This Fundraiser Is a Performance: How to Craft a Crowdfunding Campaign Based on What You Do Best

Choreographer, performer, and three-time Kickstarter creator Raja Feather Kelly shares advice on how to run a campaign that highlights your artistic practice.

Raja Feather Kelly and the feath3r theory during their second-annual Tele-Gala-A-Thon at Kickstarter HQ. Photo by Kate Enman.

Raja Feather Kelly is a choreographer, director, and founder of the feath3r theory, a dance-theater-media company. He has run three Kickstarter campaigns, two of which have taken the form of 24-hour telethons, complete with performances, snacks, and surprise guests. “The truth is, I really don’t know how to fundraise,” he wrote in a recent piece for Kickstarter Magazine. “I do, however, know how to throw a party, put on a show, entertain people, and have a good time.”

Here, he offers advice to fellow artists looking to approach funding their projects using their existing skill set. “If you’re a performing artist, you know that everything is just one choice after another until showtime,” he says. “I am using myself as an example, not a template . . . I am not an expert, but more like your gay best friend who empowers you to make really good decisions based on your history of making really good decisions. Take what you can and see how you can apply it to your project.”

Keep reading for more brilliant advice.

the feath3r theory performing at the second-annual Tele-Gala-A-Thon at Kickstarter HQ. Photo by Kate Enman.

Let your work set the tone

How do people normally experience your creative work? Are you a writer, a dancer, a musician, a magician? Imagine a feasible experience that introduces new people to your work, feeds your creative practice, and feels more personal than an Instagram story or Facebook post.

I threw my first 24-hour telethon in my apartment. My friends made cupcakes and brought snacks. I had friends perform, give testimonials, and perform into a live-feed camera for my entire network of performers, students, family, friends, and people who like dance-theater. It was a 24-hour performance party that anyone could tune into to learn about and support me, my work, my company, and our next project! We raised $5,000 in 12 hours and $7,740 in the full 24.

Set realistic expectations

Be specific: How much money do you actually need, and what is it for? If you create a budget, you’ll be so ahead of the game. So ask yourself: Why do you need money? Have you been kind to your audience? Do you send them updates, do you interact with them year-round? A backer-creator relationship just like any other. You have to keep in touch. Doing this helps you create realistic visions, expectations, and goals.

I decided to turn my second Kickstarter campaign into a 24-hour telethon because I felt that people were either going to donate or not, right? The amount of time I spent on my first 30-day campaign felt to me like the equivalent of 24 really intense hours spread out over time. I noticed that many backers came at the very beginning and at the very end. My audience seems to love the energy around the “all or nothing” aspect of Kickstarter. I paid attention to that and I used it to fuel the fundraiser. (Oooh, I like that—fuel the fundraiser! Doesn’t that sound good?)

Raja Feather Kelly and Collin Ranf at the 11th hour of the first 24-hour telethon. Photo by Kate Enman.

Know your audience

Who are the people that you’re going to reach out to back your project? Have you made a list? (Do it now.) Write down who you know and how you know them. This kind of thinking helps. You can bring work friends together with your college buddies and let them meet your dance friends. You can count on the fact that they all know you and want to support what you do. Make your campaign an opportunity for people to care more about what you do because they know more. Invite them in.

Many people think that if you just make the Kickstarter video on the Kickstarter website that you automatically hit your goal. I have learned that you have to ask for every dollar. With my $5,000 campaign I actually planned out each and every dollar. I made a list of who I thought would back for $10, and who I felt comfortable asking to contribute $25, and so on. Sometimes it seems people want to know exactly what you want from them. And no one would be mad at you for you knowing exactly what you need. I think asking for exactly what you want from who you want it from is thoughtful.

Raja Feather Kelly during his first 24-hour telethon. Photo by Kate Enman.

Use rewards as an incentive, not just a thank-you

Be thoughtful with your rewards. People will want to back your project for a feasible trade, like poems or personalized songs or dance phrases, because people love to feel special.

When I did my second telethon (which I named the Tele-Gala-A-Thon), I used the structure and variables of a gala to create incentive. I gathered a bunch of donated rewards — including whiskey, free dance classes, season passes to theaters, etc. — and I gave them away as thank-yous. It was a surprise for people, and it also felt unique; they were one-of-a-kind rewards and people love that. I mean, wouldn’t you?

Think of ways to raise the bar each time

Just as you don’t make the same piece or write the same book or sing the same song year after year, you’ll want to keep evolving your relationship with your audience and how they engage with and support your work. You know, keep it fresh!

This year we are planning our 24-hour telethon to coincide with the feath3r theory’s season of performances. This means we’ll kick off the telethon fundraiser at 8 am, then at 8 pm we’ll do a full-evening world premiere performance, then we’ll go back to partying and fundraising until 8 am the next morning. It’s going to be a blast and very interesting. It’s called our Tele-Gala-Dance-A-Thon, it’s on June 6–7, and of course you’re invited.

Call me!

Your gay best friend (with fundraising advice) signing off,
xoxo, gossip girl (Raja Feather Kelly)