10 Tips for Crowdfunding in the Arts (and How it’s the Liberation Marginalized Communities Need)
An Interview with The Movement Theatre Company on #25kin25days
We’ve probably all donated to a friend’s project or cause on some crowdfunding platform with goals in the hundreds or thousands.
But is this a viable method of raising funds for art projects? If we try it, will it actually work? And what’s the strategy here?
I had a chance to sit down with Deadria Harrington, David Mendizábal, Eric Lockley, and Taylor Reynolds of The Movement Theatre Company’s Producing Artistic Leadership Team to learn about how they were able to accomplish their historic #25kin25days crowdfunding campaign for What To Send Up When It Goes Down by Aleshea Harris. The play, directed by Whitney White in its New York Premiere during the fall of 2018, is, “a community ritual about how we come together to deal with racialized violence. It honors those who have been killed by racialized violence and it’s also a tool for healing.”
1. Setting Your Goal
Deadria: Our goal was to raise $25,000 in 25 days on Kickstarter. We raised $26,500 and that’s really only about 20% of the production budget. Last year, our goal was to raise $100,000 over the course of the entire season, which we got pretty close to. But, so many people came up to us after our curtain call speeches for small events or productions to say thank you for saying, “We’re trying to raise $100,000.” There is something really powerful about asking for what you need, being bold and having a significant, and what at times felt daunting, fundraising goal.
Eric: Initially it was $25,000 in 30 days which… that’s just not as effective. So, that’s how the #25kin25days hashtag started.
2. Choosing Your Crowdfunding Host Site
Eric: With Kickstarter the stakes are so high. But we’re storytellers, we like high stakes.
David: The decision to go big or go home was terrifying and I don’t think we slept for 25 days, but it was so worth it.
Deadria: Yes, and I think that’s why Kickstarter projects are more successful than on other platforms because it’s all or nothing. This spring, we got connected to Jessica Massart who works at Kickstarter specifically with projects in the arts. When we did a crowdfunding campaign before, we didn’t know that there were these resources to help us plan our campaigns to be more successful. (You can reach Jessica at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
3. Creating Your Donation Page Rewards
Deadria: There is this stigma about what it means to be a donor to an organization. For us that’s ten dollars, that’s five dollars, that’s whatever is significant to you. We really thought about this in creating rewards for Kickstarter. How can those rewards continue to tell the story of the company and continue tell the story of What To Send Up When It Goes Down. What is information that we want people to know about who we are, about our values? We always do these spoofs of songs so, one of the rewards was “Say My Name, Say My Name.” For $50 we would put your name in a song. Another one was for $3,000 where you donated a performance to a partner organization. This was because of our Radical Hospitality Initiative, which is about providing free or pay-what-you-can tickets, so that regardless of economic status, you can see the show. We were looking at ways for our rewards to engage our supporters that were more meaningful than a sticker in the mail.
4. Pre-Launch Outreach Tip: Ambassadors
Deadria: Ambassadors are people who help us share the campaign whether it’s sending personal emails or posting about the campaign on their social media platforms.
Taylor: We created a list of people who we emailed about a week before the campaign launched and asked them if they would be an ambassador by blasting out the information to their network within the first 48 hours. And we also had a separate list of people we asked to definitely donate within the first 48 hours.
Deadria: Kickstarter highly encourages you to raise about 20% of your goal in the first 48 hours of your campaign.
David: It makes it feel feasible. When you say, ‘We’re raising $25,000 in 25 days,” people look at you like, ‘Ok, cool…’ But, then if you can say, ‘Look, we just started and we’ve already raised $5,000,’ all of a sudden it feels doable. It feels possible.
5. Pre-Launch Outreach Tip: Match Donations
David: There is this psychology around, “What is my ten dollars going to do?” So, if I give it to you during a match, my ten is going to become twenty, my twenty-five will become fifty. There’s often the idea that ten dollars is not enough and we’re here to tell you that it is enough and it makes moves.
Eric: The ideal way to do a Match Day is to secure large a donation, maybe $500 or $1,000, in advance. Speak to the donor about using their donation as a match challenge before they actually donate. It’s a strategic way to utilize a donation you are likely going to get anyway to create incentive for those who can’t give in that larger range to still be a part of getting you that $1,000 donation.
6. Campaign Outreach Tip: Break Down The Goal
David: $25,000 in 25 days was big, but at the end of each day, we would be $250 away from $5,000, for example, which was much more manageable. It was about rounding up to reach each milestone. Even in the last two or three minutes, Eric posted, “We’re $25 away from $26,500.” With two minutes to spare we got one final donation.
7. Campaign Outreach Tip: Posting Social Media Content
Taylor: You want the updates on Kickstarter, you want multiple non-sponsored Facebook posts, Instagram posts, and Tweets. You want the language content to be connected, but you don’t want it to look like you posted the exact same thing from your e-blast onto Facebook, onto your Kickstarter update. The way you attract people to pay attention to your post or information is different on all of these different platforms.
Deadria: Also, it’s important to know the algorithm that Facebook has is going to prioritize posts as individuals over the posts as an organization. We could see the reach was way more significant on our own pages than on The Movement’s page.
Eric: We also knew we were going to need some kind of video content to keep people engaged. We ended up making two and half music videos. We did the Level Up challenge — Ciara’s song, Janet Jackson’s Made for Now turned into Donate Now and the In My Feelings challenge.
8. Campaign Outreach Tip: Facebook Live
David: Another video thing that we did: I was home one night around nine o’clock at night and all of a sudden I open up Facebook and Instagram and who to do I see but Eric and Deadria on Facebook live singing songs for two hours. That was another strategy — leveraging our individual talents.
Eric: We said if you donate, you get a song. If people were watching and saw some form of entertainment it was also incentive to keep watching.
David: We had a donor, a woman of color who was watching, who commented and said, “This is liberation right here.” At first it was a little like, “Ok, we are singing and twerking for dollar bills,” but really we were in control of our narrative.
Deadria: We raised around $400 between 9:30pm and 11:30pm.
David: Then, we did it again. We advertised it as a telethon. We invited three artists: Denise Manning, Beto O’Byrne and Caitlin Cisco. They brought instruments and for two hours were singing songs and replacing lyrics about donating. In those two hours we raised over $700 dollars.
Deadria: Getting down to it, people know the campaign is happening, but it’s all about how we can nudge these folks in all of these different ways so that they finally go and click donate.
9. Campaign Outreach Tip: Offline Engagement
Deadria: Another tip for us that really worked was Facebook messaging folks, making phone calls, and sending text messages.
David: And also going out and talking about it. Go to other people’s shows or events. We were operating on this notion of abundance. We could go support and invest in the spaces that other people were creating and we could have that face time with people to talk about our event.
10. Campaign Outreach Tip: In-Person Fundraising Events
Taylor: Usually at the start of each season, we have what we call our “Family Reunion BBQ.” It’s a kickoff to invite our community to eat, dance, party and hear what we have coming up for the next season. We knew we didn’t have the full capacity to throw the event that we usually do, so we flipped it into a rooftop party. We had a DJ, drinks, light snacks and we had signs everywhere talking about our Kickstarter, talking about how you can donate. We got a lot of people who didn’t know much about us as a company.
Eric: And it was free.
David: For us, that was a really radical decision. But the decision was matching the philosophy of community and accessibility. It was surprising to see people who probably would not have donated reach into their back pocket and say this is worth it. This is worth it because the people are worth it. The space is is worth it. There is a lack of spaces that are centered around people of color authentically, truly, and holistically where your dollars are actually going to support people of color. We raised more money than we put out and accessed more community while doing it.
Final Words: “It’s a full time commitment.”
David: It’s a full time commitment. You can’t just throw a Kickstarter campaign up and expect people to give you money.
Taylor: From The Movement’s perspective we were posting everywhere at least twice a day. Eric and Deadria were on our Instagram story all day too. I was liking at least 30 things a day.
Deadria: I spent about two hours a morning dedicated to social media. That was just in the morning that did not include all the time I was on social media throughout the day. I had a google doc that I would update to plan AM posts and PM posts.
Taylor: I think in terms of capacity it was about figuring out who has what resources. I’m the main person who Monday through Friday, 9–5, am sitting in front of a computer. It’s also about recognizing the ebb and flow of where the weight sharing comes in. Being in constant communication about that was important.
Deadria: It takes more time than you think it’s going to and you just have to commit to it being the number one priority for that period of time.
WHAT TO SEND UP WHEN IT GOES DOWN by Aleshea Harris is a community ritual created in response to the deaths of Black people as a result of racialized violence. As lines between characters and actors, observers and observed blur, a dizzying series of vignettes build to a climactic moment where performance and reality collide, highlighting the absurdity of anti-blackness in our society. Through facilitation and dialogue we must decide how to cope, resist and move forward.
The production, directed by Whitney White, ran from November 11th- December 16th, 2018, including a weeklong extension, in the A.R.T./New York Theatres Jeffrey and Paula Gural Theatre at 502 West 53rd Street, New York, NY 10019.
The performance featured: Alana Raquel Bowers (Scraps), Rachel Christopher (Minor Character), Ugo Chukwu (PORTO), Kambi Gathesha (Our Lady of Kibeho), Naomi Lorrain (“Orange is the New Black”), Denise Manning (The Genesis Plays), Javon Q. Minter (Platonov), and Beau Thom (off-Broadway debut).
Set design: Yu-Hsuan Chen (The Homecoming Queen)
Costume design: Andy Jean (Scraps)
Lighting: Cha See (Cute Activist)
Sound design: Sinan Refik Zafar (And She Would Stand Like This)
Production stage manager: Genevieve Ortiz (Seven Spots on the Sun)
Community Engagement Team: Nissy Aya and Zhailon Levingston
General admission tickets were $30. As part of The Movement’s Radical Hospitality Initiative to make the show accessible to all, a limited number tickets were offered as “pay-what-you-can” for each performance. Sign up began 1 hour prior to the performance and were available in person only at the theatre.
The Movement Theatre Company is dedicated to developing new works by artists of color and producing work that highlights both the collective and diverse human experience. Donate to The Movement today.
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Find more on www.vivianavargas.com.