Nonprofits on Kickstarter: How to Connect with Your Community to Bring New Ideas to Life
Can nonprofits create projects on Kickstarter? Absolutely. Here, we outline a few case studies and best practices for interested institutions.
Over the years, we’ve seen many artists and institutions use Kickstarter to bring new artworks and exhibitions to life. Even so, we’re often met with a question from these communities: Can nonprofit organizations use Kickstarter, and if so, how?
Nonprofits are not only welcome to use Kickstarter, they often excel when they do. Projects run by nonprofits have a 56 percent success rate, compared to the site average of 37 percent.
Today, we’re excited to announce a new resource for nonprofit creators looking to bring their projects to life on Kickstarter. In addition to offering resources for these creators, our nonprofits page will highlight live projects by nonprofits and collections of projects created in collaboration with institutions like the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), and Creative Capital.
Keep reading to discover some of our favorite case studies, followed by some best practices for nonprofit organizations interested in using Kickstarter to bring new ideas to life.
Nonprofit organizations collaborate with artists to spread a message
In January 2017, Amplifier came to Kickstarter with We the People, a project to flood Washington, D.C., with new symbols of hope on Inauguration Day.
With the help of 22,840 backers, Amplifier commissioned artists Shepard Fairey, Jessica Sabogal, and Ernesto Yerena to publish their images as full-page ads in three U.S. newspapers and shared them online and in train stations for free. In 2018, the nonprofit returned to Kickstarter to bring inspiring images of young leaders representing 10 diverse movements into schools and classrooms across the country.
Museums engage with their communities to restore and elevate exhibitions
Museums and art institutions like the Smithsonian, the Museum of the Moving Image, and the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum have used Kickstarter to engage with their vast communities of patrons, visitors, and art lovers.
In 2013, the Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD) launched a campaign to raise funds to build its first exhibit: a machine that creates puffed cereal. With the help of 830 backers, Puffy debuted in NYC and toured at Maker Faire.
Motivated by their community’s overwhelming support, MOFAD launched a second project in 2016, this time to support the creation of an entire exhibit sharing the history of Chinese-American cuisine.
Best practices for your campaign
If you’re part of a nonprofit organization that’s considering using Kickstarter, here are a few tips to help you maximize your efforts.
Offer tax deductible pledges
If you’re a 501(c)(3), you can issue tax write-off letters to your backers. If you are offering this, make sure that it’s clear to your backers. For example, the Nevada Museum of Art worked with artist Trevor Paglen to launch the first satellite to exist as an artistic gesture. For each of their reward tiers (they offered orbital reports, mission patches, and more), they outlined what portion of pledges would be considered tax deductible.
Once your campaign is successfully funded, you can use surveys to ask your backers if they’d like a tax receipt. Please note that you’ll be responsible for sending these receipts.
Get board members and institutional partners involved early
When planning your campaign, think about board members and other institutional partners that are excited about your work. For example, Antenna’s Slave Rebellion Reenactment project received an offer to match up to $2,000 dollars in pledges to their project from No Longer Empty, a nonprofit that activates public engagement through contemporary art. Likewise, one of Public Art Fund’s donors to Flow Separation offered to be the backer to “tip them over the edge” and pledge the final amount needed to reach their goal.
If you’re working with an organization that offers to match pledges, share this news with your backers through a project update and encourage them to share your project to help reach the full potential of the match offer. And when you reach the match offer, post another update to celebrate and thank everyone for their support.
Recognize what you can’t do on Kickstarter
We encourage you to read through our Creator Handbook and rules before launching. Projects on Kickstarter can’t fundraise for charity — your project funds should go toward making something new and shareable in order to be approved (our Help Center has some additional information on this topic).
As with any Kickstarter project, you’ll want to devote time to planning out how you’ll spread the word before you launch. Having thoughtful messaging and a promotion plan is a must. Consider sending targeted newsletters, asking a board member to match a week’s worth of pledges, using referral tags, or engaging friends and collaborators on social media.