Burning Man 2016 is just a few short months away, and campaigns for art installations, themed camps and playa activities are in full swing on Indiegogo. Year after year, thousands of burners look to the crowdfunding community to help bring their ideas to life. One burner who has brought a few of her ideas to life via Indiegogo is Sharma Hendel, the campaigner behind the Temple of Promise – an immense, skyward-reaching, curving structure made of delicate archways and clad entirely in shimmering copper. We had the chance to get to know Sharma and ask her 5 questions about the Temple, Burning Man and crowdfunding on Indiegogo.
1. What inspired you to create the Temple of Promise?
One of Burning Man’s 10 principles is participation – we are not visitors but the creators and citizens of our temporary community. To me, participation is fundamental to my own Burning Man experience. After a few years helping run a theme camp, I was looking to broaden my scope to work on art projects. The previous year, I’d been in charge of social media and fundraising for Cruz the Wave, an art piece out of Santa Cruz. As I looked around the East Bay, I wanted to find ways to contribute closer to home. I heard about the Temple of Promise and jumped at the opportunity to be a member of a temple crew.
But that’s my story – each of us on the crew had our own path that brought us there. Over the many months of building, I got to learn so much about people by what inspired them. From Jazz Tigan, who designed the temple in response to a powerful experience with the 9/11 tragedy, to builders who came from overseas because they were inspired by his design. We had people who wanted to use their hands and their hearts to memorialize lost ones, and those who saw the Temple as an opportunity to fulfill their need to be makers.
2. What impact have you seen on Burning Man with the rise in popularity in Indiegogo campaigns and crowdfunding in general?
There is a beautiful parallel between crowdfunding and Burning Man – the idea of community participation and a sense of shared responsibility for the end result. Crowdfunding has democratized financing of art, design, manufacturing – to name a few – and Burning Man seemed like a perfect example of a community ready to support projects that would otherwise seem impossible.
The biggest impact I’ve seen is that artists, makers and idealists can come up with a vision, communicate that vision and get a clear sense from our community whether the vision is shared. Our burning man community not only provides the funding, but there is a certain magic about the fact that the artwork we produce from a crowdfunded campaign is, in a sense, owned by the community. It is a gift from each of us to Black Rock City. For this reason, I try to fund as many projects as I can throughout the funding cycle. It gives me a sense of having participated in a project even if it was built 3000 miles away.
3. Why did you choose Indiegogo to help fund the Temple?
At the start of any fundraising effort, there’s a period of debate about which methods and tools are most appropriate for your project. We looked hard at our project and had a few key reasons for turning to Indiegogo – not the least of which was the wholehearted support we received from the company itself. We met with various people at Indiegogo and discussed our strategy, got key data to help us make decisions about rewards, and general enthusiasm about our project and about Burning Man.
Not all crowdfunding platforms are appropriate for all types of projects and in this case, it was important to us to communicate that our backers were making a donation rather than purchasing an item. We were not looking to launch a manufacturing program or start a company, but rather we wanted to encourage people to donate to a worthy cause. And yes, we offered rewards to our backers but most (if not all) donated because they wanted the project to succeed, not because they’d receive a perk.
One feature of Indiegogo that I particularly like is the campaign team. By encouraging campaigners to develop a team of 4 to 5 people, there was a real sense of camaraderie and collaboration – again, a cornerstone of any good Burning Man project. Since we are a team of artists and builders and caretakers and support staff, it seemed only right to be able to have a large team of us on the fundraising side too. It also made the task of raising $240,000 a lot less daunting knowing we were a team and not a single person.
4. What was your favorite part of crowdfunding on Indiegogo? What was the most challenging?
Well, I’m a software designer and my day job is all about coming up with ideas, trying them out, seeing what works. I’m very focused on testing and iterating. I love that in each of my Indiegogo campaigns I’ve learned a little bit more about the psychology of donation behavior, effective methods (and not so effective methods) of publicizing, running contests and activating our community. I’ve had people donate to campaigns I’ve run, just to get us over the finish line – even if they’re not interested in Burning Man. I’ve had people fall in love with projects because of the way we tell our story, and send us messages out of the blue. So finding out what resonates (and what doesn’t) is a lot of fun.
As for challenges – my biggest is always trying to determine what our goal should be. I’ve analyzed so many campaigns – both successful and unsuccessful campaigns – to try to understand the “market dynamics” at play when choosing a goal. I always start out low and I always reach my goal but sometimes I wonder if I set the goal too low. With art fundraising we don’t ask for our community to carry the entire budget – we seek fundraising from multiple sources and from within our personal networks. I think it’s important to show that we are willing to put our own resources in before asking others to donate. There’s some evidence, too, to suggest that campaigns that choose a lower goal, percentage wise, end up making more money in the end than if they’d gone with a higher goal. It’s very hard to know for sure what number will get your community excited versus make them tune out. I struggle with this every time.
5. What advice do you have for other Burners looking to raise funds for this year’s event?
- Be clear about your total budget versus your funding goal.
- Choose your rewards and levels wisely – I’ve seen campaigns blow it by spending half their donations on perk fulfillment. I’ve also seen campaigns fizzle because potential backers don’t feel like the reward is sufficient for the donation amount.
- Make sure you have at least 4 people on your team that all feel equally responsible for publicity, updates, social media and communication. And make sure your extended team (everyone on your project) is involved in your efforts.
- Communicate often! I make updates to our story every time we hit a milestone. I change up our imagery throughout the campaign. I offer our backers extra rewards for sharing our campaign among their friends.
- Ask your friends to give you honest feedback. Is your story compelling? Is your video too long? Are your rewards interesting? Best to know this early on while you have time to adjust.