Kickstarter: Turning Crowdfunding Into Community Building

Not long ago, the Spy Museum in Washington DC hosted a meeting focused around Kickstarter, a website aiming to raise money and build “vibrant communities” around creative projects. The meeting, titled “The Ups and Downs of a Great Kickstarter, What Works and What Doesn’t?”, saw the presence among others of Stephanie Pereira, Kickstarter’s Art Program Director, to whom we are indebted for an overview of projects related to the cultural and museum sector.

As I was lucky enough to attend the meeting, here’s my recap, #svegliamuseoontour style!

When I think of Kickstarter, I instantly associate it in my mind with the idea of a platform enabling a crowd-funding provision for those kind of projects that would usually remain unfunded – either because too “niche-y” or too extravagant. These two examples (see here and here) give a perfect sample of the kind of extravagance, a way of getting a “kick” just as good as that of being supported by a celebrity (which does happen): a simple call out, and – 1 dollar bill after another – there you have your unthinkable amount.

The common thread of all these projects, especially the most eccentric, though, is that every Kickstart has a story, and a way of getting to a wider community and turning it into a group of believers, supporting it to its very end. Wait, what? Doesn’t’ it sound an awful lot like something museums do every single day to engage their audiences? In a way, we could say that what Kickstarter does has very little to do with just a mere fund raise.


Three Key Elements

Stephanie pointed out the three key elements of a Kickstarter campaing, around which revolve the making of a community.

1) Video

The project must be “narrated” through a video, speaking straight to the audience with with your own voice. Some of the videos are filmed in the form of short movies, mixing funny and emotional aspects. I could cite many examples, but I’ll let you find your own: you can do it by browsing the “Explore” section of the website or the list of favorites sorted by year (here’s 2013).

2) Reward

Once you have helped finance a project, you always get a reward, be it a copy of the product you have helped produce (a movie, a book), a gadget or a special recognition. It’s “Engagement 1.01”: rewards – no matter how big they are – are key factors to a participatory involvement of the audience.

3) Updates

Rewards set aside, there are other ways to engage your “backers” after they have made their donation – that is, insert their contacts into a mailing list and allow them to be “part of the process”. Updates are a vital part of your storytelling process, much in the like of a blog through which let your audience explore the “behind the scenes” with your and be involved even after the project is done. Your backers are also allowed to share your updates, so spreading your idea and becoming your true “followers”.

It is through these elements that your backers can turn into a community instead of a nameless crowd of indistinct contributions. Kickstarter acts as some sort of public program providing access to exclusive contents and opportunities hard to find elsewhere.

Museums and cultural institutions feature on Kickstarter with various projects (have a look here to see some). It must noted, unfortunately, that tax restrictions apply on donations, so making it harder for non-profit campaigns – means to by-pass the problem, though, exist, such as tax refunds for spontaneous private donations.

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Some Examples

During the DC meeting, it has also been underlined that the most successful Kickstarter campaigns do not usually originate from a necessity to raise funds. Should this be the case, though, it would be necessary for your project to have a specific focus, one that you know to be rooted in your target community. An example? The Time-Based Art Festival, an event supporting experimental artists from all over the world very much loved by the people in its host city, Portland.

Another museum on the platform is the British Bowes Museum, which turned to Kickstarter to fund a quite remarkable neon installation on its façade by the artist Gavin Turk. The most impressive element of this campaign is the number and type of rewards, very museum bookshop-style: posters and various gadgets created by the artist himself.

A slightly different example is that of the Marina Abramovic Institute, dedicated to the diffusion and implementation of long durational art, and integrated with its public since its very foundation. Its Kickstarter project was at the very center of the media attention for two reasons: on one side, the involvement of the famous artist Marina Abramovic herself (one of the rewards? A hug from her), on the other, the participation of another artistic figure, that of Lagy Gaga.

It goes without saying that this campaign gained global scale, but exceptionalities set aside, what all these examples have in common is the enormous engagement they created by presenting a nicely packaged message, with its own voice and history made up of emotional elements. And to do this, museums don’t need a Lady Gaga. What they need is to embrace the Kickstarter philosophy and start every project, not only the crowdfunding ones, with this kind of an approach.

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Here is a quick list of different crowd-funding platforms suitable for Museums:

Indiegogo – very similar to Kickstarter, yet more flexible. The platform allows the creator to keep the amount of money raised even if it doesn’t reach the initial goal (a “Keep what you raise” model v/s “All or Nothing”). Check out the campaign to create the Tesla Museum, an idea by the creator of The Oatmeal (beware, highly entertaining!).

Razoo – When the Smithsonian Freer / Sackler Gallery had to raise money for its Yoga: the Art of Transformation exhibition, it turned to this platform. The most interesting thing about this campaign is the fact that the Museum has recruited “Yoga Messengers” to spread the word on the fundraising.

And what about you? Do you have any experience with crowd-funding? Which platforms would you suggest to any museum new to the task and open to experimentation? Which strategy tips would you give not only to raise money but also to engage the audience?

 Leave a comment and let us know!

Image source: Scott Beale/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Translated by @RoryInLA