A big thanks to Brian Ackley for sharing his words of wisdom about his campaign on IndieGoGo. Brian's musings are reposted from his blog where he and his team have many great projects underway.
One Way Or Another Productions recently ended its Indiegogo.com Campaign to raise money for the feature version of Kent Sutton’s “Miranda.” In 3 months, we have raised $698 of our originally-intended $25K budget. As dismal a failure as this may be, it is not a depressing one; for we have survived this wreckage with more than a few lessons to apply toward our next campaign.
There’s an unwritten rule of courtesy within the filmmaking niche of online crowd-funding. It suggests that you share what you have learned in your experience to raise money in this way with others who may be looking to do the same. Indeed, this is where One Way started. We read what other filmmakers had to say about the successes and failures of their campaigns. It becomes only fitting that we make public our own thoughts on the matter.
While we still have more questions than answers, part of what is clear is that we knew what had to be done in order to launch a successful campaign, but we rushed the process and disregarded a proper sequence of doing things. We tended to either downplay the importance of a particular step or assume that we understood all aspects of it when we did not. Eagerness and ignorance caused us to underperform.
The following represents what we should have done better BEFORE we launched our campaign (not during).
DEFINE YOUR GOALS
Originally, One Way’s goal was a singular one – raise $25K for the making of a feature film. It was simple in concept, but the idea itself was under-developed. At the time we hadn’t outlined our budget, and, worse, our goal was unrealistic. Realizing this half-way through, our goal would shift to include seeking grant money to support a larger budget and distributing the film to Domestic Violence organizations – which meant that we effectively lost a month and a half’s time campaigning with an incomplete message.
Have your goals – all of them – clearly defined and understood by your team before you launch. It’s much easier to hit a steady target than an incomplete or shifting one.
RESEARCH YOUR FIELD
One Way did its share of research, but that research was not properly targeted (since our goals later shifted), and for that reason it was largely incomplete. Even within our established target, we could not have done too much research, so long as it remained focused. One Way’s journey was, of course, doomed from the start: Before launch our research began with online crowd-funding in general and ceased within the fundraising niche of filmmaking. However, our focus on “Miranda”s cause (Domestic Violence, as appose to its story, its filmmakers, or any other aspect of the project) was determined only days prior to launch, forcing us to play catch-up with our research instead of carrying out plans to generate content and organize fundraisers.
As is usually the case, our research led us to more research, which in turn, opened us to new possibilities, which then led us to redefine our goals and adjust our strategy.
Research every aspect of your field – for us it was crowd-funding, fundraising, fundraising for films, fundraising for causes, Domestic Violence, Domestic Violence organizations, groups and charities, Domestic Violence media and films, Domestic Violence fundraisers, Domestic Violence survivors, Domestic Violence artists, writers, filmmakers, music, etc., Domestic violence laws, Domestic Violence issues, etc. – and allow it to shape your project and your intentions behind your project.
MAP OUT A STRATEGY
Persistently reminding your family, friends, and company fans that you’re raising money to shoot a film is only a shell of a strategy. Indiegogo.com itself is a service that provides only a shell for a strategy. One Way learned this the hard way. Among the questions asked when determining a strategy is How will we bring attention to our campaign. What seems to work the best is pure passion often personified with desperation. Project producers plead (or beg). It works because their loved ones see how much their project means to them, and the loved ones contribute to show their love and support.
This is the beginning of a strategy. Next, one has to plan specific actions (or steps) that would reverberate (or build) the emotion of a chosen approach.
One Way’s strategy – again, developed during our campaign – was to use a cognitive approach to address the serious and common issue of Domestic Violence since that is what our project is about. We developed a plan that would utilize the finished film for a greater good – awareness, education, and fundraising for Domestic Violence groups, charities and organizations.
Our strategy included researching and sharing facts and statistics, researching and recruiting knowledgeable and impassioned DV advocates, creating informative and relevant content about our company, our team, our project, and our cause, and researching and coordinating relevant fundraisers to further bring attention to our project and cause. Great intentions we may have had but, regrettably, this strategy was stringed together on an as-needed basis. Our first indication of working backwards was that we were doing more research than anything else. Research should NOT be a part of your strategy.
Map out a strategy by predetermining specific actions to be taken by each of your team members. Set dates for each of these actions to be completed on or by. Organize your entire campaign on paper (or on screen) as a timeline. Who will do what when? Who will make sure it gets done when? Your strategy should primarily involve presenting content (information, articles, links, blogs, pics, videos, etc.) to your target audience, organizing events (fundraisers, contests, games, presentations, etc. – online, offline, or both) relevant to your project, and advertising.
Plan as much as you can ahead of time.
RECRUIT YOUR TEAM
One Way did not have a campaign team when we launched our crowd-funding campaign in July. We still have no team to this affect. A team is a legion of members effectively committed to a common goal for which they each have a vested stake in. A legion, for the purposes of raising $25,000, should be no fewer than 10.
One Way itself has a highly efficient team of professionals all committed to the goal of supporting and strengthening its company; however, only a portion of that team had been allocated to manage “Miranda”s campaign, an error that ultimately compromised the company’s time and effort toward raising funds.
As condescending or simplistic as this suggestion may be, the idea behind it is easily overlooked or underappreciated.
Take the time to build your team by finding people who can benefit from your project or cause in a way comparable to yourself. Friends and family will only work if they care about what you are doing as much as you do (or if you pay them). You will need this team for the many chores involved in generating content, presenting content, organizing events, managing events, and advertising.
Content is the basis for every campaign. It is information in its simplest form; entertainment in its most creative. Content can be articles, interviews, links, clips, commercials, announcements, video blogs, trailers, presentations, exhibits, and much, much more. One Way used Indiegogo’s “updates” feature to share news about the project, bios on key team members, information on Domestic Violence and public ‘thank yous’ to Backers. We also presented a version of our original trailer from the short version of “Miranda” as well as a portion of our interview series with director Kent Sutton and lead actress Maria Guzman.
By and large, our content was conceived and created during our campaign which naturally limited us in the amount of material we could generate overall. Time being a major factor; it also hindered the quality of some of the content. Few of us were satisfied with the outcome of Kent’s and Maria’s interview series.
The content that you generate for your project represents your project. If you offer rushed, dull, incomplete, or in any way unsatisfactory content, it will reflect on your team as sloppiness, laziness and/or incompetence, and your project will be perceived as a failure-in-progress. Therefore the content that you present to the public should be generated with the same respectful diligence as that which will be done for the project.
Optimistically, One Way rushed the gate right from the start. We misrepresented “Miranda” the feature by posting a version of our trailer for “Miranda” the short. Our mistake wasn’t in choosing to present something rather than nothing; our mistake was not having prepared nor shot a resemblance of the film that we will be making. What our campaign needed was some kind of visual representation of the script filmed in HD – a scene, a few scenes, a trailer, etc. What we offered was a weak substitute that doesn’t come close to matching our intentions for the feature.
The lesson to be learned is to generate as much content as possible before you launch. Your campaign should largely be about maneuvering your project pieces within your timeline, not building them from scratch. Some content must be generated during the actual campaigning process, but so much of it could and should be completed and ready to place beforehand.
PLAN YOUR EVENTS
Before we announced our campaign, we understood very well the value that events bring to a campaign. We understood it so well that we came together to brainstorm possible ideas for events that we could have, eventually settling on one particularly big event that a few others would build to. Unfortunately, our efforts took a pause there.
Another great mistake on our part, we left the actual assignment of planning these events for a later time – during the campaign. We assumed that we would have plenty of time to organize various events – mostly small, one large – but this was not the case.
Once again, some matters must be addressed during the campaigning process, especially in the case of planning events; however, there are still many details that can and should be worked out beforehand. Setting a date, finding the right venue, allocating the right management team for the event, and initiating the creation of promotional materials for the event are some of the heavier duties that could be addressed months in advance.
In the very least, know what all of your events will be throughout your campaign and begin to plan each of them.
As we began to analyze our shortcomings it seemed too difficult to fully understand exactly why we didn’t reach our goal. It seemed like we did so many things wrong that we couldn’t realistically measure all of our mistakes. But after reciting our intentions and reviewing our process, we saw that all of our mistakes pointed to one inherent flaw: we weren’t prepared.
We launched without a stable goal, without doing necessary research, without a proper strategy, without a fully committed team, without ample quality content, and without beginning to organize our events.
It’s no wonder we failed.
We learned the hard way that most of the work in running a campaign takes place before you launch. This lesson doesn’t surprise this filmmaker at all; I know first-hand that preproduction can make or break your filmmaking efforts.
As disappointing as this blow comes to us, it’s not a depressing one. The true value of seeing the correlation between filmmaking and fundraising is realizing that most of these steps apply to greater aspects of life. Take your time, avoid shortcuts, and be prepared.
To those crowd-fundraisers looking to start their own campaign: luck is for those who come ill-prepared; I wish you wisdom instead.