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VidCon: Experts Offer 5 Tips for Crowdfunding Success

Vlogumentary Trailer Screen Grab - H 2013
"Vlogumentary"

Successful YouTube crowdfunders offer cost-saving perks, reveal a detailed budget and other advice.

ANAHEIM, Calif. – Although multiple projects with Hollywood roots have recently made headlines by hopping on the crowdfunding bandwagon, the online community has been at the game for a while now. A panel of experts assembled at VidCon on Saturday afternoon to share strategies on how they have consistently conducted successful crowdfunding campaigns, even without the benefit of industry pedigrees.

1. Leverage your biggest fans and let them donate first.

Like a startup company embarking on a round of Series A financing, alerting the most engaged segment of your following to your upcoming campaign and inviting them to an exclusive initial giving round will help to prime the rest of the donations. “It validates the campaign by the time the public gets it,” said ApprenticeA Productions president Corey Vidal, who successfully raised $201,989 on Indiegogo in two weeks in January to make Vlogumentary, an upcoming documentary feature on YouTube’s most famous vloggers. (Watch the trailer below.)

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2. Consider your perks carefully.

Know your donor audience, and tailor your offerings to what they would want. “People love it when you name something after them,” said Jenni Powell, a producer at Pemberley Digital, whose two $1,000 offers to become characters in its web series Return to Sanditon were quickly snapped up by backers this spring. “It’s personal, and they feel like they have a piece of the ownership.” And, of course, perks that are intangible -- like a digital copy of the project -- also save on production and shipping costs.

3. Be specific about how you’ll spend the money.

Indie game developer Lab Zero was hit with immediate backlash when news leaked in February that it was planning to ask fans to donate $150,000 to add a single new character to its cult hit Skullgirls. But when the campaign actually launched, Lab Zero provided a detailed budget that included line items from staff salaries to quality assurance testing. The project hit its goal in 22 hours. A month later, the campaign closed with more than $800,000, enough to fund five new characters for the game.

4. Be genuine but not desperate.

“It’s not like I’m asking for money as a favor, to make my car payment,” Vidal says. “Don’t donate if you don’t believe [in the project].” Adds John Vaskis, gaming lead at Indiegogo: “Crowdfunding isn’t panhandling. If you show that this is something you really want to do, the crowd will feel that.”

5. Be prepared for the best case scenario.

As Skullgirls’ pledges grew, Lab Zero continued to promise more characters and other downloadable game content when the campaign reached certain “stretch goal” milestones. Pemberley Digital had asked for $60,000 to produce DVDs for its Jane Austen web series adaptation The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and help fund its spinoff, Return to Sanditon. It reached that goal in three hours and was on its way to $100,000 a day later. “That’s when managers and agents started calling,” Powell told The Hollywood Reporter. “They thought this was just a little web thing [for their actor clients], but now there’s all this money.” Pemberley ended its monthlong campaign with $460,000 -- 771% above goal -- in April, but Powell and her fellow producers are still working out how to distribute the excess revenue among the cast and crew. “When your audience gives you donations, what are the rules for paying those donations to actors?” Powell said. “When this whole thing is done, I’m going to sit down with SAG-AFTRA and literally the rules will form based on how this goes, which is crazy.”