The Tao of Crowdfunding: A Practical Guide to Crowdfunder Etiquette

So you now know some of the keys of a successful campaign from reading the first post in my Tao of Crowdfunding series, but that’s only part of the ongoing battle to find alternative sources for financing our creative projects. Based on the incredible response “The Three Ps for a Successful Film Campaign” received from the indie film community and beyond, I’ve decided to soldier on and address a topic which some of my closest friends have cited as a bit of a concern––Crowdfunder Etiquette.

Like hat tipping, crowdfunding comes with its own etiquette.
Like hat tipping, crowdfunding comes with its own etiquette.

Some of you might be thinking to yourselves I didn’t know such a thing existed! It does or doesn’t, based on your own experiences crowdfunding. But I prefer to call it by its more common name: Good Manners. Whether your crowdfunding platform is Indiegogo, Kickstarter or any of the myriad others out there, here are five basic tenets every campaigner should follow:

1. “I’m Not Only the Campaigner, I’m Also a Funder!”
Some of you may remember that 1980s TV commercial for The Hair Club for Men and Cy Sperling’s famous concluding statement “I’m not only the Hair Club president, but I’m also a client.”

Similarly, you should be more than just the filmmaker, musician or entrepreneur by having something more tangible than time invested in your project. Surprisingly, this is something crowdfunders rarely do. Let’s be honest––if you are not willing to put your money into your own campaign, how can you ask any of your friends to contribute, let alone a perfect stranger? Whether it’s $5 or $5,000, you should be the one to jump-start your own campaign either by setting aside your own cash and raising additional funds, or by contributing to your own campaign via Indiegogo or Kickstarter. With Cerise, for instance, I opted for the first choice, saving up $10,000 and crowdfunding for $5,000 more. And, of course, I let my potential funders know that within the first thirty seconds of my pitch video. If you opt for the second choice, your name should appear (as opposed to being listed as “Anonymous”) in your “Funders” tab so that others know you’re not only the campaigner, but your also a contributor. This kind of transparency is absolutely vital to the integrity and ultimately the success of your campaign.

2. Saying Please and Thank You
Remember “The Please and Thank You Song” from Barney and Friends? (Fear not! I won’t salt the wound this reference may have opened by posting the video here.) These “magic words” run marathons in all circles. So when you promote your campaign on Twitter or Facebook, whenever possible include a simple “please” (or its abbreviation when it comes to character limits) in each one.

Travis Legge Tweets “Please” for Poetic on Indiegogo.

More importantly, whenever you receive a contribution, the absolute least you can do is thank that person. Sending an email, message on Facebook and/or Direct Message on Twitter is fine, too, but in today’s multifaceted social media stew, the more out in the open a “Thank You” is, the better.

The Red Scare Team humorously thanks a new contributor, keeping with their 1950s “Red Scare” motif.

Apart from thanking contributors to your campaign, it’s equally important to thank any- and everybody who retweets your Tweets about your project or shares your link on Google+ and Facebook. It’s polite and shows that you appreciate their part in getting the word out about your campaign.

Writer/Producer Sam Platizky thanks yours truly for tweeting about his latest zombie comedy.
Another, more general thank you, but just as strong and just as personal.

It’s about making people feel appreciated by publicly acknowledging them for all the good things they’re doing on your behalf.

3. Send Contributors Something N0w And Later
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote “With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future. I live now.” And so do your funders. You should give them something more immediate than a signed copy of your new album when it’s finished several months after your campaign has ended. It can be something personalized for the funder at one of the lower perk levels, and somehow related to the project you’re campaigning for, like these awesome perks from Sync:

I love the smell of nostalgia in the morning!

When I contributed to Brendon Fogle’s short film, I received my perks––a pair of records from Brendon’s personal collection and two Sync stickers––a few short weeks after clicking “Contribute Now” on Indiegogo. Now I’ve got a constant reminder of Sync until the film’s finished up and I can get my DVD in the future.

A sound designer named Christopher Postill recently got in touch with me about a campaign for his project Sounds Like an Earful, a pod cast about rethinking the sounds we’re surrounded by on a daily basis. Seeing the usual suspects of perks, I suggested he make them more personalized for his potential funders. When I saw his Indiegogo page next, I saw he had added a perk in which he’d create a sound specifically for the funder. Another perk higher up the ladder lends itself to Christopher creating a piece of music that a funder can gift to a friend or family member or keep for him- or herself.

Now this is an immediate perk that packs a personal punch!

Not only are these new perks innovative and personal, but they’re also immediate; once they’re created, they can be posted on the funder’s Facebook wall, tweeted, or emailed.

4. Constantly Keep Your Funders Updated
So you spent three intense months crowdfunding like a rockstar. You thanked all your funders. You mailed them their perks. And at the end of the campaign trail you became another crowdfunding success story! Feels good to be done, right?

Even after all that, you’re only now seeing the finish line, but you’ve still got a ways to go. Just as it’s important to keep your funders updated throughout your campaign, it’s just as important to maintain a steady stream of updates about the progress of your project even after the campaign has ended. Your funders have contributed to your campaign for various reasons, whether it’s because of your personalized pitch, your cool perks, or because they’re family and have to, but they’re also giving something more than money to you and your campaign, so the least you can do is make them feel like they’re a part of something bigger than themselves.

Perhaps Cerise funder Andrew Bichler said it best in this quick video about why he contributed to my short film:

You heard it right from a proud funder’s mouth: “What really turned me on [was] the fact that I, as an everyday guy, could get involved in funding and supporting the arts…” As such, it’s gratifying to be kept in the loop about what’s going on regarding a project you’ve become a part of; I receive regular updates with behind the scenes footage, post-production notes and other status updates from many of the projects I’ve contributed to like Red Scare, Tilt and How Do You Write a Joe Schermann Song. If you don’t update your audience, they may start to think all kinds of outrageous things, the worst of which quite possibly being “Well, I won’t support that person’s campaigns any more!” Again, it’s all about appreciation, so treat your funders with the same respect that you’d show an investor, whether they’re contributing at the $1 rung or closer to the top of the ladder.

5. When Engaging Your Community, Don’t Solicit, Elicit
Perhaps the greatest aspect of the indie community is that in most cases it will come to bat for you during your crowdfunding campaign. The most recent account is probably the come-from-behind victory of Lucas McNelly’s A Year Without Rent, which had been stagnant for the long haul of the campaign. But in its final days and hours, this video project was pulled from the Sarlacc pit of unfunded dreams by the entire indie film community. This is an exceptional case, of course (I don’t recommend starting a campaign without plenty of preparation and a solid plan of action plotted out beforehand), but the lesson is pretty much standard: If you show passion for your project and drive it forward, your community will come to your aid.

Every time I tweet about my current 3rd Crusade for Cerise––in which I seek  film festival submission funds from friends and followers so I can continue submitting my short film to festivals––I make sure each one is unique and clever, and sure enough, my followers retweet it to their followers. I haven’t had to ask anyone to “please RT” anything in over a year because I’ve built up some credibility by showing them that I take pride not only in my film, but also in every minute detail that makes up the whole of Cerise.

If it happens to be a holiday, I make my tweets about that holiday.
If the project you’re campaigning for centers around certain subject matter, keep that subject in play.

As crowdfunders, we might try to elicit help from our respective communities and solicit less simply by showing them how truly important our campaigns are to us and how imperative their support can be in helping us reach our crowdfunding goals.

BONUS: Promotion, Not Spamotion!
There are many ways to get people not to contribute to your campaign or help you with promoting it, but by far the most sure-fire method is by coming across in your promotion as a spam artist. And I’m not just talking about sending the exact same tweet five times a day; other ways include linking your personal and project’s Twitter accounts so that those same five Tweets per day are now ten Tweets (but more on that in my “10 Commandments of Social Media for Crowdfunding” post on Indiewire) and even appending your campaign’s information as a comment onto another campaign’s page! This unscrupulous practice is actually such a problem that Kickstarter needed to mention it as one of their “Community Guidelines” on their FAQ page:

You’d think some things still fall into the realm of common sense. Not so much…

Be a pro when planning out the promotion tactics for your campaign. Even when I would promote my Indiegogo campaign for Cerise directly on my friends’ Facebook walls, it was always personalized enough that I was able to avoid the pitfalls of those annoying “Need Cash Now?” advertisements texted to people’s phones. So be personable when publicizing your campaign to steer clear of the “unfriend” and “block” features that occur with social networking and you’ll soon see that the personal touch leads to the Midas touch.

In Short…
My Dad always used to tell me “by nice ways you’ll accomplish everything.” A lot of this may seem like common sense to some of us, but it’s this kind of sense seems less and less common. As crowdfunders, we’re asking people for money, and when we ask for anything and get it, the least we can do is show our gratitude to those who gave it. By treating your funders and supporters properly, you’re not only gathering money for this one project, you’re also forging a stronger network, and at times friendships, that will stand by your side long after your first campaign has ended. And when you start another campaign for your next project, those same people will be ready to show their support once again to back a rising star and a real mensch!

*          *          *          *          *

What are YOUR thoughts about crowdfunder etiquette? FUNDERS: Any props or pet peeves YOU’d like to share about crowdfunders you’ve encountered? Fill up the section below with your comments, questions or concerns!

19 thoughts on “The Tao of Crowdfunding: A Practical Guide to Crowdfunder Etiquette

  1. Another great crowdfunding post.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Graham! Glad you enjoyed the post.

  2. Nice post John – really enjoyed it. Particularly agree with point #5 – usually focusing on the “why” vs. the “what” can have a better outcome.

    Co-Founder & CTO,

    1. Thanks so much for giving my post a read, Vlad. Glad you enjoyed it. I’ll be looking into more projects on RocketHub soon; I wanna start incorporating more crowdfunding platforms into my future “Tao” posts, so if you’ve any suggestions for topics, send ’em my way!

      1. Thanks John – really appreciate that. We’re working hard at RocketHub HQ to always do what’s best for artists and entrepreneurs, and to continuously create new value for the RocketHub community. I see that you share that empowering and honest ethos – that’s what drew me to your blog.

        Obviously, our current big break-out hit, “Extra Credits” – – is a very interesting case study. It really exemplifies a lot of what you talk about, particularly how pent-up social capital can be quickly turned into massive financial capital.

        There are a lot of other really cool examples that you can browse. So let me know when you find something and I can make the intro to the Creatives or provide context for the success.

        Co-Founder & CTO,

      2. Thanks for sending over the project for “Extra Credits” — What a great little episode! And as a professor by trade (and an old school video game lover) I appreciate what they’re doing with the series. I’ll definitely do some “Exploring” on RocketHub today and during the rest of the week and I’ll let you know what I find that I might want to use in future posts.

        If ever I can ever offer my services as a blogger for RocketHub about a particular topic of interest regarding crowdfunding, let me know (I also remember at tweet from you or RocketHub’s social media person about the possibility of that, too.)

  3. Great tips, thanks. I’m in the throws of fund-raising for my campaign right now and I want to do it right from the beginning. I appreciate the information, I promise I’ll use it and be a nice girl. btw if your curious 🙂

    1. Thanks (again) for reading this post, Gloria! (more Tao of Crowdfunding posts coming soon, by the way!) I checked out your Kickstarter campaign for Baxies (nice name, by the way; definitely making use of those marketing skills you’ve nurtured over the past decade) — The “Trendsetting” aspect of your perk descriptions is pretty neat, too. I think you’ve got a good campaign on your hands, so keep that promotion flowing and watch as those “Baxers” keep adding up (sorry ’bout that really bad play on the word “Backers” and “Baxies” but dang it, I try.) Best of luck!

  4. Baxters would work if it weren’t someones name already 🙂
    I appreciate the feedback, thanks for looking. Unfortunately, my demographic are tweens and teens….they need to ask permission to use the credit card….so I’ve got to get through to the mom’s. I’m working on it 🙂
    I appreciate your posts. They are enlightening.
    All the best

  5. I wish I had this info before starting my campaign, but I have it now. Thank you. I am planning to launch a new project and will take your words to heart. It is nice that you felt the need to share what you have learned and not keep it to yourself. Again, thanks

    1. Hey Alex, thanks for the comment and kind words. I think we owe it to ourselves in this day and age to offer up any and all information we can about our experiences, especially in the brave new sphere of crowdfunding, which is still constantly shifting under our feet and for which there is no exact science. I also have a book coming out in March called Crowdfunding for Filmmakers: The Way to a Successful Film Campaign, but in the meantime, if you need a hand with things, or want to run your pitch and perk ideas by me for some feedback, hit me up on Twitter (, Facebook ( or send me an email.

  6. I have been reading a number of blogs about crowdfunding, as I am a week into a Indiegogo Campaign myself, and this was quite helpful! I will heed your suggestions to assure that I am using proper etiquette. Thank you for sharing your wisdom!

  7. Hi John, the link to “Twitter Tips for Crowdfunders“ in the body of your text appears to be broken. I’ll search it out anyway but you may like to fix.. Thanks for the tips, Graeme.

    1. Thanks for the head’s up about that. I think they took it down ’cause Ted Hope doesn’t keep a blog with Indiewire anymore. I replaced it with a much better, more recent piece on social media for crowdfunding, so give it a click.

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