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7 Tips for Crowdfunding Your Event from The Atlanta Film Festival

7 Tips for Crowdfunding Your Event from The Atlanta Film Festival

Chris Holland worked in the film industry for more than a decade. In the early days of the internet he was a film critic and later he joined the staff of
the Austin Film Festival. In 2006 Holland joined film distributor B-Side Entertainment as the Director of Festival Operations. There he worked with festivals like Sundance, AFI Fest, and SILVERDocs to market films
to audiences and to discover emerging new voices in cinema. In 2008 he published “Film Festival Secrets: A Handbook for Independent Filmmakers” and began working as an consultant on marketing and festival strategy
with artists around the world. Chris currently serves as the Operations and Marketing Director for the Atlanta Film Festival, where he has helped to launch the festival’s first ever crowdfunding campaign. Below he writes about why the festival decided to use crowdfunding to raise money for the annual event and shares his lessons for crowdfunding. The current
Kickstarter campaign has raised more than $10,000 towards its $13,000 goal with 12 days to go.

In my conversations with friends at other film festivals on the topic, it became clear that not everyone views crowdfunding as a desirable or even sensible form of fundraising for events like ours. Some praise internet fundraising platforms such as Kickstarter and IndieGogo as indispensable tools that keep their events in business, while others view the concept as little more than futuristic panhandling. As our campaign here at the
Atlanta Film Festival progresses, I’m quickly becoming one of the former.

The upsides of the opportunity to connect directly to our fans by asking them to support something they tell us they believe in — coupled with the desire to increase our travel support for visiting filmmakers — now
outweighs any reservations we might have felt about the method. Personally, I’d been itching to have the Kickstarter experience from the creator’s side, and said as much around the office. A few conversations
later the ATLFF staff was on its way to launching a 30-day Kickstarter
with the all-or-nothing goal of raising $13,000 in contributions.

Crowdfunding for a film festival is hardly a new idea, and we’re not even the only festival of our relative size running a campaign at the moment. But since internet “crowdfunding” as an institution is barely five years old and non-profit institutions in general change their habits at a more cautious pace, we do find ourselves as the exceptions rather than the rule — for now. Hopefully festivals to come will find these lessons useful (we’ve learned a lot), and hopefully we will be an
example of how to create a successful campaign, rather than…you know. Knock on wood. Cross your fingers. Turn around three times and spit.

are 7 tips for running a
Kickstarter campaign for a film festival:

1. A strong narrative is as important to a fundraising campaign as it is to a movie.

of the biggest messages that Kickstarter tries to impart when you start
a campaign is that “It’s not just a project, it’s a story.” Telling
your festival’s story well and inviting potential backers to be a part
of it should permeate every aspect of your fundraising strategy. Just
as filmmakers ask themselves “how does this scene propel the story or
character development,” you should ask yourself, “how does this
video/text tell the story of our event? How does this reward
encourage the reader to involve himself in a chapter of our story?”

You can watch and read our campaign’s narrative on the campaign site,
but it basically begins with our audience survey, which told us that
our attendees regarded the presence of filmmakers as the festival’s #1
selling point. At the same time, our travel budget was dwindling as
tourism-related sponsors, hit hard by the recession, were forced to
withdraw their support. Faced with fewer resources in the one area of
activity that our fans told us they liked best, we decided to appeal
directly to those fans for help. Not only does it focus their attention
on the festival’s most attractive feature, it encourages our attendees
to really think about the festival’s purpose, the audience’s role in
fulfilling that purpose, and how they benefit from it.

2. Your ideas for crowdfunding strategies may be pretty good, but there are better ones out there in the world. Go steal them.
the late Steve Jobs said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” We
spent three months before our launch researching Kickstarter strategy,
finding the campaigns that had gone before us, and preparing our own
project. That research included talking to our friends at festivals
around the country, during which we discovered fests who were preparing
campaigns (like the Dallas International Film Festival)
and festivals who had done similar projects before us. Our Kickstarter
team analyzed what rewards seemed popular on the crowdfunding pages of
other events like ours (including those that weren’t film festivals) and
took note of the common traits and practices of those campaigns that
were successfully funded. Good ideas that we deemed a good match for our
story and audience, we stole.
Our best stolen idea came from the Flyway Film Festival’s Rick Vaicius
who, during a phone call, drew our attention to his
campaign’s “Kickstarter Award Jury,” which deliberated on an award given
at the festival and was composed of campaign backers. A very similar
Backer’s Jury is one of the most popular perks of the ATLFF campaign and
will provide us with an additional chapter in our festival story — we’re going to fly the winning filmmaker to the festival, record their
acceptance of the Backers Jury award, and send the video to the members
of the Jury who can’t be with us at the actual event.

3. There are best practices in general, and there are best practices for your campaign.

the time you finish your research, your brain will be full. Many of the
recommendations you read will conflict with one another, and some of
them won’t make any sense at all. Just as in festival programming, at
some point you have to decide which crowdfunding strategies will help
tell your story and resonate with your audience and which to discard. If
you’re in tune with your fans, you’ll know what will get them to
respond. If you’re not sure, don’t guess — ask them. Cheap
email survey software is abundant, and if you’re not using it, you
should be. A short survey prior to your campaign will not only help
you determine what perks to offer, but it will also tease the campaign
itself and help you identify the members of your community who are most
entire campaign originated from the responses to our audience survey.
From it we knew what area of our budget could reasonably draw public
support, what our audience valued, and what kinds of rewards we should
offer. We also learned that our parking lots need better signage, but
that’s a different article.
4. Rookie errors are real.
you’ve never done this before (we certainly hadn’t), you’re going to
make mistakes. Make peace with it. Your research will help you avoid
many of the pitfalls, but some you won’t see coming and others you’ll
stumble right into despite knowing better. The best countermeasure is to
allow for such mistakes when you set your goal and your timeline. If
your aim is too high or time too tight, otherwise correctable stumbles
become fatal errors.
thought we were reasonably ahead of the game when we set up our Atlanta
Film Festival Kickstarter and Amazon Payments accounts, but as launch
date drew near we realized we hadn’t started the paperwork process soon
enough. Confusion about our street address — our university campus
street address was flagged by Amazon Payments — resulted in an
indefinite delay. As days ticked by and it looked like we might not be
able to launch the campaign until further in the holiday season than we
were willing to do, we held back on some of our efforts to wrangle
support in the days leading up to the campaign. The issue was eventually
resolved and we launched only a few days after our target date, but the
early supporters of our project numbered fewer than they might have.
bring this up not to say that the campaign isn’t going well. As I
write, we’re at 75% of our goal with 12 days left, so I’m pleased with
the progress we’ve made. It is, however, an example of the unexpected
intervening in unpleasant ways. Do what you can to make those moments
merely unpleasant and not disastrous for your fundraising goals.
5. When talking to potential backers, be a human or a group of humans, not a faceless organization.
doesn’t mean you have to write every email in the first person or post
pictures of your cats to your festival’s Facebook wall, but it does mean
you should answer every pledge with a personal note, respond quickly to
inquiries about your project, and put yourself in your plea video. Your
audience is invested in your festival and your ideas, yes. They are
also invested in the idea of you executing your vision.
we made our plea video, our Artistic Director Charles Judson was the
natural choice of spokesman. Charles is one of the people who has been
associated with the Atlanta Film Festival the longest, and as the former
communications director he has been the functional face of the festival
for years. Not only does he deliver the festival’s message in the
video, but we converted his personal Kickstarter backer account to serve
as the account for the festival’s project, so that his tastes and
backer history could give people a sense of who we are and what we do.
(I have since accidentally backed a couple of projects while logged into
his account, including the 2014 Kanye’s Pugs calendar. I maintain that
this only reinforces my point.) 
has also resumed posting duties to our social media accounts. Since he
was one of the primary builders of that audience, they respond to his
Facebook, Instagram and Twitter posts enthusiastically. It’s true that Charles’ tastes and sense of humor might not have the
broadest appeal. However, I would rather his interpretation of the
festival’s personality be strongly & genuinely appealing (or
irritating) to smaller segments of our audience than be blandly
unoffensive to everyone — and followed passionately by no one.
It’s important to
add the little touches that remind your backers of the people running
the campaign. Every contributor to our project receives a two-line poem
to celebrate their pledge. Sometimes the rhyme is based on their backer
number, sometimes on their name, sometimes on some small detail I know
about them. The point is, it’s written about them by me. They get
attention and recognition for their gift, even if it’s in private. (A
few people have tweeted their poems publicly, or posted them to their
Facebook walls. It’s always nice to be published.) At this point I’m
several dozen poems behind, but I’ll keep writing until they’re done. 

6. The “crowd” will mostly be people you know.

The likelihood that your film festival’s
campaign will go viral is pretty slim. That’s OK. Crowdfunding still
makes sense, because it reduces the friction of giving to your
organization, turns meeting your funding goal into a game, and provides
a focal point for your fans. Because yours is a project rooted in a
specific space and time, however, you will probably be appealing to
people in your general vicinity, and most of your backers will probably
be your existing fans. That’s OK, too — the whole point is to galvanize
your admirers into action, and for that enthusiasm to draw others into
the fold over the course of the campaign. If you do this right, your
community will be larger when your crowdfunding period ends than it was
when you started.

your crowd to respond, however, will require more than a few email
updates. I’ve been on the phone for a few hours every day, catching up
with old friends and gently nudging them into giving a few dollars. This
kind of individual attention is essential to letting people know how
much this effort means to you, and how much you’re counting on them.
Don’t rely on Facebook or Twitter, either. Tweets are great for giving
updates and thanking your supporters by name (which will then inspire
your mutual friends to contribute), but on their own, tweets are about as
effective at closing as Jack Lemmon. Social media is your wingman, but it won’t land the plane. 
7. Your fans are everywhere, so be sure to have something for the out-of-towners.
your backers may be mostly people you know, don’t take that to mean
that they won’t want rewards, or that they will only be people who can
attend your festival. The Atlanta Film Festival campaign offers passes
to the festival at certain reward levels, but we also offer perks that
anyone can enjoy from anywhere. 
The screening
and voting for our Backers Jury, for example, will be held in online — with private screeners and closed ballots, naturally, but still
accessible from anywhere. We’ll be sure to post video updates from the
festival for backers elsewhere to enjoy, and we plan on asking the
filmmakers who benefit from our backers’ contributions to record a few
thoughts about the experience. Just as the internet expands your
fundraising reach, so too should it expand the boundaries of your
festival beyond the theater walls.

Check out the campaign video below:

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