Casting a Wide Net

Crowdfunding Allows Entrepreneurs to Raise Money from Many Sources

By Sherry Greenfield | Photography by Douglas Via/PicStamatic | Posted on 02.04.15 – Diversions, People & Places

Last July 18, some 450 people descended on Carroll Creek Linear Park in Downtown Frederick to watch a free showing of the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Not realizing how popular this first-ever “Free Movie Night on Carroll Creek” would be, the Downtown Frederick Partnership, the nonprofit organization sponsoring the event, had only planned for 100 to 150 people.

With excitement mounting for the next free movie night, the organization quickly realized they needed to raise $5,700 to purchase a larger movie screen. But instead of getting the money from a bank or holding a traditional fundraising campaign, they turned to crowdfunding, a relatively new model of raising money from large numbers of people via the internet.

The Downtown Frederick Partnership successfully raised the money through Kickstarter, an online global crowdfunding company that launched in 2009, to help entrepreneurs raise money for film projects, games, music, art, books and technology. “We had a very successful experience,” says Steven Colella, the organization’s promotion and events manager. “We were able to promote it steadily. We did have a significant donation that pushed it through in the end.”
Kickstarter is an independent online fundraising company based in Brooklyn, New York.

According to its website, www.kickstarter.com, since 2009 approximately 7.7 million people have pledged $1 billion to help fund 76,000 projects. Each project posted on its website is independently created and crafted by the person behind it, the company states. The filmmakers, musicians, artists and designers have complete control and responsibility over their projects.

The entrepreneurs behind each project set their own funding goal and deadline. If people in the community like a project, they can pledge money. If a project succeeds in reaching its funding goal, those who have pledged money will be charged, according to Kickstarter. If the project falls short of meeting its goal, no one is charged. If a project is successfully funded, Kickstarter takes 5 percent of the funds collected as their fee.

The Downtown Frederick Partnership met their goal of raising $5,700 on Sept.5, using Facebook to reach out to donors. “We took a social media approach,” Colella says. “We have 6,000 people following us on Facebook. We also issued a press release letting people know what we were doing.”

The partnership also rewarded the 39 “backers,” the term Kickstarter uses to describe donors, for their contributions. For example, backers that pledged $10 saw their names listed after the movie credits; backers pledging $50 or more, received two free tickets to the Alive@Five concert series on Carroll Creek, and their names appeared in a special “Friend of Movie Night” slide show.

Since the organization already had strong community support, it was confident it could meet their goal using this approach. “We had a good concept and good community support,” Colella says. “I think if anyone has a good project, [Kickstarter] will work exceptionally well. We had a lot of positive feedback.”

Turbo the Flying Dog

Victoria Zajko of Frederick and Kelly Kennedy of New Market had an idea to publish a children’s book based on their own dogs, Turbo and Olive, as the main characters. Using Kickstarter, the women successfully raised $5,838 from 101 backers, meeting their fundraising goal on Nov. 2.

Turbo the Flying Dog, a lighthearted adventure series focusing on family and overcoming ones fears, debuted for Christmas and sold over 250 copies in December alone. “As with any new business venture, our book needed a considerable amount of funding to get published, something we just didn’t have to spare,” says Zajko.

“We chose Kickstarter because it was an easy to use online platform that encouraged the business to be realistic in their goals, because you do not receive funding unless you reach your goal. It also allows you to set reward tiers, which means we were able to show our appreciation in an easy and tangible way.”

For example, backers pledging $20 or more received a Turbo Flying Dog bandana and sticker. Their strategy for getting the word out to backers? Turbo and Olive themselves. “Luckily dogs are cute,” Zajko says. “Turbo and Olive have their own Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.

Most of the accounts existed before we even started writing the book. Our fans and followers were an immense help in getting the word out. We also wrote and distributed press releases, printed business cards and relied on word of mouth.” Though both say they would recommend Kickstarter to other entrepreneurs, there is one disadvantage.

“They take a percentage off the top … because of this, the biggest piece of planning advice I can give to anyone planning a Kickstarter campaign is to make sure you factor that into your budget,” Zajko said. After a successful launch of their first book, their second book, Turbo Learns to Fly–again featuring Turbo and Olive–is due out this summer.

Edible Landscaping

Michael Judd, the principal landscape designer with Ecologia Design in Frederick, also found success in crowdfunding when he set out to publish his book, Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist. With 71 backers on Kickstarter, Judd actually exceeded his fundraising goal of $4,500, raising a total of $10,000 in 2012.

“Most of the support came from the community,” he says. “Through talking, emails, and a lot of leg work.” A how-to manual on transforming your lawn into a flourishing, edible landscape, the book is currently in its fourth printing. Judd says people always want to know whether Kickstarter is the right venue to launch their project.

“I tell them, ‘It will take quite a bit of work and explaining your project,’” he says. “It’s not an easy thing. You really have to be ready to do a lot of work. I would say, ‘Be ready to put the time in.’” But he has few regrets. “Using Kickstarter built a community for me and it gave me encouragement in writing a book for the first time,” he said. “My book has
done wonderfully.”