Crowdfunding case studies

I’ve been interested in crowdfunding for a little while but recently had the opportunity to look at the area a lot more closely, being involved in some work related to the current project to raise funds for the new John Peel Centre.

I’m collecting links to good crowdfunding case studies over on Delicious. Here are some of the better ones.

Some examples

Craig Mod’s article about funding Art Space Tokyo is a must-read with some solid tips and some strong analysis around pledge tiers and some insight into their approach to marketing.

Suw Charman-Anderson has blogged about the things she wishes she’d known at the start of the process. Don’t underestimate the amount of time required to promote the crowdfunding and get as much as possible lined up beforehand.

Leonard Richardson recently backed 52 Kickstarter projects in one month and has analysed the results, drawing out some good lessons for wannabe fundraisers. Part one of his report makes some general points about what makes for a good fundraising project (hustle, don’t ask for too much and don’t make your rewards too niche).

The second part looks at a single project and pulls out some good stats, making the point that most projects aren’t going to get all that many backers, therefore:

you need to make each backer count. That means raising the mean contribution or lowering the goal

He ends by suggesting people gauge their own projects with reference to similar ones run by others:

Look at the tiers they set up, see how many people pledged at each level, see how much money they actually raised and where it came from. A cool video can get people wanting to back your project, but the reward tiers and the goal you set will determine how much money you see

On T-Shirts and Suits, David Parrish makes the point that:

You can use crowd-funding platforms to test the market for a new product, service or project, in parallel with raising finance to fund new creative initiatives

Which reminded me of this post about using Google Ads to test prospective book titles. Slightly off topic, but worth mentioning.

The Kickstarter and Patronage panel from GenCon 2011 is worth a listen.

The crowdfunding sites themselves are generally pretty good at putting out tips and stats, for obvious reasons. For instance, on their second birthday Kickstarter shared data representing activity on the site between April 2009 and April 2011. It’s really good.  On top of that, Cindy Au is an employee there and Fred Kicks has some good notes from her stat-packed talk at the Metatopia Game Design Festival.

WeDidThis have picked out some information about the kind of people who donate via their site.

Studio Neat

I very strongly recommend you read this post about Studio Neat‘s first Kickstarter project – Idea to Market in 5 Months: Making The Glif. There are relatively few lessons to take away on the fundraising side of things, what with how things panned out, but I think it’s amazing to see just how much two people are able to achieve using a crowdfunding service and a handful of online services.

Studio Neat went back to Kickstarter for their second project – an iPad stylus called the Cosmonaut. This time they tried something different – they set a target of $50,000 but allowed donors to pledge as little or as much as they liked, at the same time limiting the number of backers to 3,000. The Kickstarter blog broke down the figures:

If everyone pledges $1, nobody gets the Cosmonaut. If everyone were to pledge the same amount, they’d each be pledging about $16.66. And if some people are feeling generous and pledge $25 or $30, suddenly there’s room for a few people to pledge $1 or $5 or $10

All 3,000 slots were taken in less than 48 hours with backers pledging just short of the $50,000 required. Rather than upsell some of those backers, two fixed-price tiers (pricing the Cosmonaut at $25 – higher than the average required by the 3000 initial backers) allowed more people to pre-pay for their items. By the end, a total of $134,236 had been raised.

The pay-what-you-want thing struck me as very clever indeed:

  • It created a sense of urgency – people needed to get on board quickly for the chance to snag a potential bargain
  • The barrier to entry for those people was very low – just $1 (although many paid more)
  • Once those people are invested, you can get them to advocate for you or upsell them in order to reach the target
  • It makes for a good story in itself. With more and more crowdfunding projects people are going to need to find ways to stand out from the crowd

It’s still early days with this crowdfunding so it’s good to see people pushing the format to see what works and what doesn’t. It’s great to see so many people documenting their experiences too.

Digital philanthropy for the arts

Digital Philanthropy for the Arts - Panlogic

Panlogic recently released a report called Digital Philanthropy for the Arts. It’s good – thorough and well-explained and worth recommending to clients as reading material.

The key findings are as follows (and taken directly from the executive summary):

  • Emotion is the key reason why people give. Arts organisations need to optimise the giving process to give donors reasons to feel good and to look good in front of their peers
  • Technology has changed who gives and how. As a result, Arts organisations need to overcome their demographic prejudices, that too often still focus on monthly direct debits from baby boomers. The Arts world is moving from a model of fewer, high level donations to many, smaller donations.
  • Mobile giving is the way forwards. We believe that a national mobile-giving platform (allowing donors to text the amount they wish to donate to an organisation-specific number) would help drive significant impulse donations. Vodafone are leading on this with their JustTextGiving service.
  • Arts organisations need to ensure that all the ‘hygiene’ factors within the giving journey are ticked. They must be visibly unflashy and efficient. Their appeals must be explicit and proactive, ideally leveraging their creative talent
  • The main reasons for not giving fall within the Arts organisation’s to resolve – so ‘don’t put barriers up’

Elsewhere, I’d recommend the list of barriers to entry cited by organisations (p8) and things that might go wrong (p32). I’d also suggest you read the reasons why people do (pp9-12) and don’t (pp14-16) give and the best practices with regard to donors, digital (generally) and social media (p20 onwards).

The breakdown of the Southbank Centre’s email supporting their Pull Out All The Stops was interesting (and not unfair at all, criticism doesn’t come much more constructive).

In conclusion then, good stuff.

On a related note, JustGiving has revealed average donation values of social media shares. Apparently Facebook drives the most donations and Twitter drives the highest average donations.

Lonely shops and bustling shopping centres

There are all sorts of ways for artists and makers to sell their wares online. Decent storefront options abound and generally come in one of three flavours:

Putting aside the market place sites, the problem with individual stores and bespoke sites is that people end up trying to drive traffic to their individual, isolated shops. They’re tacked on to their portfolio websites but rarely linked to from anywhere else. They might look very nice, but there are no shoppers browsing by. They look a bit like this:

Prairie Prada in Marfa Texas

(Photo by Anthony Citrano,

Whereas retailers understand that by clumping together with others in one place they’re more likely to attract passing trade.


(Photo by Daniel Morris)

To be fair, this is what the market place solutions are going for. Storebeez allows you to search across stores, as does Big Cartel (although this feature’s a bit hidden). Even so, I have a suggestion for improving things.

How to improve things

I run a decent-sized, geographically specific arts and culture blog. I’d like to have a shop of some sort on there but I don’t want to deal with the admin of actually running it. However, I could provide some of that much needed footfall.

What I’d like to be able to do is set up a virtual shopping centre, bringing together individual stores that I think are relevant to my audience:

  1. Give me a front page
  2. Let me customise my shopping centre a little (header, colours, fonts, links back to my site)
  3. Allow me to select the shops that would populate that shopping centre
  4. Give me a way of attaching it to my site
  5. Let me earn affiliate payments for any sales made and/or new stores set up

That would do as a starting point. Later on, give me the option to group or highlight sub-lists of products (a round-up of Christmas gifts, for example), give me more granular control by letting me exclude certain products from sellers’ inventory, give me some analytics and so on. If it’s a successful mall maybe people could pay me to be listed in it, or to have their products listed as ‘featured’ (a bit like Badoo‘s premium Rise Up and Spotlight features).

I wouldn’t be interested in having any direct influence over individual store owners – inventory, pricing, order fulfilment, customer service and so on wouldn’t be of any interest to me. I’d just send traffic their way and let them deal with the rest. It wouldn’t even be an exclusive deal – they could potentially appear in hundreds of these virtual shopping centres.

The benefits

Everyone wins:

  • Sellers get more traffic to their stores without having to lift a finger. In fact, more people are being incentivised to sell their work for them
  • Buyers don’t have to search around for shops – sellers and their products are more easily discoverable
  • The store provider gets more sellers using their platform and more customers buying products through it
  • Website owners get a useful, low maintenance feature for their websites that comes with the prospect of earning them (and some independent artists and makers) a little money

The size of the opportunity

I’m sure many other websites and blogs would relish the opportunity to do the same – for instance, there are plenty of big design-focussed sites that could make use of something like this. I can see lots of possible configurations too:

  • Created in Birmingham’s mall would aggregate shops that belong to artists of all sorts from around Birmingham
  • Someone who blogs about knitting might aggregate shops set up by knitters from around the world
  • A collective of artists might promote a single mall that brings together all of their individual stores
  • A big design blog might feature products they’ve covered

In summary

If anyone from Shopify, Goodsie, Storebeez or Big Cartel happens to be reading this then please build this feature. I’ll then tell everyone to get stores with you (and I’m sure others will do likewise).

Or maybe someone’s already doing this and I’ve not spotted it – anyone? For all I know, it might be possible to do something with Shopify’s API. Alternatively, there might be a good reason why nobody’s doing this yet – would it be too much hassle?