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On Kickstarter Etiquette and Crowd-Funding Fatigue

Lately, I've heard many people complain that they feel inundated by Kickstarter requests. Rather than a platform to support creative visionaries, it's become just another way to hit people up for money.
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Hand holding out money, multiple hands receiving
Hand holding out money, multiple hands receiving

I remember when I first discovered Kickstarter.

Now anybody can be a patron of the arts? How cool is that!

I remember growing up, considering a career in the arts, and being told that without a record label, I could never put out an album. Without waiting in cattle call audition lines, I could never perform on Broadway. Without writing a multi-million dollar check, I could never be considered a "patron" of anything.

Then, along came Kickstarter, and everything changed. It democratized the arts and enabled anybody to post a creative project and find funders. What an amazing idea! Why shouldn't a movie have a thousand "producers" listed in the credits? Why shouldn't a band be able to fund an album directly via fans? Through Kickstarter, we saw the Pebble watch raise a record $10.2 million. We saw the Veronica Mars movie raise $2 million in less than 10 hours! I supported my good friend, Jimmy, in producing "It Gets Better: The Musical" -- a theater production that likely would not have happened in a pre crowd-funding world. A Kickstarter-funded film won an Academy Award this year. Heck, Philadelphia got a pizza museum and Chattanooga even got their very own font!

But the novelty and appeal have long since worn off.

Lately, I've heard many people complain that they feel inundated by Kickstarter requests. Rather than a platform to support creative visionaries, it's become just another way to hit people up for money. It's quickly gone from a celebration of the arts to a commentary on modern society where (1) it's become totally acceptable to ask people for money all the time, because we are protected behind a computer screen, and (2) absolutely everyone thinks they have something to say or showcase that warrants public attention.

I really love supporting my friends. I like sharing their Facebook posts, contributing to their charity marathons, buying their books, linking to them from my blog -- you name it. As someone who once dreamed of singing on Broadway (and not so secretly still dreams it), I get so much enjoyment from supporting the arts and feel horrible knowing that if someone doesn't raise the full amount of their Kickstarter pledge, then all the money gets forfeited. But I also acknowledge that there's a really fine line between supporting artistic projects and socially acceptable pan-handling.

I'm just feeling a bit burnt out. Am I soon going to have to start the next Kickstarter of my own just to fund my own Kickstarter giving?

If you're creating a crowd-funding campaign, here are a few etiquette tips to keep in mind before asking others to support you:

1) If you promise something, and people give you money, you need to deliver on your promise. You only get one chance with most people. That means that you shouldn't have multiple Kickstarter projects going simultaneously. Offer a wide array of funding levels (not just $5 and $500) to enable anyone to back you without feeling weird about it. Provide creative incentives that you can realistically deliver on to show people you appreciate their support at any level.

2) Make sure your promotional video is really awesome. Keep it short (under a minute is ideal), and make it as creative and shareable as possible. People need to like you, believe in you, and feel excited about your project. Seeing you speak will reassure backers that you are trustworthy and committed. Most importantly, people are going to want to understand exactly what you plan to do with their money. So be honest with them.

3) It's bad etiquette to keep hitting up your friends and family repeatedly for money. Make sure you have at least a little bit of a fan base before you go out and start Kickstarting. If your only support base right now is friends and family, you might want to wait a bit longer.

And if you're on the giving side of a Kickstarter campaign, here are a few recommendations:

1) If you decide to support a project, there's no pre-determined etiquette around how much you have to give. Remember that any amount is okay, even $5. Sometimes the symbolic value of giving means more to a friend than the actual amount itself. If it's someone who has supported one of your asks or charity walk-a-thons in the past, though, you might consider matching the level they gave you.

2) Consider impact. Even though many Kickstarter projects fail and are definitely a gamble to back, remember that your support of a $4,000 photography project likely means so much more to the artist and has the potential for a much bigger impact than the same contribution to a museum that has a multi-million dollar budget.

3) No matter what, only give money that you can afford to lose. Because you're not "investing" in a project when you back it on Kickstarter (meaning you're not a shareholder), you'll never see financial returns from your money. So set a budget for yourself that is reasonable, where you can have fun supporting budding artistic projects without feeling so stressed out about financials that you're tempted to sue over $70, like this guy.

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