Stop thinking of Kickstarter as a platform for donations

Your Project Rewards shouldn’t be an afterthought – they can actually be a way to form your project.

How can you think about the exchange value of what you are generating through the project and approach this creatively to give your campaign a better chance of success?

This post is part of a series ‘7 Things Artists Could Learn From Board Game Kickstarters‘ where I highlight some of the lessons artists and arts organisations could learn from the world of crowd-funded boardgames…

PART 1: Use Kickstarter as a distribution model & a tool to gauge interest

Stop thinking of Kickstarter as a platform for donations

Kickstarter is not primarily a platform for donations and philanthropic activity. When people are working out whether to back a project they are also actively considering the value of what they will receive in return. Although Kickstarter protests loudly that Kickstarter is not a shop, it might be useful to consider it as such for the purposes of this post.

Many artists approach their crowdfunding campaigns as a way to solicit donations. In my opinion, this is not a very sustainable approach, as there is a limit to the number of times you can ask the same people to simply ‘give’ you money. In the arts, this can lead to the situation of cash-strapped artists giving money to other cash-strapped artists to get their projects happening, or even worse people feel guilted into supporting your project, rather than through genuine support for your idea.

You need to think about how to widen this circle out to people you don’t know and have never met – people who have disposable income and who would like to exchange some of that cash for something unique and interesting (I’m talking about experiences here as well as objects), or to be part of something that captures their imagination.


Your Project Rewards shouldn’t be an afterthought – they can actually be a way to form your project.

Using boardgame projects as an example we can see a number of common pledge levels

  • Simple Donation (£1 – £3) – a thank you. In exchange for this type of tip-jar donation, access is given to closed ‘backer updates’ or behind-the-scenes access. This allows people to follow a project they are interested in – equate this with someone buying you a coffee or drink at the bar.
  • The Merchandise (£3 – £15) – Badges, posters, PDFs, t-shirts etc. This allows people to publicly display their support and association with the project. These things are also often offered as ‘add-ons’ to the main product.
  • The Basic Game (£25 – £40) – a copy of the product. This usually equates to a discounted version of the RRP or shop price of the game (and the potential promise that it won’t be available at this low price again). You could equate this to the difference between buying advance tickets and tickets on the door – rewarding people for giving you the money upfront.
  • The Customised Element (£75 – £100) – your face in the game. This backer level allows you get to name something or bespoke illustration, or backers become immortalised in some way in an integral way within the finished product.
  • The Deluxe Package (£100+) – a special deluxe edition of the game or hamper & game package. This allows people who are super-fans of the project (and have some extra cash) to receive something extra special and more unique. The deluxe editions are often limited in number.
  • The Patron’s Package (£1000) – This pledge level offers something that is attractive to people who are likely to have this level of disposable income. When designing this type of package, think about the value offered by things of similar cost (ie a holiday, high profile advertising space).

Each of these reward levels equate to similar things of this value in everyday situations, hopefully providing a discount or a unique opportunity for potential backers to help encourage them to take a risk on backing the project. The key details here are that the rewards are attractive in their own right, they give backers access to the products of the project and allow them to ‘own’ something of the project.

Similarly, if you are offering something that is attractive to backers in its own right as a product (and something that is unachievable without their support), they will be more likely to get behind the project to ensure its success because they won’t receive their reward otherwise (SEE ALSO: PART 3).

Working out what you have to offer, how many individual pledges you will need to solicit to reach your goal and how much of everything you need to produce to fulfill your rewards before you start building your project will give you a more realistic idea of the potential success of your campaign. Be careful to factor in distribution and/or postage costs and Kickstarter’s fees so that you don’t end up out of pocket.

Carefully consider what you give your backers in exchange for their cash

A warm fuzzy feeling is not enough as an exchange!! Think about the exchange value of what you are generating through the project. You want people to feel that they have got good value for their money when backing your project. When setting pledge levels, think about what backers would otherwise spend the money you are asking for on.

  • Consider merchandise as reward – this offers you a way for people to demonstrate their support for your practice / project. Thinking up clever (and attractive) merchandise ideas will allow you to both raise money and public awareness of your project. Creating something unique here allows your backers to tell the story of their involvement in your project which is a reward that keeps on giving!
  • Jeopardy (but not too much jeopardy) & Fear Of Missing Out – the ‘all or nothing’ mode used by Kickstarter is successful in creating a sense of urgency around your project. The ticking clock of days & hours left triggers a sense of jeopardy and/or fear of missing out for project viewers. When you are thinking about your rewards, try to create things that people will really want to own and will be sad if they don’t receive if your campaign is unsuccessful. In a related way, if a project looks like it will not succeed or lasts for much more than 30 days, backers are less likely to join.

PART 3: Use Kickstarter to create a new community around your project >>

New to crowdfunding?
Check out my quick start guide to crowdfunding!!

Quick start crowdfunding beginners guide

Are you an artist or arts organisation looking for some help in shaping a successful crowdfunding campaign? Get in touch to arrange an online Helpout! I also run workshops for students, arts practitioners and arts organisations in creative approaches to crowdfundingcontact me for more details.

Rachel Dobbs is one half of LOW PROFILE, an artist, educator, tinkerer & freelance boardgame art director with Grublin Games… currently based in Plymouth, UK.

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