Writers on the Web: Crowdfunding Your Web Series

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greencrowdfundingbuttonIt’s time to get down to brass tacks, the nitty gritty, the bottom line. How are you going to fund your web series? As I suggested in my last article on Reverse Budgeting, you may be funding it yourself out of your own pocket. Or maybe a family member, friend, or investor is helping you out. Instead, perhaps you’ve decided to try the hottest method of fundraising out there today: crowdfunding.

Since its inception, crowdfunding has caught fire and there are dozens of sites available for you to choose from. I’ve chosen five popular sites and explored what I feel are the pros and cons of each one. Before getting into that, however, I’ll share some important lessons I learned from crowdfunding my web series, Split.

(FYI: Our target goal was to raise $12,000.  We did a 60-day campaign on IndieGoGo, and with those contributions, and the help of a couple of private donators, we ended up raising just about $4,000.)

We knew we wanted to put together a video for our crowdfunding campaign, so my co-producer Gabrielle and I first cast the series and then self-funded a trailer, which cost about $600 total. We also shot interviews with ourselves and the cast and weaved them into the story to make a 6-minute campaign video.

Lesson #1:  Although our video was good, it was probably too long.  It would have been better to keep our video to 3 minutes or less to gain more viewers.

We launched our 60-day campaign just before Halloween, and set it to end on New Years’ Eve. We hoped people would be in more of a giving mood around the holidays. We actively sent out consistent emails, and posted on Facebook and Twitter to friends and family, pitching the project and asking for donations. Our amazing cast and crew helped out quite a bit and reached out to their networks to secure donations as well.

Our campaign started off strong, however, donations started to trail off after the first couple of weeks, and didn’t pick up speed again until the very end.

Lesson #2:  Our timing was a bit off—60 days was really too long for the campaign, as campaigns benefit from a sense of urgency. If people feel they have awhile before the deadline, they are less apt to donate upon receiving that first campaign email. It was also a TON of work to send out consistent emails and video updates for two full months.

SPLITfbinvitepic

Principal cast of “Split” – Photo by Jason Corica

Additionally, I don’t think that campaigning during the holiday season was a good idea.  With the distractions of Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Years, people are already spending extra money on presents, food, and preparation for those events and there often isn’t money to spare at the end of it. (Which makes me even more grateful for the fantastic, generous donations that we did receive!)

Because we didn’t reach our $12,000 goal by New Year’s Eve, IndieGoGo charged us the 9% fee, which along with the credit card processing fees, ended up taking a sizable chunk out of our funds. We also had to pay for all of the ‘perks’ for our donators out of the money that we raised, further decreasing the amount of money we’d have to make the series.

Lesson #3:  Put money aside beforehand to pay for the perks, or offer non-tangible rewards such as email updates or digital downloads of the series upon completion — things that won’t cost extra money to distribute. I’m still in the process of slowly fulfilling the last of our perks, paying for them out of my own pocket at this point.

At the end of the campaign, we had to ask ourselves the hard question: will we be able to make the series we wrote on the budget that we now have, $8,000 less than we planned for? Luckily, we had come up with a couple of contingency budgets of varying levels, just in case we didn’t reach our goal. We set out to make the series no matter how much money we raised.

You don't need a ton of money to make it happen! - Photo by sufinawaz

You don’t need a ton of money to make it happen! – Photo by sufinawaz

Lesson #4:  You can’t go wrong with contingency budgets. Having those laid out in advance helped keep us positive during the campaign and deterred the heart attacks we would have had if we thought we could only make the series for $12,000. 

Through sheer will and determination, as well as putting to use the Reverse Budgeting techniques, we were able to shoot 12 webisodes (and feed and pay all of the cast and crew) for less than $4,000.   And we still came out with a quality project, seeing as how Split was recently accepted to LAWEBFEST and is currently a quarter-finalist in the NexTV Web Series Competition. (Not to brag, but to illustrate that you don’t need a ton of money to create a quality product. Okay…fine…I’ll brag a little, if you insist!)

A few more tips:

  • When sending campaign emails, contact everyone in your network, because you never know who will step out from the woodwork to support you. You may be surprised that a stranger or someone you barely know gives a huge donation, and someone you fully expected to support you doesn’t donate at all.  You never know who is going to step forward to help.
  • Do your casting and crew hiring first so you have a network of people to campaign with you. If do have a little money of your own, consider paying for your pilot episode out of pocket so that you have video of the series to display on your crowdfunding site. It shows donators that you’re serious about the project because you’ve already invested your own time and money, and also gets people excited about your story!
  • Prepare for the campaign emotionally. The process can be an up-and-down rollercoaster and keeping the energy and pep up while sending emails out into the void can be hard on the psyche.  Know that you are planting seeds for the future that will hopefully bloom.
  • Choose the right crowdfunding site for your campaign. I’m grateful that we chose a site where we were able to keep the money we earned even if we didn’t reach our goal.  If we had used the all-or-nothing model we wouldn’t have a series at all. However, if you have a very large social network, or already have an audience, the all-or-nothing model might work in your favor as it can provide that crucial sense of urgency that spurs people into donating. Make sure you choose the site that’s best for your situation.
Plant seeds for your future career...

Plant seeds for the future and watch them bloom…

  • Know that if you don’t make your goal, even putting yourself out there at all makes you a success.  You are taking more action to achieve your dream than 99% of other people out there. Don’t forget to give yourself a pat on the back.

With Split, we were able to turn what could have been considered a failure into a success. You can do it too.

Here’s my thoughts on five top crowdfunding sites to get you started. Later this month, award-winning filmmaker Cindy Baer will be sharing her experience and insight on ways to fund your projects.  Until then…

Kickstarter

PROS:

  • World’s largest and most recognized crowdfunding platform
  • High percentage of projects end up completely funded—around 50%
  • Some people feel more comfortable donating because of the all-or-nothing funding approach
  • Easy to create a project, post video, pictures, links, etc.

CONS:

  • The all-or-nothing approach, so if you don’t meet your goal (even if you come close), you get no money at all
  • Fees on the high side—Kickstarter collects 5% of the project’s funding (if successful), and the payment processing fees vary from roughly  3-5% from each donation
  • You have to offer ‘perks’ to people for donating

IndieGoGo

PROS:

  • Two funding options: Flexible funding and Fixed Funding
  • Flexible funding allows you to keep the money you raised even if you don’t reach your goal.  If you reach your goal, IndieGoGo’s fees are 4%, but if you don’t, the fees are 9%
  • Fixed funding works like Kickstarter but with a lower fee—4% if you reach your goal, and 0% fees if you do not reach your goal—however, if you don’t reach your goal you get nothing
  • Easy to design campaigns, can integrate video, pictures, links, etc.
  • Credit card processing fee reasonable at 3% for U.S. campaigns
  • Easy to update all contributors by sending messages through IndieGoGo

CONS:

  • High 9% fee if you use Flexible Funding and do not reach your goal.  High wire transfer fees for international campaigns
  • Newer and less widely-recognized than Kickstarter
  • Can’t delete your campaign website once you’ve raised money on it, therefore your campaign remains open to public view after it ends
  • You have to offer ‘perks’ to people for donating
  • Some people don’t trust the ‘flexible funding’ and won’t want to donate if they know you can keep the proceeds without reaching your target goal

GoFundMe

PROS:

  • Quick customer support – they promise to respond to any questions within 5 minutes
  • Fees a bit on the lower side – 5% GoFundMe fee with 2.9% + .30 processing fee for projects
  • Same fees for Canada, UK, Australia, and Euro-supporting European countries as U.S. users, so no huge upcharge
  • Easy to set up
  • Don’t have to offer perks or goods to people for donating

CONS:

  • Seems to be designed more for individual causes and life events like paying for medical bills, family vacations, weddings, etc. as opposed to artistic ventures
  • Designed more to reach out to friends and family, possibly less chance of others contributing until you have traction with those who already know you

RocketHub

PROS:

  • Partnership with A&E Network’s Project Startup, where your project could be featured on the show and A&E could become one of your funders
  • Not an all-or-nothing model, keep the funds you’ve raised even if you don’t hit your goal
  • Appears to have a large community of artists, entrepreneurs, and filmmakers
  • Has a ‘Success School’ to help educate you on how to achieve your funding goals
  • Thorough explanations and tools to help you understand how much you can expect to raise and how long your campaign should be

CONS:

  • Fees on the higher side: 4% commission + 4% credit card processing fee if you hit your goal, 8% commission fee + 4% credit card fee if you do not
  • Newer and less known than some other crowdfunding sites
  • You have to offer ‘goods’ (perks) to people who donate

Kapipal

PROS:

  • Kapipal takes no fees taken from the funds you earn—although there may still be a Paypal processing fee
  • You can remove your funding page once your campaign is completed if you want to keep your funding source private
  • Can make your page unlisted or public, depending on your preference
  • You can choose whether or not to offer rewards to donators
  • No account required for donators, they can simply pay as a guest through Paypal
  • Easy to use and set up

CONS:

  • Doesn’t have the name recognition of other more established sites
  • Campaign pages appear very simple and seem to have fewer bells and whistles than some of the other sites

Related Articles:

ws_webseries_smallGet more web series advice in Rebecca Norris’ webinar
Writing the Web Series

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