Myth Busting: Arts Crowdfunding Edition
There are many harmful misconceptions about crowdfunding. Let's break four of 'em down.
By Karina Vahitova on December 6, 2017
We love crowdfunding and think it’s a great way for artists to make a living, make art happen, and engage diverse communities in their work. Over the course of our work in this field, as consultants and crowdfunding experts, we’ve seen some misconceptions about crowdfunding that are damaging both to artists who are thinking of running a campaign and to those who are already running one. In this article, I will discuss four things that are simply not true about running an arts crowdfunding campaign!
1. “Crowdfunding feels like charity, and I don’t like asking for help.”
As an artist, you produce work. You do this by using physical and emotional energy, and you spend money to keep yourself going so that you can keep making art. When you ask for money to make your art, you are asking to be supported for something that other people believe in. Nobody is going to give money to something they don’t want to exist in the world. The fact that charity exists is great, because lots of people need that kind of unreciprocated support, but as an artist, you are not a charity. You are giving something to those who support you, and you are asking for something in return. There is an even exchange. This is why most crowdfunding platforms include a section for rewards. It is expected that in asking for financial support, you are giving back to those who support you in some way.
Though crowdfunding has existed for centuries (see Noah’s History of Crowdfunding article), in the age of the internet, we sometimes struggle for the right kind of language to describe our experiences with new forms of exchange. Let’s not confuse charity with direct-to-patron exchange. Let’s not devalue our labor and the importance of art in our world. Let’s believe in ourselves and others and let’s stop creating cultural capital for free.
2. “I need to get press/popularity/mainstream success for my project to be successful."
Crowdfunding is built on trust. Successful campaigns happen after the artist has spent some time building their community. They've worked to move folks through the tiers of the community building cycle (see my Community Building article) and now they feel comfortable asking for financial support because they know folks love their work and want it to exist in the world. The kind of exposure that artists get through press is the equivalent of the walk-in tier in the community building cycle. These folks just “met” you and they haven't yet built a trusting relationship with you and your work. Due to this, they are less likely to immediately back your campaign than those who have experienced and supported your work over time.
This is not to say getting press during your crowdfunding campaign will harm your campaign. It certainly validating for backers who have already backed and it helps to build excitement around the campaign. It also gives something for folks to share, such as, “Hey look! My friend's project is in the Guardian today!” Press can be great — it even gets more folks into your community building cycle — but it is not something to depend on for reaching your crowdfunding goal. Doing the legwork of reaching out individually to those who love your art is what leads to success in the most effective arts campaigns we've seen and worked on.
3. "I just put the page up and strangers on the internet will give me money!”
Busting this myth takes us back to my point above: you cannot depend on those who are totally new to your work to immediately back your project unless they've come through a trusted source or friend. We see so many pitch videos that start off with “Hi Kickstarter!” or “Hello Indiegogo!” as though the creators are talking to a faceless crowd of random humans perusing these platforms just waiting to throw money at something. Think about yourself — how often do you peruse these platforms just itching to let go of some money? Crowdfunding platforms are powerful fundraising tools, but just because you've got one doesn’t mean things will build themselves. A good thing to think about when this myth comes up is to use yourself as a litmus test. What would need to happen in order for you to give money to a project? How much trust does an artist need to build with you before you feel excited to support an artwork?
4. “Missing my funding goal is failure.”
Crowdfunding is not a perfect science. Even if you fail to meet your goal, you’re going to know so much more about this process than you did when you started. Yes, missing your goal can be frustrating but the knowledge that you’ll walk away with about your community is information some people pay tons of money to consultants to discover. What is the capacity of my community? Is my current community interested in supporting this project? Crowdfunding is a way of taking the temperature of where you’re at in terms of financial support with your work.
Remember: even if you don't reach your financial goal, any backers who did back your campaign don’t go anywhere. They'll stick around as long as you continue to communicate with them. The true failure in crowdfunding is meeting your goal but not actualizing your project, your rewards, or failing to maintain trust with your community. To combat this myth, we encourage artists to not just think about a crowdfunding campaign in terms of its financial goal, but also about ways in which running a campaign helps you to rally your people, assess where you’re at, and have folks share your work with new potential supporters. We encourage you to focus on how, without running a campaign, you would not know nearly as much about yourself, your community, and your work as you did before.
Let us help you succeed!
Perhaps most importantly, if you prepare well for your campaign, you will reach (and even surpass!) your funding goal. This is why we at The Void Academy created a course that helps you to do just this. It’s called Step by Step Crowdfunding for Artists because we take your hand and lead you through every step along the way — including the step where you assess your community with some nifty templates we made and figure out what a reasonable ask is! If you're thinking about running a campaign, join us in this course. If it doesn't help you to feel comfortable with and excited about the process, we’ll give you your money back — we promise!
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