Kicking it – Is Kickstarter oversaturated already—or just getting started in Baton Rouge?

Anything that becomes popular can quickly become oversaturated.

Are local Facebook users, and those with lots of fundraising friends, feeling overly bombarded by Kickstarter campaigns? More Baton Rouge artists, entrepreneurs and nonprofits have begun taking advantage of Kickstarter, the global online platform that began as an idea in Louisiana and now helps creatives across the globe find start-up capital for their projects.

“I think it’s exciting,” says Sam Irwin, who works for the state’s Department of Agriculture and Forestry and launched his own Kickstarter campaign this year for his exhibit Art in Agriculture: 15 Photographs from 10 Years of Ag Journalism. “Fatigue might set in later, but if you have a worthy project and you know how to promote it, I see it as a way to get funded.”

Irwin thinks Kickstarter is just getting started in the city, so it might be too early to say it has jumped the funding shark. “It will be interesting to follow the evolution of Kickstarter,” Irwin says.

Others in the community, as evidenced by threads on the forum BatonRougeRocks.com, think Kickstarter makes it all too easy for any Joe Schmoe to make his or her fledgling band or project a reality. One user named Steve Albini commented on a local band’s Kickstarter campaign, posting, “apparently [sic] they all have day jobs…why not just save some of that money to record in addition to the money that the band makes? oh, that’s right…it’s easier to beg for it.”

Whether fundraisers use Kickstarter for seed money, as the name would imply, or to completely bankroll a project, the online platform has permeated culture. Popular globally, Kickstarter actually has deep Louisiana roots.

Kickstarter founder Perry Chen came up with the idea after moving to New Orleans in 2001. “I remember standing in my kitchen talking to my roommate, Earl Scioneaux, about this idea I just had for a website,” wrote Chen on his blog, 8east4west.tumblr.com.

“It was late 2001 or early 2002, and I had been frustrated by my experience trying to put together a concert. The show never happened, but the idea for kickstarter [sic] was born from my frustration.”

One local Kickstarter success story is the BR Walls Project. The downtown mural group not only reached its $25,000 goal but racked in a total of $37,140 after securing help from powerhouses like Lamar Advertising Company.

Projects like BR Walls fare well in local communities because of a dual mission to beautify urban areas and benefit artists and the economy. It doesn’t hurt that a highly connected team of supporters has its back.

Other area Kickstarter projects are much smaller in scale, but collaborations still play a part in making them a reality.

Donney Rose, of the newly formed nonprofit Forward Arts, began running the poetry team WordPlay after splitting from the Big Buddy Program last year. Rose’s campaign, $30 for a “30,” sought to operate the annual WordPlay Teen Poetry Slam Festival, previously managed by Big Buddy, seamlessly.

“We thought if we could get a large group of people to donate a minimum of $30, we’d be able to make our goal of $5,000,” Rose says.

Wanting to avoid “donor fatigue,” Rose kept the bar low, covering only necessary operating costs of the festival and advising against running more than one campaign per year.

Though the campaign garnered only 103 backers by the time it ended on May 1, it exceeded $5,000 due to tiered donation levels with special prizes attached.

For donors, incentives make all the difference. Rose’s campaign provided VIP tickets to the festival if a donor gave $100 or more. Another local Kickstarter user, Ari Gratch, founder of digital storytelling site allography.com, used Kickstarter to help print Allography’s first non-digital book, Romeo’s Ugly Nose, featuring poems by Christopher Shipman and paintings by Benjamin Cockfield.

“You have to have really good rewards,” Gratch says. “I’ve donated to a couple of projects just because their five-dollar reward was really cool.”

Aided by a do-it-yourself ethos, Romeo’s collaborators put a handmade twist on their project, which was funded on April 22, offering rewards like autographed copies of the freshly minted book, a personalized poem or drawing, and for big spenders, a “handcrafted special edition of Romeo’s Ugly Nose.”

Another component to a successful Kickstarter campaign, and an additional opportunity to get creative, is a persuasive video—the more eye-catching the better.

“You have to have a really good video right at the start,” says Gratch, “which tells you exactly what the project is, why you should support it and the positive assets of it being in the world.”

Gratch believes Kickstarter can help novice publishers compete in the book industry by allowing a venue for preselling an artistic work.

Following this same tack, Irwin hopes Kickstarter will help cover production costs for a book based on his exhibit.

“I was going to do the project anyway, and I thought, ‘Why not a Kickstarter project?’” Irwin says. “It’s a way to presell your product. In my case, the more you contribute, you are actually purchasing a matted and signed piece of my work.” Irwin hopes to exhibit his agricultural photos at Deux Bayous Gallery, whether Kickstarter helps him reach his goal or not.

Kickstarter does not operate in a silo, however. A campaign still needs to create a strategic marketing plan, using traditional grassroots promotions to drive people to the Kickstarter page. Gratch believes an engaging video is crucial. Rose’s team relied heavily on age-old tactics like phone trees and personalized emails. BR Walls did all manner of promotional events and outreach to meet its goal.

“The most successful [method] is interpersonal contact,” Rose says. “Facebook is overly saturated; Twitter is overly saturated. Personal emails and phone calls really help.”

Unfortunately, not every Kickstarter campaign is a success. Since Chen launched Kickstarter’s first campaign on April 28, 2009—which did not get funded, by the way—more than 20,000 projects have been funded, but many more have not.

Local group The Cool Van, composed of three doctoral students in LSU’s School of Music, were disappointed when their first attempt at raising funds for a trip to Austria was unsuccessful. Nick Hwang, Corey Knoll and Andy Larson were offered the chance to present several of their musical inventions at the International Tuba Euphonium Conference and perform with international artist Sergio Carolino. Even though Cool Van members did not succeed the first time, they tried again.

“We asked for too much money,” Knoll says. “The way crowdsourced funding is, you find a project that interests you and donate. The people were interested, but they thought we weren’t going to reach our goal.” Once they lowered their funding goal to $3,000 and amped up promotions on Facebook and Twitter, coupled with local benefits at the Spanish Moon, they were successfully funded by March.

Michael Rogers’ project, “Horizons on the Cellular Contraption,” was not so lucky.

Rogers was only able to raise one dollar of his $700 goal to create a mixed-media project involving cell phone photography.

“I think Kickstarter is easier for artists or companies who are already established and have a following,” Rogers says. “The ‘con’ for my project was, I didn’t have one finished piece to show off in my proposal.”

Some, like Irwin and Gratch, are using Kickstarter as more of an e-commerce mechanism, while others needed help to achieve a goal they’ve already worked hard for, like the members of The Cool Van.

“If you aren’t relentless with your publicity, people aren’t going to know about [your project] and you’re not going to get anyone to give to your [Kickstarter] campaign,” says Andy Larson of The Cool Van. “The majority of the money we got was probably within the last 10 days.”

Kickstarter might be the gateway to fundraising, but it can’t be the entire operation. It can’t record blood, sweat and tears.

You have to get the word out.

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