What makes a Kickstarter campaign compelling to the donor?
Lately, I’ve seen a lot of articles from successful Kickstarter project developers on how to create a successful Kickstarter campaign. Here’s a great example of that, from Michael Mindes:
Here’s a link to Michael’s thoughts if the plugin above doesn’t work for you.
What I haven’t seen addressed is what makes a Kickstarter campaign work in the eyes of a donor. What pushes a potential donor - a person who stumbles upon a Kickstarter campaign - into an actual donor who puts their money down on the table?
I’ll admit it - I’m a bit of a Kickstarter junkie. I have donated to more than a dozen campaigns in a lot of different genres, and I’m considering a Kickstarter campaign for my novel. For me, the appealing part of Kickstarter is really the entrepreneurship. People who start Kickstarter campaigns are people that are out there doing things. They’re not sitting at home consuming. They’re producing, they’re often doing it on a shoestring, and that deserves attention.
I’ve seen hundreds of Kickstarter campaigns. I’ve donated to a couple dozen of them. What made the difference? I can identify seven things that convince me to donate. I am going to assume that you have something compelling that you want to make and it’s something that is interesting to me on at least some level.
1. Let me examine as much of the material as possible beforehand.
This is often the deal breaker. If I can actually see some aspect of the end product, I’m more likely to donate. The more I can see, the better.
Want me to support the Kickstarter campaign for your book? Let me read some chapters or, at the very least, let me hear you articulate the ideas for the book at length, like Frank Chimero did for The Shape of Design. Want me to support the Kickstarter campaign for your board game or card game? Share a print-and-play version of the game (perhaps with a few bells and whistles removed), like Eminent Domain did. Want me to support the Kickstarter campaign for your album? Let me hear some of the demos for the tracks, like Bears did for their third album, Greater Lakes.
Showing this material strengthens the promise between the Kickstarter campaign and the donor. It shows that this isn’t just someone asking for money. It’s someone who has already worked hard to create something interesting and is looking for help to make it a full-fledged reality.
Obviously, this doesn’t work for every campaign out there. There are some manufactured items that are simply difficult to share, like the LunaTik Multi-Touch watch. Even in those cases, you can still clearly show off a video of a prototype of the watch.
Show me you’ve already invested something of yourself into this beyond just launching the campaign.
2. Let you come through.
Don’t just copy what other people have done. Instead, do what you think is cool and interesting.
There are going to be countless guides from people who have succeeded on Kickstarter telling you what you need to do to create a successful campaign. Listen to them, sure, but don’t follow it like a recipe. If it doesn’t seem right to you, don’t do it.
More importantly, if you have an idea that you think is cool or interesting, put it out there. Don’t worry about whether or not people will think that you’re geeky. Often, people are there because you are geeky. You’re passionate about your idea or else you wouldn’t be starting that campaign.
Let your freak flag fly. Show us your sense of humor and your particular flavor of unusual thinking. Those are the things that turn an ordinary project into something unique and interesting that pulls people in. It certainly pulls me in.
3. Have a good reputation.
I am always wary of Kickstarter campaigns run by someone who is a complete unknown. I’d like to be able to Google the people involved or the microbusiness involved and learn something about them.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be directly connected to what their Kickstarter campaign is about. What it simply needs to show is that this person has a reasonably good reputation and, more importantly, has the ability to produce interesting and compelling things.
If I can’t find anything about the people involved after some simple internet searching, I’m wary about donating to their project. I’m generally not turned away by some degree of negative comments - it’s impossible to find someone compelling who doesn’t have negative comments about them somewhere on the internet - but it needs to be paired with positive things, too.
4. Don’t have a giant reputation.
For me, Kickstarter is, at least in part, a platform for launching dreams. It provides resources to people who do not have the resources themselves to launch a product or an idea.
If you’re already rich or you already have a thriving enterprise, you’re going to have to make a clear case to me why you don’t already have the resources to launch this item.
Of course, this is heavily tied to the previous item on the list. If you’re trying to be stealthy and disguise the fact that you don’t have these resources, you’re not going to show up very much with a Google search and you won’t have any sort of positive reputation.
5. Make realistic promises.
Don’t tell me that the item will ship guaranteed on a certain date, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned about life, it’s that something will go wrong.
Instead, focus on what you can promise about the project. For example, if you’re creating an item that has to be manufactured elsewhere, give a timeline for when you’re going to get the specifications to the manufacturer, then state what the manufacturer’s guidelines are for getting that item out.
If you’re writing a novel, give me a schedule for how you’re going to write it, one that includes some breathing room for you. Don’t promise a full novel in two months because life will almost always get in the way.
The key here is risk assessment. Every project has risks. A good project has already thought about the risks and has solutions should these problems arise. This takes forethought and planning. The more you’re able to show these things, the more it becomes clear that you’re taking the challenge of making this project a reality seriously.
You don’t have to include this info in your pitch, but a detailed description of this in your update blog will go a long way toward showing the potential donor that you’ve thought about the pitfalls already and aren’t heading into this with unrealistic dreams.
6. Don’t make it seem like a chore.
If this is something you dream of launching, the process should be fun for you. It should not be loaded down with negative adjectives. It should not sound as if it were written out of a business school manual.
If I’m glossing over paragraphs of your description because they’re boring, I’m probably not going to invest in your project. If I start coming across business buzzwords, I’m probably not going to invest in your project.
I want to see new ideas, excitement, and passion. I want to see Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard in a garage somewhere, not a carefully crafted business proposal. I don’t want to see buzzwords. I want to see reality.
Write this from the heart. Give it to your friends before you ever post it and ask ask them how they would improve it to make it more interesting (don’t ask them if it’s bad, just ask for three ideas on how to improve it, because friends often don’t want to hurt your feelings). Take their ideas to heart and revise it. Cut out the technical stuff. Cut out the business-speak. We don’t want to hear it.
We want to hear what makes you excited. We want to hear about something jaw-droppingly cool and why you think this is cooler than liquid nitrogen. Nothing more, nothing less.
7. Don’t just dream big. Dream enormous.
The campaigns that really sink their hook into me are the ones where I am convinced by the whole presentation that the people behind this are hoping to change their lives by the outcome of the project. They’re not just hoping to produce an album or a gadget or a one-off cultural event. They dream of making this thing big. They feel it in their bones and yearn for it with every ounce of themselves. This Kickstarter project is a key part in birthing the dream of their life.
I want to see someone who is Kickstarting their film because they are driven to become a filmmaker. I want to see people who are Kickstarting their board game because they want to spend the rest of their lives designing and developing them. I want to see people launching community festivals because they want to build it into something great and life-changing for themselves and for all the people attending.
Tell me what your dreams are. Convince me that this is a step toward making that happen. The better you do this, the deeper you set the hook.
Combine these techniques with my initial caveat about having a compelling idea and you’ve likely got yourself a donor.