As direct grants to artists become more scarce, many independent artists are looking to crowdfunding as an alternative to grants. One of the relative benefits of crowdfunding – as compared to grant funding – is the ability to build personal connections, and turn one-time donors into ongoing patrons. But crowdfunding is no get-rich-quick formula. There are several variables to consider before deciding whether crowdfunding is a viable option for getting your project off the ground.
The blog Fundly, which tracks trends in crowdfunding, estimates that crowd-sourced funding for causes, brands, and projects will soon become a $300 billion industry. In 2017, Nicholas Benavides, founder of the Blue Ocean Entrepreneurship Competition for Students out of Stanford University, analyzed the data from over 2,000 Kickstarter projects in order to determine what makes a successful crowdfunding campaign. Using the Kaggle Kickstarter dataset, Benavides surveyed the words used in a campaign’s title and blurb to arrive at a model that could predict the success of a campaign with 75 percent accuracy.
Among his major findings was that the most common words–game, new, design, world–appeared equally in both funded and unfunded campaigns. The major point of differentiation was not in word choice but between those categories inherently more social in nature, such as Comics, Dance, Music, Theater and Design, and solo practices like Craft and Journalism. Social categories were simply a more natural fit for the success criteria of crowdfunding.
Roy Klaasse Bos, an ambitious undergraduate at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, dedicated his Bachelor’s thesis in data analytics to predicting Kickstarter campaign success through statistical modeling. Using a technique called Web Scraping, he extracted a large number of data attributes related to Kickstarter campaigns. Although Klaasse Bos surveyed a far more complex data set, his major findings were in keeping with those of Benavides–that a successful crowdfunding campaign is highly dependent on social connection. Independent of the type of campaign, Klaasse Bos’ research revealed that the rate at which news of a project spread across social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube proved a substantial predictor of campaign success.
Presenting an engaging video and giving good perks or give-backs to backers at different funding levels proved to be other major success factors arising from Bos’ data analysis. While the data did not account for this directly, other crowdsourcing veterans commonly recommend limiting a campaign to four to eight weeks in order to deliver rewards within a reasonable timeframe and avoid burnout.
There’s no big surprise in these results. In 2008, Kevin Kelly’s essay 1,000 True Fans imagined a world in which independent artists and creatives could use outlets like crowdfunding to build a sustainable community that might financially support their work. Instead of reaching for stardom, Kelly opined, independent artists might aim at a far more attainable sweet spot between the extremes of poverty and fame. Bypassing intermediaries such as galleries and publishers, the 1,000 True Fans model emerged at a time when independent artists were just beginning to use social media to connect directly with audiences. Ten years on, however, with so many artists using these types of platforms, cutting through the noise to make your campaign stand out has become the challenge of the moment.
A more qualitative approach to crowdfunding for artists reveals a variety of success factors that can improve performance. To take a deeper look into some winning strategies, here’s an overview of three of the top crowdfunding sites, Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and GoFundMe, and a selection of campaigns that have used these platforms successfully.
Crowdfunding for Artists: The Platforms
|As of February 3rd, 2017, supporters had pledged nearly $3.5 billion to fund 138,501 projects on Kickstarter. Of these projects, about 12,000 fell into the funded Arts campaign category, with over half (7,080) raising between $1,000 and $9,999. Among unfunded campaigns across all categories, the majority that failed to receive funding were unable to reach 20% of their target goal. Jose Pulido, an artist and printmaker from southern California, has used Kickstarter to fund 31 projects–each launching a different collection of the stickers he uses as a vehicle to spread his art and grow his followers. Lucy Sparrow, by contrast, ran a single campaign to raise part of the funds for her project 8 Till Late, a replica of a New York bodega where all the products were made of felt.
In terms of the most-funded campaigns of all time, Kickstarter comes out on top, proving in theory at least that it is the more robust platform. Unlike Indiegogo, however, which gives campaign organizers the option to receive partial funding, Kickstarter only processes payments and releases funding to projects that make their funding target.
Indiegogo invented the crowdfunding industry in 2008. Indiegogo uses the “gogo factor,” a proprietary algorithm that measures interest in a campaign, to determine which campaigns it shares on its homepage, on its blog, in its press releases or on social media. Criteria include page views, comments, number of updates, number of times campaign is shared, and rate at which the campaign receives contributions. Unsurprisingly, as with Kickstarter, Indiegogo projects with the greatest social reach stand to benefit from such connection-driven criteria. Indiegogo’s alternative to the all-or-nothing funding model offered by Kickstarter, as well as its built-in analytics, is part of what keeps this platform competitive.
GoFundMe, which launched in 2010, has differentiated itself from platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo by directing its fundraising efforts at causes rather than projects. It is the largest funding platform, with nearly one-quarter of its 4 billion dollars raised going to health-related campaigns. While crowdfunding campaigns geared to help individuals in need occupies the most real estate on GoFundMe, it can still prove a good option for independent artists launching small campaigns. A typical GoFundMe campaign raises a few thousand dollars, with most donors coming from a user’s network of friends, family, and local community. Given the potential to reach people who live in and care about a community but are not necessarily tuned into the arts, it is not surprising that the top art projects funded on GoFundMe fall under categories such as murals or public art.
Crowdfunding Campaign Success Stories
A Mesmerizing Video
Project: Sisyphus — The Kinetic Art Table
Who: Bruce Shapiro and Nordeast Makers
Amount raised: $1,924,018
Number of backers: 1,992
Bruce Shapiro, a Twin Cities-based surgeon who quit his job after being inspired by the maker movement to produce kinetic sculpture, had been tinkering with sand plotters in his garage for years before he realized his dream of making kinetic sculpture sand tables. In part the delay was technological, for the tables to work their zen-like magic, Shapiro needed to wait for quieter, better small motors to become available. The Sisyphus campaign drew huge support from the Maker Faire community and the legions of makers who visit and show at such expositions around the world, but it was a mesmerizing 1-minute and 40-second video of Sisyphus at work that put this crowdfunding campaign over the edge. In less than 24 hours, the campaign exceeded its initial $50,000 goal, and when design aggregator sites BoredPanda and Colossal picked up the video, contributions more than doubled.
Who: The Amplifier Foundation
Amount raised: $1,365,105
Number of Backers: 22,840
The Amplifier Campaign brings together artists and activists to create campaigns for social change. In the case of We the People, the crowdfunding campaign included visual artists Shepard Fairey, Ernesto Yerena, and Jessica Sabogal, and a whole host of other creative professionals including photographers, cinematographers, and music groups like the LA Symphony. These creative efforts were supported by a well-oiled machine of crowdfunding campaign organizers and activists.The project was aimed at creating and disseminating artwork in support of social justice movements on the occasion of President Donald Trump’s inauguration. Capitalizing on the power of dissenting voices in this significant political moment, the “perks” offered by the crowdfunding campaign organizers were tightly woven into the aims of the campaign itself. These included posters and postcards designed by well-known street artist, illustrator, and activist Fairey, creator of the Obama “Hope” poster, as well as by Ernesto Yerena, and Jessica Sabogal.
Who runs the world? Geeks
Project: The Mini Museum
Who: Hans Fex
Amount raised: $1,226,811
Number of backers: 5,030
Geeks, initially a group of people disparaged for social ineptness or eccentricity, have done more than reclaim the offending terminology once used to demean them. In fact, they rule the internet. Geek culture paid off for Hans Fex, who in 2014, after having been laid off and facing foreclosure, was approached by friends to finally create The Mini Museum, a project he’d been talking about for years. The project consisted of packaging fragments of unique and rare artifacts that Fex had collected over 35 years–mummy wrap, dinosaur dung, pieces of the London Bridge–into hand-assembled mini collections. The Mini Museum project sold $750,000 worth of the desktop museum in its first eight days on Kickstarter. Prior to getting laid off, Fex worked at ThinkGeek, an aggregate online marketplace that sells geek-centered products. Coming out with his passion project to his Geek-base is what made his crowdfunding campaign such a success. The Mini Museum was so popular that Fex created a second and third version. Currently, Mini Museums occupy the third, fourth, and fifth positions of top art campaigns ever funded on Kickstarter.
Gathering Local Support
Project: Under Her Wing was the Universe
Who: Romy Owens
Amount Raised: $133,232
Number of Backers: 591
In 2017, Romy Owens, an installation artist, teamed up with architect Michael Shuck and designer/artist Adam Lanman, to turn an abandoned stretch of city block into a piece of public sculpture in Enid, Oklahoma. The year prior, Owens completed a site-specific, community-building project in Tulsa, where she collaborated with over 350 knitters and sewers to create a giant colorful fabric installation on a wall of one of the city’s contemporary art centers. A recipient of numerous awards in Oklahoma and an active participant in Oklahoma’s contemporary art scene, organizing and curating projects to support other artists, Owens was able to build on her prior successes and use GoFundMe t to support her public art proposal. In addition to raising funds, the crowdfunding campaign served as a way to educate local residents on what was happening to transform this abandoned piece of property.
Games Are King
Project: The Art of the Glitch
Who: Brent Kobayashi and Tiny Speck, Inc.
Amount raised: $114,090
Number of backers: 1314
Hands-down the most successful crowdfunding campaign category is games, especially video games, so it is little surprise that some of the most successful art campaigns are linked to game-related projects. Take The Art of the Glitch, a book made to preserve the art of the browser-based online game Glitch, published by Slack Technologies and Virgin Monk Studios. The book tapped into the nostalgia of players of this massively multiplayer game, who proved to be a ready-made funding base from which to draw support.
Hire an Expert
Project: Super Troopers 2
Who: Broken Lizard
Number of backers: 54,609
When the Los Angeles-based comedy troupe Broken Lizard wanted to make a follow up to their 2001 Sundance hit Super Troopers, they hired Ivan Askwith, the former Director of Digital Media at Lucasfilm. Askwith had already proven himself as a crowdfunding strategist, organizing some of the most successful creative crowdfunding campaigns in existence, including the Veronica Mars movie and an attempt to revive the classic PBS children’s show Reading Rainbow (this project has since met with legal controversy). Obviously, hiring someone like Askwith isn’t an option for most independent artists, but there are a number of players getting in professional crowdfunding at all levels. Among them are organizations like the NY-based Void Academy, which offer courses for independent artists running their own crowdfunding campaign. Along with their paid services, following crowdfunding experts through their blogs, newsletters, and social media can provide insight into useful tactics and strategies. Super Troopers 2 is set for release in April of 2018.
But I am just a solo artist. How can crowdfunding work for me?
The vast majority of crowdfunding goes to one-off projects (Patreon is one of the few platforms that allows backers to support ongoing work), but for independent artists seeking an audience that will buy and support their work on an ongoing basis, a crowdfunding campaign can be useful nevertheless. A well-designed, online crowdfunding art project can serve as a way to connect with potential backers and enhance your profile, regardless of whether you meet your funding goal or not. Additionally, perks and give-backs offer your audience a sample of your work that may win you fans for life.
Takeaways to run your best campaign:
Treat your crowdfunding campaign like an event. Offer supporters an exciting moment to connect with you and your work. Finding true fans who support your work is priceless, and an online campaign can provide such an opportunity if used to its best advantage.
Tap into your existing network and find ways to expand it. Contributions are likely to come from people you already know. Many independent artists raise a few thousand dollars from family and friends. Have a strategy in place beforehand to connect with other like-minded people, both locally and on the web. Prior to your launch, spend a few months finding others who might be interested in sharing news about your work.
Try and Try Again. In his research, Klaasse Bos found that one of the major predictors of a successful Kickstarter campaign was that the organizer had run a previous campaign, whether or not that campaign was a success. Crowdfunding, like all skills, can be learned, but doing so requires desire, drive, and dedication.