When filmmakers (or anyone, actually) gear up for a crowdfunding campaign, there are some obvious tasks to tackle: pick an ambitious but reasonable goal, create a kickass landing page, perfect your pitch video, line up ambassadors, etc. But one duty too often overlooked is the essential experience of backing other people's projects in order to see for yourself what it’s like. A good backer makes for a good asker. Give to get.
1. Experience breeds competence/confidence.
In the midst of a campaign, your backers will have questions about how to use the crowdfunding platform you selected, and you need to be able to answer their questions as confidently and quickly as possible. Just because you've seen a thousand crowdfunding campaigns trickle down your twitter stream doesn't mean you'll be able to explain crowdfunding succinctly to your Aunt Janet, who barely understands Facebook, or your father, who doesn't trust the internet with his credit card. There are going to be lots of questions about how this whole "crowdfunding thing-a-ma-jig" thing works, and saying, ‘Oh, um, I don’t know, I’ll write to customer service or whatever” could lose you a crucial $25 or $100 or $1000 contribution. Be prepared; go through the backer process yourself so that you can walk others through it in a way that inspires trust, pride, and confidence.
2. Be a giver, not just a taker.
To me, there’s always something a bit disconcerting about a crowdfunder who pops up out of nowhere and hasn’t funded anyone else’s projects. Don't be the guy who shows up to the party empty handed and starts drinking the best booze. Back some projects. Make some friends. And don’t be surprised when they show up to YOUR crowdfunding party with a bunch of super-cool pals.
3. Give a little; get a lot.
You don’t have to be a big baller to be a great backer. Recently I saw Wonder Russell declare on Twitter that she was going to split $25 betwixt the first five crowdfunding campaigns recommended to her by Twitter pals. That was a fabulous way to see who was using social media to connect with people she trusted. Be like Wonder: ask your friends for help in finding interesting projects to back. And then start thinking about how you'll get people to recommend YOUR project to others.
4. Soak up the details.
If you're a filmmaker, you're a storyteller, someone who observes others and collects experiences in order to tell your tales. Put those bat skills to use when setting up your crowdfunding campaign. After you click 'Back This Project' (on Kickstarter) or 'Contribute Now' (on Indiegogo), pay attention to every detail of the crowdfunding backer process with the same intensity you us to eavesdrop on the couple fighting next to you at the coffee shop (looking at you, Jeanne Veillette Bowerman, you stalker you).
Things to consider about your backing experience: How long did it take to contribute? How many passwords did you have to enter? How many accounts did you have to set up? How easy was it to pick your perk? Do you care whether or not you actually get that perk? What happens if you want to increase your contribution? What is it like to get backer updates via email? After you backed, did you feel any backer remorse? The best way to answer these questions and more? Become a backer.
5. Don’t just give money; give air.
Remember the episode of Seinfeld where Elaine asked her bathroom stall neighbor if she could ‘spare a square?’ That didn’t end well for Elaine or the stingy gal she (SPOILER!) got her revenge on later. Asking someone for a favor you’ve denied them (even unintentionally) just isn’t good form.
Crowdfunding success relies on social media presence, so 'retweets' and Facebook posts on your friends' pages are just as valuable as their dollars. When you back someone else's project, don’t be shy about spreading the word about it. Of course, use some common sense. Don't flood your twitter stream with RTs of every campaign you see; use this as an opportunity to convey that you care about quality and craft. When the time is right, you'll need to ask others to spread the word about your campaign, so make sure you've already built up some good will in this area.
Being a backer will help you create a more solid crowdfunding campaign for your own project. Don’t be a Grinch; shell out a few bucks, get some valuable experience, and support other people’s dreams while you’re at it.