Tuesday, March 16, 2010

@SXSW: How Fans Are Changing Fund-Raising

March 16, 2010 By Glenn Peoples, Austin, Texas

Panel: "Funding Your Projects From The Crowd"

Participants: Perry Chen (Kickstarter), Britta Riley (The Windowfarms Project), Jenna Wortham (New York Times), Robin Sloan (RobinSloan.com)

New online platforms are giving artists, authors, musicians and other creators a greater ability to fund projects from crowds.

Why You Should Care: In music, Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead have grabbed headlines for their innovative approaches to raising money. But on a smaller scale, bands are changing the fund-raising dynamic by reaching out to fans to fund albums, tours and other projects. Startups like SliceThePie and Sellaband and numerous individual campaigns are helping make crowd-funding a common way to take some of the financial risk out of being an artist.

Elsewhere, a variety of projects are getting funded through online donations. On Monday (March 15), panelists discussed the growth, potential and finer points of funding projects from the crowd. Kickstarter, an online platform that helps people fund projects from their social networks and other persons, was one of the panel's focal points. Founder Perry Chen said Kickstarter was born from a risk management scheme when he needed funds to host a concert.

The Takeaways
Crowd-funded projects can raise serious money. Kickstarter largest funded project raised $85,000, said Chen. Many projects have raised less than $25,000, he said, and an even larger segment is under $10,000. Britta Riley started Window Farms Project to help people grow vegetable plants in urban apartment windows. The group was not able to apply for grants, so it crowd-funded instead and raised $28,000 on Kickstarter.

Marketing and fundraising can go well beyond a single platform. Windows Farm went beyond the Kickstarter platform by making personal, face-to-face pleas and seeking large contributions. One large donation got the ball rolling for the rest of the campaign, Riley said. In addition, Riley said, Windows Farm took part in the Pepsi Refresh Project, a competition that give grants ranging from $5,000 to $250,000 to people, businesses and non-profits with ideas that will have a positive social impact.

The quality of the person or group behind the project really matters. Are they passionate? Do they communicate? Potential funders look for these characteristics. Riley's most important communication was a detailed and personal message that launched the fundraising campaign. "It's not about the project," she said, "it's about you."

A narrative creates value. The panelists encouraged people to update funders and potential funders at milestones and turn the entire experience into a narrative rather than re-tell the same story when seeking additional funding. Funders get to share in the project when they hear a story about the project, explained Chen. "Projects have left a massive amount of value on the table by not being able to document the process as it happens," he said. "That's a real story that has a long time frame and that people very much get into."

Billboard.biz Panel Rating?
Two out of four. This panel drove home that fact that crowd-funding is a legitimate way to raise funds for a wide variety of projects. While interesting and helpful, the pace often slowed and it could have used more practical takeaways.
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