THIS YEAR will mark my 5th visit to Black Rock City aka home to the audacious and irreverent Burning Man festival, held every year in Nevada. Every since I arrived as a virgin back in 2009, the playa has forever marked its dusty footprint on my heart.
I have prophesied about the partipants. I have professed my love for The Temple. And I have contributed when I could towards the cascade of glorious and participatory art projects that manifest from the ether and passion of fellow Burners.
These days, I divide my time between my own film projects (like Occupy Love), and offering crowdfunding strategy and workshops to others. (To date, I’ve assisted over 25 projects, helping raise almost $450,000).
As a gift to the Burning Man community, I’ve collected my best advice for creators to harness the power of crowdfunding. After all, it’s a perfect fit: much like Burning Man, the true currency being exchanged isn’t money, but relationship (also known as shared indebtedness).
As Rob Trump said in a recent article in The New York Times:
“[Crowdfunding] as a phenomenon is made much more comprehensible once you realize that it’s not following the logic of the free market; it’s following the logic of the gift.”
And Amanda Palmer concurs:
Without further ado – I give you: The Ultimate Guide to Crowdfunding Your Burning Man Art Project.
Step 1. Pick Your Platform
As the first sites in the game, Kickstarter and Indiegogo appear to be the most popular among Burning Man creators as well. Here’s some quick pros & cons for each:
- you must reach your goal or you get nothing
- they take 5% and another 3% for bank fees
- only available in the US, UK, and Canada
- application process means you must be approved
- Burning Man will only list Kickstarter projects on their Support A Project page
- you can choose Fixed or Flexible funding
- they take 3% for bank fees and 4% if you reach your goal (9% if you don’t)
- available anywhere in the world (except countries with US sanctions against them)
- no approval process (just can’t post anything illegal)
Step 2. Choose Your Campaign Goal
Choosing the appropriate campaign goal is a tricky process. Of course you need enough to actually complete your project, but don’t forget to include the cost of fulfilling your rewards. Also consider the size of your existing fan base (if you have one) and/or what existing groups would be interested in helping your project.
For example, the 2012 piece Burn Wall St was likely able to raise funds not just from Burners who would attend the event, but also from those sympathetic to the Occupy Wall St movement, and those against the current financial economic paradigm.
Step 3. Choose Your Campaign Length
The longer your campaign, the more money you can make, right? Unfortunately, the truth flows differently than logic with crowdfunding. That’s because the campaign “arc” is exactly the same no matter the duration. The money will gush at the beginning, then slow to a trickle during the middle “anxiety trough” (as I call it), before finally picking up again in the final days and hours.
Therefore, ideal length is 30-45 days. Any more and you’re just making more work for yourself and your friends.
Step 4. Create personal/unique rewards
With crowdfunding, every contribution comes with a reward. There are no limits to what you can offer, other than your ability to actually deliver them. This is your opportunity to get creative! For example, Pier 2 (2012) offered hand made Pier medallions that would be beautiful momentos of their incredible art piece. The Temple of Transition (2011) offered a unique metal dog-tag with the Temple logo etched into the surface. Having donated to it myself, I wore my dog-tag on the playa with pride (and it was a great conversation starter for others who recognized my support of the Temple).
As a general rule: digital rewards are always better than tangible ones. It’s much easier to send out a link than physically pack an item.
Step 5. Shoot the pitch video
The pitch video is by far the most important aspect of any crowdfunding campaign. If you can nail the video, you are 80% of the way towards a successful campaign. Check out my other article “7 Ways to Craft a Kickass Crowdfunding Video“, then read my list of Burner must-includes:
- Show yourself – Crowdfunding is all about shared passion. Allow your potential contributors to connect with you by showing your face! Even if you’re awkward on camera, even if you feel embarrassed, it’s the real you. And that’s what counts.
- Share the story behind the concept – how did you come up with the idea for your art project? Let others peer into your creative mind and learn about your journey.
- Show the specs/blueprints – it may seem like too much information, but nerding out with blueprints and piles of wood, fancy looking instruments, and 3D designs are what make your project REAL.
- Ask for what you need – at the end of your video, don’t forget to ask directly for what you need. You’ve come this far, might as well leave the timidity behind. Rally your potential funders to click the ‘contribute’ button.
Get your juices flowing by watching these great pitch videos:
Step 6. Launch your campaign
Congratulations! If you’ve made it this far in your campaign, you deserve a pat on the back. Many people talk of creating things, but now you’ve proven you’re doer. Once you hit the ‘publish’ button your campaign is LIVE for the world to see.
FIRST 24 HOURS – Email your friends/family and ask them to kick in the money right away. This ensures that you have some money in the pot before you start pushing it out to others. (Also, keep in mind: 30-40% of your crowdfunding dollars tend to come from your close network).
ONE-THREE WEEKS – Continue pushing the project via your social network. I recommend you Facebook at least once a day, and Tweet as much as you feel like. Campaign updates (which are sent through the platform and are sent out as an email to your contributors) I recommend twice per week – any more than that and you risk annoying your fan base.
Here are some ideas on what to share:
- Comments from funders – every time someone contributes to your campaign, they tend to leave a comment on your platform page. Copy + paste that with a message like “Look at what others are saying? Will you join them?” and include a link to your campaign.
- Rewards – post photos or diagrams of your rewards. Get people thinking of how much they’d like to have them in their hot little hands.
- Media coverage – if you score media coverage of any kind (newspapers, blogs, etc) share the link to the article to show how others are supporting your project.
- Campaign fund updates – Be specific when you post updates about your campaign. For example: “25 days left and we’ve raised over $11,000 dollars! Help us get even closer by watching our pitch video and contributing to our campaign” then include the link.
FINAL WEEK – The homestretch is when your campaign takes on a sense of urgency. Now all of your social media updates include direct mention of the impending end date. For example: “Only 6 days left to help us bring a giant spaceship to Black Rock City! We need 40 brave souls to contribute $20 each. Are you one of them?” then include a link to the campaign.
The final 24 hours will no doubt be a flurry of continual updates and calls to bring in all the fence sitters who were waiting around until the last minute to contribute. It’s not out of the ordinary to raise over 50% of your funds during these final moments.
Step 7. Fulfill the rewards
Now that you’ve (hopefully) raised the funds for your campaign, it’s time to kick back and bask in your glory! Just kidding: it’s actually time to start fulfilling all the rewards you promised. Don’t underestimate how long this can take, especially if you’re packing and mailing physical objects. It’s worth putting out the call to your friends to come help and throw a reward fulfillment party.
Step 8. Keep your funders in the story
Crowdfunding is not a bank machine! While it’s tempting to dive back into actually creating your art project, ensure you keep your funders in the loop. This means updating your social media networks and sending out platform updates that share the continuing saga of your project. There’s nothing quite as rewarding as arriving on the playa to witness the manifestation of what they helped support.
Step 9. Help fund other campaigns
Remember: crowdfunding is fundamentally aligned with the spirit of the gift. As you have been supported by the crowd, so shall ye support others in their efforts. As we all know from the playa, true abundance comes from sharing. If you don’t have the funds to support other projects, take a moment each time you find one you like and share it on your social networks, email your friends, and offer gratitude that artists are willing to give so much to a week in the desert.
I’ll see you in Black Rock City.
- Vision Weaver