Kickstarting Your Dream

Crowdfunding has brought a new ease to fundraising.

NobleMotion Dance used Kickstarter to fund a new evening-length work, Spitting Ether.

Perhaps your studio could use a new set of mirrors; your team needs cash to get to Nationals; or maybe you want to boost your scholarship fund. Hold the bake sale—crowdfunding has arrived. Judging from the number of dance companies using online forums to raise funds for everything from costumes to choreographers, it’s not long before dance studios jump on board. And for good reason. According to crowdfunding rockstar Kickstarter, the dance category has the highest rate of success.

There are platforms for every kind of project. A quick Google search will turn up everything from recording an album to funding a trip to visit a distant aunt. But while it might seem like a no-brainer to get in on this latest social-media phenomenon, it pays to plan your approach. Crowdfunding is not the answer to every fundraising project. And timing is everything.

The concept is straightforward: There are people out there who want to see you succeed—friends, family, students. A number of online platforms exist that make it easy for your fans to find you and send their cash—nonprofit status not required. Imagine a Facebook-like page for raising money, where everything a potential funder needs to know is gathered with a handy link to send out to friends. Each page contains a compelling video, brief description of the project, list of thank-you gifts and the amount you hope to raise. Facebook and Twitter icons also appear, making it easy to post and share. Simple to use, Indiegogo, Kickstarter, RocketHub, Razoo and Power2Give (the last two designed especially for nonprofit groups) streamline the process.

Dianne Debicella of Fractured Atlas sees a steady use of crowdfunding in the arts community nationwide. “One of the reasons dancers have been so successful is that they tend to ask for more modest sums, which makes the campaign more manageable and likely to be funded,” says Debicella, whose job is to work with organizations on their overall fundraising strategies. “Dancers also have strong communities and are able to get the word out to their circles.”

The platform you select will take a percentage of your proceeds to pay for its service. For example, Kickstarter takes a 5 percent fee, while its credit processor, Amazon Payments, takes another 1.9–6 percent. Luckily, they all run transparent operations, so you can easily understand the fee structure up front and factor those costs into your project budget.

Among the support services that Fractured Atlas offers to artists is a partnership with RocketHub and Indiegogo that includes crowdfunding advice and guidance. You’ll pay 7 percent of your campaign proceeds, which includes processing fees. To qualify, your project needs to be arts-related and have a public component, so it’s not appropriate for everyone. “We look at your whole fundraising strategy and crowdfunding campaign,” says Debicella. “We work closely with each organization.”

For its crowdfunding campaign, Collage dance Collective included video footage of students taking class. (Check out their Kickstarter video at the bottom of the page!)

The All-or-Nothing Approach

When Collage dance Collective needed new mirrors, barres, a front desk and other necessities of a growing dance studio in Memphis, Tennessee, they turned to Kickstarter to raise $14,028. Managing director Marcellus D. Harper says the organization selected Kickstarter because they liked the idea that it is all or nothing. Unlike the other platforms, if you don’t raise the entire amount, with Kickstarter you don’t get a penny. It may sound harsh, but would you like to be obliged to your funders for a project when you don’t have the cash you need?

“It was more exciting,” says Harper. “We thought our backers would appreciate that we put our faith and trust in them.”

For a project where even a small amount will help, or that you are committed to, regardless of funding, a system like Indiegogo, where you get to keep whatever you raise, might work better.

Shorter is better when it comes to duration of the campaign, and just about every platform will tell you so in its FAQ. Not wanting to drag things out, Harper ran the Collage campaign for 30 days. “It’s enough time to raise your goal and create a sense of urgency. People are busy,” he says.

Working the Campaign Trail

Get an idea, put up a page, make an introductory video and you are off and ready to receive boatloads of cash. Not so fast. Setting up your crowdfunding campaign may take an hour, but managing it takes some savvy and consistent monitoring. “One of the biggest mistakes people make is setting an unreasonable goal,” says Debicella. “You need to strategize to run a 30-day campaign. Most people don’t plan enough.”

“Don’t expect to launch and see the money roll in,” says Shauna Dever-Jones, who raised $2,861 to send her Kentucky-based contemporary company to the CoolNY Dance Festival. “You have to work and market every day. Never let up, or you won’t get funded.” And she’s right. You can find many a campaign with zero funders.

If the majority of your support community is not online, crowdfunding won’t work. “I wish I would have sent out detailed letters on how to use Kickstarter to older patrons, friends and family members who are not computer-savvy,” says Dever-Jones. “We missed out on some donations.”

However you do it, getting the word out is crucial to your success. Andy Noble, assistant professor at Sam Houston State University, ran two successful Kickstarter campaigns. One raised $5,558 to send his company, NobleMotion Dance, to perform in New York City. The other secured $10,284 for a new choreographic project. “Tell a good story with your PR,” he says. “Your friends and family are already invested in your project. If you want to reach a broader audience with your campaign, you will want a compelling narrative. We used snappy images and a video that showed the uniqueness of our project.”

All of the online platforms come with social-media interfaces, making it easy to update your Facebook friends and Twitter followers. “Don’t be bashful about using social media,” says Noble. “We try and remember that not everyone is on social media 24/7. Post at different times and find new ways to remind your audience that you need their help. I will sometimes use humor or find clever statements to bring folks to our page. I want everyone to have seen our campaign at least three times within the month. Hopefully, one of those times they will stop what they are doing and push the pledge button.”

Shauna Dever Dance campaign cover photo, with dancers Elizabeth Harrison and Amanda McPeek.

Dever-Jones enlisted her dancers to get the word out. “It should be a group effort,” she says. “Those involved in the project should be expected to engage in marketing and finding support.”

Harper found it useful to think beyond FB and Twitter. “In addition to social media, we used our e-mail list of parents and company supporters. Also, we did personal appeals to our own networks. Since we are relatively new to Memphis, we needed to reach out to our friends elsewhere.” And he says that having your network up and running before you start your campaign is a must.

Your chosen crowdfunding platform will also help give your project visibility. In fact, if your campaign is clever enough, it could be featured on the platform’s website. Harper reported that 15 percent of the money Collage dance raised came from the Kickstarter site itself, from individuals outside of the studio’s community.

The End Game

Your first priority should be to make sure all your backers are thanked. For small amounts, a handwritten note might do; for larger amounts something more creative will be needed.

“I wanted to show my appreciation to the supporters—to let them know that we couldn’t do this without them,” says Dever-Jones. Her thank-you gifts included free dance classes, private viewings, rehearsal invites and even dances choreographed especially for backers at the $250 level.

This is also the time to evaluate what could have gone better for the next time around. “I would have gotten on the horn much sooner than the project launch date,” says Dever-Jones. “I missed some valuable fundraising time by waiting until the launch date to tell people about the project and how to contribute. If I had sent out letters, e-mails and Facebook posts on our page a week before the launch, I would have raised more money.”

Noble and his wife Dionne Sparkman Noble found the stakes higher when they asked for greater amounts. “During our first Kickstarter, we asked for $3,000 and reached that amount rather quickly, almost doubling it by the end of the run,” says Sparkman Noble. “But when you go for $10,000 you have to work much harder and put yourself out there pleading for support more often. I kept doubting myself, thinking that we were asking for too much. But in the end, it was the right thing to do.”

Before you start planning your next project, be mindful to not wear out your fans. Did you just invoice parents for recital fees? Then, it’s not the time to ask for more cash. The Nobles have a once-a-year rule. “I think of the old-fashioned PBS campaigns where they would stop their regular programming to solicit donors,” says Noble. “You don’t mind it occasionally, but too much and you will change the channel.” DT

Houston-based writer Nancy Wozny has sent her money to complete strangers on crowdfunding platforms.

Tips for Success

• Read the FAQ thoroughly.

• Make a compelling, not necessarily flashy, video.

• Manage your campaign every single day.

• Utilize social media to get your message out.

• Think up clever thank-you gifts and follow up when the campaign is over.

• Activate your personal networks.

Which Platform Is Right for You?

Kickstarter

Kickstarter funds creative projects that involve the arts and technology. It does not fund charities or “fund my life” projects. It’s an all-or-nothing platform and takes 5 percent with Amazon Payments or another payment service charging another 1.9–6 percent. There is no option for partial funding. If you don’t make your goal, any funds raised are returned to funders. kickstarter.com

Indiegogo

Indiegogo welcomes all kinds of projects. All you need to set up a campaign is a bank account. You can choose Flexible Funding, where you get to keep what you bring in (even if you do not make your goal), minus 9 percent for Indiegogo; or Fixed Funding, where, if you do not make your goal, money is returned to your funders. If you make your goal, Indiegogo takes 4 percent. indiegogo.com

RocketHub

RocketHub welcomes all kinds of projects, and you get to keep what you raise. If you reach your goal, it takes 4 percent plus a 4 percent credit-card handling fee. If you do not reach your goal, 8 percent plus the 4 percent credit-card fee. It has a step-by-step RocketHub school to guide you through the process. rockethub.com

Kickstarter video by Collage dance Collective:

Photos from top: by Lynn Lane, courtesy of NobleMotion Dance; by Louis “Ziggy” Tucker, courtesy of Collage dance Collective; by Liz Smith Photography, courtesy of Shauna Dever Dance

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