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Game Changer: For Creatives and Charities, Kickstarter is Shifting the Power Balance

Published: Thursday, August 2, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, August 7, 2012 18:08


We are taught from a young age that it is perfectly acceptable to ask strangers for money, as long as it’s for a good cause. Kids make lemonade, baked goods and go door to door with clipboards in hand hoping to prey on the kindness and pocketbooks of others. Whatever the cause or project might be, we learn early on there is nothing a car wash or ice cream social can’t finance.

But why go outside and actually ask people for donations anymore when the internet exists? Fundraising websites are blowing up and the tables have turned. Charities, artists and individuals are pleading their cases online and strangers all over the world get to decide who they want to financially back.

However, now that anyone can ask for donations online, the truly creative and talented have found a way to fund their projects while having a bit of fun and raising more money. Kickstarter.com is the newest way for creative individuals to bring their unique ideas to life.

Kickstarter doesn’t deal with charities or any sort of awareness program. It is an all-or-nothing funding platform where projects are proposed and thoughtful rewards create incentives for people to pledge as much or as little as they please. It’s also fairly low risk. If the project isn’t fully funded, no one gets charged and no one is left owing anything to the backers.  

According to Justin Kazmark, a member of Kickstarter’s communication team, there have been over 27,000 successfully funded projects since the site started in 2009, several of which topped $1 million. All together over $300 million have been pledged to various projects over the years.

According to Publishers Weekly, Kickstarter is actually the second largest graphic novel publisher in the United States behind Marvel and ahead of DC. Kickstarter also helped finance 10 percent of the films at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, according to Kazmark.

There are 13 categories (comics, dance, design, fashion, film & video, food, games, music, photography, publishing, technology, theater) but it takes a certain project idea to get the ball rolling.

“[On] Kickstarter, you create on your own terms and backers are there along for the journey,” he said.

The legit and the not so legit

Crowd funding has a sense of urgency to it as well. Much like everything else online, you never know what will take off and be a success. Singer and songwriter Amanda Palmer, formerly of The Dresden Dolls, wanted to raise $100,000 on Kickstarter to promote her new album, Theater Is Evil, and ended up raising over $1 million, all of which gets to stay in her pocket.

“Whether they’re film makers or musicians or comic creators, [artists] are bypassing the traditional avenues and cutting out the middle men [with Kickstarter],” Kazmark said.

So how did Palmer raise such a ridiculous amount of money? Having a dedicated fan base helps, but Kazmark said it mostly it has to do with the incentives. Palmer knew her fans well and thus put together plenty of insane gifts for her financial backers.

“You get to create on your own terms,” said Kazmark. “In the traditional experience you go through film studios or record labels or you get a grant for funding to bring your work to life, but in exchange you often have to cede ownership of your work with publishing rights or creative control, and the original idea can become contorted.”

After leaving her record label and opting to continue her career on her own, Palmer turned to her highly motivated fans. In a video promoting the Kickstarter project she holds up a sign that reads, “We are the media.” Her fans became her record label and she was the CEO.

Unfortunately, you don’t just receive over $1 million in donations without giving back plenty in return. Palmer will be quite busy paying her fans back in the coming months. As per the Kickstarter promises, she will be painting portraits (nude or clothed) of two lucky backers who paid a whopping $10,000 each. If a portrait seemed like a bit much, Palmer also agreed to play house shows for $5,000 a pop. She now has 35 of them lined up, presumably all over the world. Palmer also has to sign over a thousand pre-sale albums and she has to custom paint 28 turntables (a mere $1,000 purchase for fans.)

Meanwhile, she still has to promote Theater Is Dead and tour for months, but now she will have over 10 times the budget to do so.

Not all fundraising sites are the same, in fact Kickstarter stands on its own. Gofundme.com for instance is perfect for any cause, charitable or otherwise. It’s what “Octomom” Nadya Suleman is using in order to raise $150,000 in order to buy a new home.

Indiegogo.com is a bit more hip and current. It’s what online cartoonist Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal used to stick it to FunnyJunk.com when they got into a bit of a legal disagreement. A campaign titled “Bear Love Good. Cancer Bad.” effectively humiliated FunnyJunk and raised $220,000 for the National Wildlife Federation and the American Cancer Society. 

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