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My Crowdfunding Crash Course: 14 Tips from The Royal Road

The Royal Road production still.

After my very successful crowdfunding campaign this summer I’ve been asked repeatedly for tips and advice by numerous other filmmakers. In the spirit of helpful guidance (and to make it easier to deal with as people keep asking me to share this info) here are my tips and guidelines. I did my campaign on Kickstarter but these guidelines are equally applicable on Indiegogo and other platforms.

1) Make sure your description is compelling, as concise as possible and conveys urgency. Click the link to see mine — you can decide whether you think it’s compelling, but in any case it was effective. Before posting I ran mine past a couple of folks for feedback and got really good input. Definitely take the time to do this and make your description the best it can be.

2) Highlight what’s important. It is fine to have lots of text that scrolls down the page, but put the important stuff up top. You should also remind people to look in the right column to pick a reward level (believe it or not there are many people who have never given to a crowdfunding campaign before).

3) Make a compelling, good-looking video that demonstrates that you know what you’re doing. A trailer featuring actual footage from your project is ideal since it gives the viewer an impression of what the film will really look like. If you can make a well-produced and creative pitch with you describing the project and explaining why you need the money that’s great too.

4) Include a sample pre-written text that people can share to Twitter and FB to help spread the word. Always make it as easy as possible for people to help you. And remember that this templated text should be succinct but have all the relevant info — see my example on my Kickstarter page and don’t forget to include the donation deadline.

5) Prep before you launch. You can write bits of promo text ahead of time for some of the landmark steps along the way — look in my “Updates” and copy/modify my text if you like. Examples of text you’ll need includes: Launch blurb (“Yee-ha! My brand new campaign, please help, etc.”), 24-hour announcement to maintain momentum (“In just 24 hours we’ve raised $X, help us keep it up!”), 48-hour ditto, text for nearing and hitting landmarks like $5K, $10K, etc. (“We’re approaching $3K, who will put us over the top?” OR “We just hit $5K, Only XK more to go!”); we did it/stretch goal (“We hit our goal, thanks! Now we’re going to reach for XK more”), thank-you blurbs (spend time composing heartfelt thank you text that is really meaningful and sincere), some sponsor plugs (“X person/business was really helpful and we want to acknowledge them”), etc. Some of this text you will use for posting as updates to your Kickstarter page, some for your personal Facebook and Twitter, some for emails, etc.

6) Plan your outreach. Make a list of blogs and press outlets and organizations with newsletters and social media pages (especially Facebook and Twitter) where you can get press or simple social media shares. Think about your constituencies for the film and hit the appropriate targets (for me the category targets I hit were: LGBT, lesbian, butch, experimental film, documentary film, indie film).

Standard great opportunities: Reach out to Indiewire to see if you can be a Project of the Day and Project of the Week! Ask Filmmaker Magazine to showcase your project on their Kickstarter page or run an item. If you are a Sundance alum they offer a ton of helpful ways to get exposure (as well as a Kickstarter deal). If you have had previous films at other festivals reach out and ask them if they can post about your project on their social media pages. (Write the text you want them to post and send it to them so all they have to do is cut and paste.) Determine any relevant organization or media outlet you can think of — reach out and ask them to help you spread the word.

I did all this outreach in the first few days and since it takes time to make them all happen I had a nice staggered series of exposure. And then each time you get press or posts you post an update about it to your Kickstarter page and to your FB, Twitter, etc. (“Our project was just showcased on AfterEllen.com!”)

I also wrote a few different personal pleas that went out to my email address book (I created a newsletter using MailChimp — which is free but takes time to set-up — to make it easier to send out these announcements). Of course, people find it annoying to get so many emails, but I put creativity and effort into asking people to humor me and I think it was bearable for them. If you do create an email newsletter and start sending it to people, do NOT just toss your whole address book in there — handpick the people who you genuinely believe will be interested in your project. In this day and age of too much email it is rude and obnoxious to add people to lists simply because you happen to have their email address.

I also wrote a standard appeal to various VIPs — people I know who are particularly influential — asking them not directly for donations but simply to help me get the word out by sharing to their Facebook pages. This was very effective in getting the word out beyond my own contacts (and many of them also chose to make contributions).

7) Focus the length of your campaign. I recommend 30 days for the campaign (mine was about 27 because I wanted it to end on a certain date and it took a few days to get it approved). Even a bit shorter could be good. I would not suggest doing it any longer than this. It is an exhausting process to maintain momentum for such a long period if time.

8) Be smart with rewards. The reward levels are really important. Try to give a good selection of relatively low-level options. And try to make your rewards be things you don’t have to physically mail (which will cost money and time). Look at mine and you’ll see what I mean. That said, be creative. People do want to be charitable but many people also really are motivated by the rewards.

Note: Kickstarter was a stickler that the rewards had to have a direct relationship to me (in the approval process they insisted I be explicit that it was something I made or was directly involved in — not sure if this is a standard thing or if they were just giving me hard time, it was kind of surprising).

9) Be confident and gracious in everything you do. You will have a great response and lots of folks will want to help you — both with donations and with helping spread the word. That said, you have to be pretty relentless about it. I found it really exhausting and would stay up until 1:00 AM prepping things and writing thank you notes.

10) Be thankful. That’s another thing. Have a heartfelt thank you note template ready to go and send individual thank you’s to each donor as they come in (I would do them in batches at the end of the day or every couple of days). As part of the note be sure you also include the templated sample FB text asking them to share with their pals. On a related note you can also try to post public thank you’s on Facebook and Twitter where you tag people who gave (FYI — there is a Facebook limit that you can only tag 10 people in each post).

11) Don’t be rude with your outreach. More on outreach: I also — crazy but true — did extensive outreach on Facebook, asking pages like Butch Nation if they could please share and sometimes posting directly on their walls (but do not do that unless it is a page where people really will experience it as interesting rather than feeling spammed). When people do campaigns and just post them on my personal wall without making a request — I delete them. Don’t be rude. Do be gracious and clever and authentic so your text is a pleasure to read. It makes a huge difference in how people will respond to you.

Of course you will find that there are unlimited things you can do for outreach, and you need to prioritize what will be most effective. I also sent direct messages to ALL of the LGBT film festivals (via Twitter, FB and email) with the templated sharing text for them to use — asking them to help spread the word. And also sent DMs to almost all of my Twitter followers like so:

Hi! Could u Plz RT: Last Day! New #lesbian film The Royal Road by @JenniOlsonSF needs help to finish! kck.st/10lSDGo

I did this using the Twitter app on my iPhone several times during the course of the campaign (you can do it while waiting at doctor’s office, in line at the school curbside pick-up lane, etc.). This was very effective in spreading the word.

Another great thing to do is sign up for HootSuite and schedule a variety of tweets which include your link (I included quotes from my film, calls to action and mentions of press coverage with tags of those outlets in hopes they would also RT). It’s great because you can do it all at once in a few sittings. And remember to also keep doing your regular tweeting and posting of other interesting things not related to your film so people don’t forget why they love following you. Some examples:

I’m up for Project of the Week on @indiewire! Please VOTE for my #LGBT film THE ROYAL ROAD. http://t.co/x6xiGD6bVi

Please Help — ONLY 2-HOURS LEFT to support my new #butch #lesbian film, The Royal Road on Kickstarter. Thx! http://t.co/aGa5CK4EnM

“By reconnecting us to our humanity, I believe nostalgia could be the very thing that saves us.” Support my film: http://t.co/BdFOZhdtAt

Also, loop in your creative team (DP, editor, cast, etc.) and ask them to do postings as much as possible (and tag them as much as you can so they also have the experience of being publicly appreciated).

I also had sponsors for the house party I did and did a few social media thank you’s where I tagged them.

Other miscellaneous promotional things:

° I had my daughter make me a sign saying “I need more money.” And took a photo of me holding it and posted to FB and Kickstarter.
° Post an excerpt from the script or anything special that makes people feel looped in or excited.
° Post images of cast (in my case, production stills of landscapes).
° You can do an additional promo video if you have energy for it.
° I also did a thing mid-way thru where if people doubled their donations they got the higher level benefits (this didn’t really have much impact).
° Grab some of the great comments that people make about you as they spread the word and re-post them on FB and Kickstarter.
° Look through my Kickstarter updates and you can see all the ones I did and the text I used.

I’m sure you will have even more creative ideas.

12) Post frequently. Did I mention the frequency of your posting about the campaign? Do not be shy about posting on your personal Facebook page numerous times a day every day for the whole campaign. But do try to make the posts interesting each time (I would post as I was approaching a landmark — “Almost at $3,000 — who can put me over the top?” and it was VERY effective). And also try to keep posting about other things as well (don’t let people forget why they find you charming and interesting).

You will also be wanting to post updates on Kickstarter. These can go either to backers only or to anyone looking at the page. Every few days is good for this. When you post remember that these folks have already given you money so you should now be doing two things. Saying thank you every time you post and asking them to help you keep spreading the word (always provide them with a bit of sample text to share on Facebook or Twitter to make it easier for them). And always include the donation link in every single post you make.

At the very end — in the last few days — you should do everything you can to think of every single possible person you can ask for help and send them a short actual personal email saying: “Dear NAME — There are only a few days left in my crowdfunding campaign. Please help me and be part of this important project.” And include a short description of your project. You really should be investing several hours a day in these last few days and try to make your requests as personal as possible. And always include your exact deadline (please give by Midnight, Wednesday, July 10th).

13) Use your signature footer. One more really good tip (see my signature file below). Include your short description and donation link in your sig file so it is always there in ALL of your correspondence.

Jenni Olson
Writer-Director, The Royal Road
Like: The Royal Road on Facebook
Follow: @JenniOlsonSF
Donate (it’s tax-deductible): http://www.sffs.org/donate/donate-now.aspx?pid=1353

° The Royal Road is a lyrical new film contemplating butch lesbian desire, nostalgia, Casanova, a history of the Mexican-American War and so much more. °

14) Lastly, FYI — brevity is good. This was the most successful post I did in terms of getting donations:

Subject: Only a few days left — Please donate NOW

Short and sweet: I need your help! It’s the final few days of my Kickstarter campaign. Please click thru to make a donation now (before Midnight, Wednesday July 10th) to support my new film, The Royal Road.


It really only takes a moment.

Thank you so much!


Feel free to plagiarize this message, and any of the text on my Kickstarter page. Okay, that’s it. Go forth and prosper!

Actually — one last final note especially for LGBT films and filmmakers:

You should also sign up for my PQProfessionals list serv (it is a list serv with hundreds of LGBT filmmakers, distributors, programmers, journalists and all kinds of LGBT film professionals). It is a very helpful place to seek guidance and make connections with people you should know. Just go here to subscribe.

There is also a Facebook page version.

That’s it! Good luck! And if anyone has additional tips and guidance to contribute please post in the comments field below — it takes a village!

About Jenni Olson: Queer film historian, archivist, activist, writer, curator, filmmaker and online pioneer Jenni Olson is also one of the world’s leading experts on LGBT film history. She is currently VP of e-commerce and marketing at Wolfe Video and sits on the advisory boards of Outfest’s Legacy Project for LGBT Film Preservation, Canyon Cinema and Kashish: The Mumbai International Queer Film Festival. Her many experimental documentary films (including the 2005 feature, The Joy of Life) have earned acclaim for their unique cinematic style. Jenni is currently in production on her second feature, The Royal Road — a lyrical new film contemplating butch lesbian desire, nostalgia, Casanova, a history of the Mexican-American War and so much more. Find out more about her film (and make a tax-deductible contribution) here.

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