Kickstarter: Like Finding Money in the Cookie Jar?

Limone #2,  egg tempera was one of the paintings Anne Belov completed while in Italy.

Witten by Anne Belov, painter, writer, printmaker and the founder of The Institute for Contemporary Panda Satire. Ms. Belov completed two Kickstarter projects — one, an egg tempera painting workshop in Corona, Italy. Pictured to the left is: Limone #2, one of the paintings Ms. Belov completed while in Italy during her Kickstarter project.

I first read about Kickstarter in a magazine article in Professional Artist Magazine. So just what is Kickstarter?  Glad you asked! Kickstarter is a web platform for crowdfunding. Crowdfunding is a way to raise money for a specific project, by appealing to a large number of people. Instead of applying for a grant, where you are competing with many people, and are dependent on catching the fancy of a very few people, you are only competing with yourself, by how appealing you can make your project sound to a large number of people, all around the world.

KIckstarter Logo: What is Kickstarter? by Anne Belov on

Here’s how Kickstarter works:

  1. You create a project, give it a catchy title, and write a description of it.
  2. You determine a budget amount to ask for, and a time limit for your project to run.  Once you have “launched” your project, you cannot change either the goal amount or the time frame.
  3. You figure out some nifty rewards you can offer to backers, at various levels of support.  (More about this later)
  4. You submit your project to the powers that be at Kickstarter.
  5. After acceptance, you can take all the time you need to tweak your project into perfection, so that, after your project goes out into cyber space…
  6. People will look in awe upon your project campaign, and sign up to contribute to it.

WOW! It’s just like free money!

Um…hold the phone. It’s not quite that easy. The shores of cyberspace are strewn with the bloody carcasses of failed Kickstarter projects. According to this year’s statistics, only about 36% of projects launched in 2012 were successful. In other years it was closer to 48%.  Why the decline in success rate?  I can only speculate that as crowdfunding has gained in popularity, more people who are less well prepared are giving Kickstarter a whirl.  Kickstarter is an all or nothing system. If you don’t reach your funding goal in the allotted time frame, you get bupkis.

But you can be one of the well-prepared people who test the waters of popular opinion, and reap the rewards, (pun intended.)

Here are some tips to improve your odds when engaging in a crowdfunding endeavor:

Your project should have:

  • A short catchy title
  • A one-sentence description that catches peoples attention immediately. This will be posted in your project listing so this is a chance to grab peoples’ attention. You only get 135 characters, so make them count.
  • Your longer project description should still be concise, with a bit more explanation and background. Again, keep it brief while putting your distinctive voice and personality into it.
  • Great visuals: both of your intended work, as well as people enjoying your work.

You also need to have a video, which introduces you and gives a brief explanation of your project. Unless you have the budget to pay someone who knows what they are doing, a short, sincere video is more effective than one that drones on and on telling people everything about your project. Something quirky and fun is going to hold peoples’ attention.  Again, it should be in keeping with the spirit and substance of you and your project.

  • Try to keep it under two minutes, unless it’s really cool.
  • If it has music, make sure you have the right to use it (no illegal downloads).
  • Have a narrator with a good voice.  (If this is not you, get your friend with the sexy voice to do it.)
  • Be creative.  It does NOT have to be a video of you talking about your project.  Your video can be a slideshow of images done in iMovie with captions, music, and/or a voice over.

Rewards for Your Backers

Here’s where good strategy can give you extra help. Once your project is launched, you can continue to add rewards.  Once someone has signed up for a particular reward level you can no longer edit or remove it, so make sure all the information is correct before you launch your project or post a new reward.  While some people just want to help you, most people really like getting all the swag!  Make sure that you are asking for enough for each reward level so you are not in the hole at the end of your project.

Important to Remember:

  1. Kickstarter takes 5% of the total amount pledged PLUS credit card fees.  When all is said and done, this is about 8-10%.  MAKE SURE YOU ACCOUNT FOR THAT WHEN SETTING YOUR BUDGET GOAL.
  2. Limit the number of reward levels at the beginning.  You can always add more, and in fact, this is a good way to keep people coming back to your page (and telling their friends!)
  3. Thank EVERYONE in an individual email, as soon as you see that they have contributed, not just in the updates.  They may only have $1 to send you now, but who knows. They might inherit $100,000,000 next week, and since you were so nice when they were poor, they could decide to send more your way.
  4. Overestimate how long it will take you to get the rewards ready and shipped. It is a far, far better thing to deliver early than late. And if you ARE going to be late, contact all your backers and let them know, so that they still like you. This is crucial with original, one of a kind rewards.
  5. Don’t forget to factor in shipping costs.  It seems to be standard practice to add on $5-20 for international shipping, but feels a little cheesy to do it for domestic stuff, unless what you are offering is particularly expensive to ship.

Since there is a time limit (Kickstarter recommends 30 days or less) of up to 60 days, when you start and stop your project makes a difference. Keep in mind that many people are online while at work, so launch your project during the work- week. You also do not want to end your project in the middle of the night, just in case it goes down to the wire.

It is recommended that you don’t wait until you launch before you start getting the word out. By all means, contact the local press, your friends and any other group you are a part of.  If you have email and physical mailing lists of supporters of your artwork, not to mention any social media sites you are active on, send out the word before your project launches so that you can start with a bang.  Do NOT buy a list of email prospects.  It is one of the things that is strictly prohibited and will get your project shut down.

Your placement on the Kickstarter home page is dependent on how much activity your project has, so having a bunch of your friends ready to hit the “back this project” button as soon as you hit the cyber waves, is a great boost to your placement.  And, if you are really lucky and/or have a project that tickles the fancy of the Kickstarter staff, you may end up as a staff pick, which gets you even better positioning on the Kickstarter home page.

The Powers that Be: Kickstarter Staff

Before your project can go “live” you must submit it for approval.  You should read all their information about what kinds of rewards and practices are specifically prohibited. They have excellent tutorials about all aspects of creating a Kickstarter project.  They are also willing to answer any question you might have before and during your project.

These are some examples of some really well done Kickstarter projects, past and present:

  1. Ukiyo-e Heroes
  2. Kerfluffles Marshmallows
  3. Pine-Stock
  4. Cook on Clay
  5. Bill Plympton’s Cheatin’
  6. Foraging and Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook

Even projects that are completed live for a long time, if not forever, on the Kickstarter website.  Just do a search for these project names. What they have in common, is the passion that they reveal for their work and their projects.  If you are considering a Kickstarter project of your own, studying these projects would serve you well.  In fact, following and supporting other Kickstarter projects is not only a great learning experience, it is a hell of a lot of fun too, (and potentially addictive.)

My Experience with Kickstarter

In 2012, I did two projects with Kickstarter.  I was signed up to take an egg tempera painting workshop with Fred Wessel, which would take place in Cortona, Italy in June of 2012.  Because egg tempera is a slow, time consuming medium, I did not want to make egg tempera paintings part of my rewards.  However, I am also a printmaker, working in monoprint and polymer plate lithography.  I decided that I would take small litho plates, outfitted in a sketchbook, and draw the plates on site, and print them on my return.  For some higher end rewards, I put 10 prints in hand-bound portfolios.

Now that I have two successful Kickstarter projects under my belt, I have also advised several people on their projects, one successful and one about to launch. It is a lot more work than you think it will be, but rewarding in more ways than just financially.  I highly recommend it as a way to kick your creative career to the next level.

Anne Belov paints, writes, makes prints, and is the founder of The Institute for Contemporary Panda Satire. She has a BFA in Painting from University of the Arts in Philadelphia PA, and an MFA in painting from University of Washington, in Seattle.  You can find her paintings at the Rob Schouten Gallery , her cartoons on The Panda Chronicles , and her new book here. She will be teaching beginning egg tempera at the Whidbey Island Fine Art Studio in April. For more information: contact WIFAS. She writes regularly for The Whidbey Life Magazine, a free journal of art and culture on Whidbey Island, Washington.



2 thoughts on “Kickstarter: Like Finding Money in the Cookie Jar?

  1. Hello. I noticed your blog title, “What is Kickstarter? | New York Artists Online: Online Gallery and Resource for NY Artists Worldwide” does not really reflect the content of your site. When composing your site title, do you think it’s most beneficial to write it for Search engine marketing or for your viewers? This is one thing I’ve been battling with mainly because I want great rankings but at the same time I want the best quality for my website visitors.

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