, we decided to take a portion of our fundraising effort online, and that’s how we landed on the idea of crowdfunding.

Based on our experiences, here are the tasks you’ll want to consider when setting up a campaign:

We chose a campaign company

The front runners for crowdfunding are currently Kickstarter and IndieGogo. Kickstarter is the most well known – with them, you choose a fundraising goal and an end date, and your project only gets funded if you are able to raise the full funding. (If you don’t, no funds are collected from the donors.) IndieGogo runs with a similar goal & deadline, but all funds that you raise are collected (however, they incentivize you by offering lower service fees to those who meet or exceed their goal.) In the end, we chose to go with IndieGogo.

We chose our campaign goal, and time frame

We estimated what kind of funding we wanted ($3000), for what purpose (to allow us to provide low cost /$10/ tickets to general audiences for the season), and what date we wanted to raise it by (September 29.)

We shot our video

Each campaign comes with the option of presenting a promo/pitch video, and I highly recommend doing so. I watched hours upon hours of pitches as I prepared for this campaign, and here’s what I learned: videos don’t need to be professionally made, but your video should be very personal and introduce the people involved, and include what inspires you about your project. In fundraising, it’s said that people don’t fund projects – people fund people. By showing your audience why this project means something to you, it can mean something to them too. My artistic director and I opted for an interview style approach to introduce our company. We kept it light but passionate, and divided the content into three sections: Our personal introduction, what the company is about, and what help we need and the perks we’re offering in exchange.

We edited our video

Normally, it’s recommended to keep the video short (less then 4 minutes.) For our video, we opted to make it a little longer, but used a lot of jump cuts in the editing which made the video feel a little shorter. We suffered a hiccup here – our editor was fully booked and couldn’t editor our video, so I ended up having to do it. Considering that I’m not an editor by trade, it was a coup even getting it completed. The fun part was that I got to choose what parts I felt were best for the video. We kept a lot of our mess-ups and errors in the final version, because that’s when we laughed the most and showed our personality. We hope that people who watch the video will feel like they’ve gotten to know us and what is special about our company.

We wrote the supporting material to the campaign

On the campaign page beneath the video, there is a section where we can write information about our campaign and why we think it should be funded. I included a brief description of our company, some press quotes about the impact our work has had on audiences, and what they can expect form our season. We came up with a theme for the season, which would tie everything together – “Crimes of the Heart, and the Politics of Sex.” This helped to give our campaign an identity.

We chose our perks

I did a poll on Facebook and Google+, as well as in person, to find out what kind of perks people might like. I pulled some of the best ideas and slapped on some sexy perk names that matched our campaign’s theme.

We launched it!

This was the scariest part of the campaign. Once we clicked “Go Live” the campaign was set in stone and we were committed to seeing it through. Yikes!

We’re promoting it

Now comes the hard part — we now have to jump behind the campaign and promote it as heavily as possible without annoying people. Good friend, John Trigonis, writes in his blog, “The Tao of Crowd-Funding: Three Ps for a Successful Campaign” –

“CROWD-FUNDING IS A FULL-TIME JOB. Anyone who tells you otherwise must not have had a very successful campaign. A successful crowd-funding campaign demands around-the-clock promotion. In today’s technocracy, that translates to constant tweets, relentless Facebook status updates, email blasts up the wazoo, sleep strikes, the occasional hunger strike, and any other means by which to keep your project on the minds of your friends, family, and supporters. It also means having some fun with your promotion, keeping your audience engaged with things like contests, giveaways, fun videos, and the like.”

Now, we’re mobilizing our team

One of the toughest parts of this kind of campaign is to get all members on board as strongly as I am. It’s hard to convince your colleagues to raise money, even if they’ll directly benefit. So, I tried to make it as easy as possible to spread the word to their friends & family by giving them tools to do so. I’ve guided them through the process of how to market online, and given them tips and tricks on making meaningful connections in cyberspace.

We’re 14 days into our campaign, and we’re already about 1/2 way there. But now we have the tough part — we’ve already engaged the audience that’s excited about us. Now we have to mobilize those who are a harder sell. I’m working hard to encourage our company members to get the word out, but we never know if it’ll be enough. People that we talk to seem to love the concept of our theater company, and love the projects we produce. But will it translate to dollars? We’ll only know when September 29 rolls around and we look at the final tally. And that’s pretty scary.

This is where YOU come in…

I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you for your help. Theater in New York City is very expensive for audiences — especially for middle income families and artists. We are committed to providing professional theater at a price everyone can afford – less than $12 per ticket. With your donation of $5, $10, $25 or more, we’ll be able to pay down our theater rental which will allow us to subsidize ticket prices and make theater available to the masses.

So, I’d be so honored if you would take a look at what we’ve created! On our campaign page — — you’ll find a kooky promo video, a description of our season, and all of the fun perks that are available to you at different donation levels. I’m sending written updates once a week until we’re in production on our first two shows, and video updates once a month throughout the season. That way, we can keep in touch with donors to express exactly how we’re using the funds, and how we’re able to translate that into even better theater for audiences.

Thanks for letting me share this time with you — if you have any questions about fundraising or our process, please shoot me an email or leave a comment on this blog. Happy crowdfunding!

— Erin

Added Bonus: (Because at Playbills vs Paying Bills, we think you deserve bonuses every now and then!)

Here are some of the interesting articles (and a funny video) that I found when I was researching for this post:

Backstage: Helping Artists Raise Real Money
Top 5 Crowdfunding Success Stories
Xtranormal Video: Explaining an Arts Non-Profit

Erin Cronican is the New York contingent of this blog. Find out more information and view her materials on her website, or read the rest of her blog posts.