This week, I launched a crowdfunding campaign with IndieGoGo for my short film "Asha,” featuring Manu Dhingra, a friend and 9/11 survivor who suffered second- and third-degree burns to 40 percent of his body after escaping from the World Trade Center. The documentary captures Dhingra’s battle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and how he discovered a passion for cooking that has aided his recovery and contributed to his sense of hope.
Our primary goal is to get millions of people to watch this seven-minute film. In order to do that, we need to raise money. We have a small budget, only $5,000, from what we hope is a large number of people motivated to help make “Asha” come to life.
Here’s my advice for anyone considering this method of financing.
Pick a crowdfunding site to work with
Two of the most popular are IndieGoGo and Kickstarter. There’s also the lesser-known Invested.in. We chose to go with IndieGoGo because we wanted to be able to keep any money raised for the project regardless of meeting our goal. IndieGoGo keeps 9 percent of the total raised for projects that don’t meet the goal. Kickstarter projects receive nothing when they don’t meet their goal. Projects that meet their goals pay IndieGoGo a 4 percent fee; Kickstarter a 5 percent fee. We’re bootstrapping, so 1 percent adds up when you’re talking thousands of dollars.
Another advantage: IndieGoGo doesn’t have an approval process like Kickstarter. Users can start right away. Instead, IndieGoGo has a risk-management system that aims to identify fraudulent campaigns.
I also appreciate how much control projects have over their success. With hard work getting the word out, projects raise their “GoGoFactor,” and a prominent display on the IndieGoGo homepage.
Decide if your campaign needs fiscal sponsorship
IndieGoGo partnered with Fractured Atlas and the San Francisco Film Society, which sponsor campaigns that are seeking tax-deductible contributions. We were approved for fiscal sponsorship with Fractured Atlas. But ultimately, we came to a similar conclusion: after speaking with IndieGoGo’s CEO Slava Rubin, we decided that given our small monetary goal, it would be too complicated tax-wise to manage receipts and reports for people donating anywhere from $50 to $100.
Engage the public with your story
Use IndieGoGo’s Customer Happiness Team, a 24-hour response unit (firstname.lastname@example.org), to go over your campaign profile before posting. (Once it’s posted there are many things you can’t change.) We learned we were too focused on creating a beautiful trailer (which you can watch here), and not engaging enough with the public to express our passion for the project.
“Spend 20 seconds before the trailer where you share your story, and again for 10 seconds after,” says IndieGoGo’s film business developer Adam Chapnick. “Make it more personal about you, the team and why you’re doing this.”
Don’t be afraid to ask people directly for money
This is a tough one. We all tend to beat around the bush.
“You want to be direct and not dance around your objective,” says Rubin. “You need to be clear with your ask. It’s ‘We’ve got one week left to hit our goal, and we 're working around the clock to reach it with your contributions.’ If you want the world to see the film, you need to tell them how they can help by actively spreading the word and telling them how much money you need to take the film to the next level.”
Extend your reach to interest groups related to your project
Think inside and outside the box. “Asha” is about a 9/11 survivor with PTSD who went to culinary school. So we’re reaching out to groups related to the September 11th Memorial, PTSD organizations, firefighters, veterans, restaurants and cooking and food groups. We’re connecting with Indian groups, Chilean groups, anything relating to any towns we’ve lived in or gone to school in.
Reward those who donate
Rubin says to offer small, medium and large donation levels, and create perks for the highest donors. “Categories too close in price tend to backfire,” he says. “People are willing to spend more when they’re farther apart but close to the amount they feel comfortable giving.”
This film touches on Dhingra’s culinary school education and ownership of a restaurant, so we are offering "large" donors a seat at a private screening and dinner, hosted by Dhingra and guest chef Lisa Giffen of Alain Ducasse’s Adour restaurant.
Also, the Fashion Institute of Technology, where Dhingra was president of his undergraduate class, is donating its auditorium to screen “Asha” on September 11, 2011. It’s planning a program that morning around the film along with a citywide walk. Everyone who donates to the “Asha” campaign is invited to the special event and guaranteed a seat.
Run your campaign for as long as you’re willing to work at raising money and awareness
Our campaign will last just 31 days. Most projects run around 60 to 70 days, but the real money is made in the first few weeks because that’s when people put in the most effort to get the word out. For us, it’s more sustainable to dedicate full-time promotion over a 30-day period.
We’ll also be taking full advantage of our Facebook and Twitter pages, as well as including the campaign information in our e-mail signatures. According to Rubin, we shouldn’t fear inundating people.
“If 10 people tell you you’re e-mailing too much, then you are e-mailing too much,” says Rubin. “But you’ll maybe hear from one person and that’s it. You have to constantly give updates. People don’t read your messages and see your updates all at the same time.”