Making a Splash: A Different Way to Think About Your Crowdfunding Story

Are you clueless about how to make your story stand out in the crowd?

Do you worry about how your campaign will fare against the heavy hitters?

Do you currently fret that Don Cheadle is ruining crowdfunding for the rest of us?

Because he’s not. Nor did Zack Braff, Kristen Bell, Spike Lee, Whoopi Goldberg or Joaquin Phoenix, the most recent celebrity to throw his hat in the crowdfunding ring.

As we have come to see, crowdfunding campaigns—those run by celebrities as well as established brands—are frequently used as a buzz-creating tool. Savvy marketers are counseling clients to use crowdfunding as the newest tool in their publicity-seeking arsenal.

If this is not an option for you, as it’s not for most of us, don’t be disgruntled about it. Remember crowdfunding is a democratic method of raising capital, which means that it’s a tool equally available to the well-heeled as it is to the guy living under the bridge—assuming the bridge guy can get access to the Internet. And here’s an example of one who did.

You still have the power to inspire. It’s just that your process and path will by necessity be different. First, let’s look at the VIP-fueled campaigns.

I never saw an episode of Veronica Mars, didn’t contribute, and haven’t seen the movie. But I did see the documentary Whoopi Goldberg directed and produced about Moms Mabley and I will be forever indebted to Goldberg for introducing me to this phenomenon in a housecoat.

If you’re interested in the history of TV, social justice, or gender politics, if you love watching some of the most renowned minority (women and people of color) comedians of our time talk about their influences, or if you just want to laugh, cry, and shake your head that someone so progressive lived, worked, and made such an important impact on society and all you knew about her was her name—vaguely—“I Got Something to Tell You” will be available on Netflix soon. You’ll want to get it.

Mabley’s is a story that needed to be told, and only someone with Hollywood connections like Whoopi Goldberg could have brokered access to the rare footage and lineup she managed to snag. For fun, here’s a short clip. Then we’ll get back to the point.

Unless you get really lucky it’s going to be tough to attract a lot of celebrities to your campaign because they’re busy people with a firewall of minders shielding them. Also, they tend to reserve favors for friends and colleagues. The recent news that Seth MacFarlane, the folks behind Veronica Mars, Pebble Watch, and Ouya are kicking in to producer, director, actor LeVar Burton’s campaign Reading Rainbow is testament to that. (For those who don’t know, Burton famously played the young Kunta Kinte in the miniseries “Roots”)

Not having McFarlane’s cell phone number on my speed dial, it’s not going out on a limb to say that even if I ran an identical campaign to Burton’s, McFarlane wouldn’t have his checkbook open and ready to double each pledge that flowed into my campaign coffers.

Yet most of us see this behavior and it leaves an unrealistic and inaccurate perception of the average person’s fundraising potential.

By all means tweet your campaign out to famous folks you believe would support your idea if only they knew about it. Just don’t spend a lot of man-hours chasing after Oprah.

So while it’s true that the greater your base of support and your network, the likelier you are to rake in the big bucks, it’s time to rethink your strategy with an alternative approach to getting there. (Clue: it involves how you tell the story.)

Celebrity campaigns unsurprisingly cast themselves as the hero of their story. (Goldberg excavates Mabley’s work and saves her from anonymity. Or Burton makes it his duty and destiny to bring back with a 21st century burnish the success of his ‘80s PBS children’s series.)

So, if you lack a charismatic figurehead to attract a broad audience, begin to think of your idea and campaign goal—be it a social enterprise or a product—as the protagonist of your story.

That means dial back your approach and think in terms of  how to tell your story that will differentiate you. Say, for example, you want to raise funds for an aquaponic farm. I just did a quick search on Indiegogo and there are at least 24 current campaigns about aquaponic farming. If you simply focus on the benefits, you will not stand out.

So make it your priority to learn as much as you can about the community you hope your aquaponic farm impact. Find them, ask them questions, solicit responses, and then learn the best way to tell that story while balancing it with the campaign’s need.

So, rather than making your story about all the benefits of aquaponic farming, which I know are many, make your  hero the aquaponic farm and the story focus the people, groups, and communities you believe will benefit. Offer them an opportunity to join you by coming together through the power of crowdfunding.

Then, think in terms of incremental success.

Once you’ve established that mission, and maybe have a more modest crowdfunding campaign success under your belt, you can think about scaling up the next time. But don’t go for the big bucks too soon; it will only defeat you.

After all, Moms Mabley began her show business career at 14, in the year 1908. It wasn’t until 2014 that her story got told to the masses. Your campaign success won’t take that long, but just remember to do your homework and practice patience and you could have as good a shot as the big guys.

Note: I recently wrote a post entitled “What it Takes to Create a Crowdfunding Movement,” which could be described as Part 1 to this post’s Part 2. If you haven’t read, you might want to.

How One Enterprising Crowdfunding Campaign Takes on Commercial Farming

Let me say first: This post is not going to be a tirade on the evils of commercial farming. It actually has a happy middle—the ending is still being created, and all you power-of-the-crowd believers are about to be given an opportunity to harness some of your muscle to create change.

But first the backstory.

Months ago I stumbled on a Facebook page that would change me considerably. Though Esther the Wonder Pig sounds like the sequel to “Babe,” and I’m not sure how well that film did at the box office, by my calculation Esther’s fan base weighs in at about 261 fans per pound. And that’s not counting Instagram and Twitter.

Steve Jenkins and Derek Walter, an ordinary couple of animal lovers living just outside of Toronto, Canada, launched her Facebook page in 2012. This was shortly after they added to their menagerie what they thought was a “mini pig.”

Surprise, surprise! Esther ended up being a regular ol’ workaday commercial pig. You know, like the ones that live for the sole purpose of being our dinner?

Not long after looking at the photos of Esther—all 530 lbs of her —hanging out with the family, with a smile you could just gobble up, I took my last forkful of her kind.

ESTER1 Esther3

The mental commitment was the easy part. Alas, I’d find myself having to revisit Esther’s Facebook page whenever I got a hankering for barbeque.

Pork is everywhere! At an Asian restaurant recently I struggled to find anything on the menu that didn’t include some pig part. When I told friends at the table about my dilemma, and how Esther’s big moony face tugged at me, I was met with polite amusement. I guess it’s true: a picture is worth 1,000 words. I should have pulled out my iPhone, we’d all have settled for the tofu.

I spoke with Steven Jenkins recently and tried that story one more time, figuring I’d find a more receptive listener. He surprised me by saying that a large percentage of Esther fans come from Asia! Is it possible they cutting down their pork consumption, too?

Maybe! He wasn’t sure. . .

. . . And maybe not.

Despite efforts—and great strides—by animal-rights advocates, however, for most people there remains a cavernous disconnect between our diets and how those farm animals wound up on our plates. (Warning about that last link. It contains graphic video images I still cannot shake from my brain.)

Meat-eating has always been a messy business, shadowed by the shame of killing and, since Upton Sinclair’s writing of The Jungle, by questions about what we’re really eating when we eat meat. Forgetting, or willed ignorance, is the preferred strategy of many meat eaters, a strategy abetted by the industry.

– Michael Pollan, journalist and author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.”

But here’s the thing: If I used the narrative above to frame my crowdfunding pitch, Esther’s campaign to purchase property for a pig farm sanctuary would probably be suffering a slow, unnecessary death.

Check out what her people did with Esther’s campaign instead. From the beginning it’s upbeat, celebratory, and all-around entertaining! Even the video, (the VO of which just may be a nod to “Babe”) doesn’t make us feel overwhelmed or saddened.

Or guilty.

Just like her Facebook page Jenkins and Walter were smart enough to meet people where they are. They share the ups and downs of accidental big pig ownership and definitely do not recommend it. No looking down on the unenlightened meat eaters or preaching a vegan or vegetarian diet. No violins or tears. At least they don’t lead with that.

Through it all, however Esther becomes more and more emblazoned on our psyches. A living and breathing integral part of their family—just like our dogs and cat companions (albeit with cloven feet)—and a lovable stand-in for all the anonymous farm creatures we never before bothered to give much thought to.

It’s just great.

Social entrepreneurs and nonprofit organizations remember: People tune out when they are lectured to or inundated with sad-sack stories and images. You’re not putting your best face forward when all you do is highlight the problem.

Make no mistake, people understand there’s a problem when they read about Esther the Wonder Pig; they just won’t feel assaulted. In fact, they’ll probably become more curious and do a little research on their own. (Like I did when I stumbled on that horrific video documenting pig treatment on commercial farms.) Then they’ll come back to you— enlightened and primed to fund you—and feel grateful for going easy on them.

What else did this campaign do right?

They let social media do the heavy lifting

From the beginning Jenkins and Walter used social media brilliantly. Launching a Facebook page for Esther was a natural since it’s a haven for animal lovers, and they are actively targeting celebrity animal lovers on sites like Twitter.

They got their proof of concept before launching

Jenkins told me he and Walter were shocked to see how quickly Esther’s star shot into the social media stratosphere. So by the time they decided to run a crowdfunding campaign, with hundreds of thousands of followers spread across social media channels they had every reason to believe they could be successful.

They created a business plan

Their goal is not a small one: They need $400K just to purchase the property and the buildings on it. They wisely hired professionals and wrote a business plan they call The Esther Effect Farm Animal Sanctuary. This gives them much-needed credibility and leadership thumbs up.

They are not relying on crowdfunding as a sole source of income

The crowdfunding campaign represents only phase one of their plan. As their accountant told me (yes, Esther has an accountant) the ultimate goal for the sanctuary is that it becomes self-funding through their registered foundation for daily operations, with supplemental revenues coming from a farmers market and educational programs as well as special events and entry fees.

They are building an army

Esther has a second Facebook page. It’s called Esther’s Army. Why does she need that? Forget about teams! With their ambitious goals Jenkins and Walter were smart enough to realize that they needed a dedicated place where their true fans could go to share ideas, offer suggestions, and brainstorm on next steps. “It’s a way to avoid spamming people,” Jenkins said. I love that.

My only concern, which I shared with Jenkins, is that an awful lot of perks are going require considerable man (and pig) hours to fulfill. Life with Esther is busy enough. Will they be able to pull it off? Jenkins is sanguine about it, but it remains to be seen how Esther feels about Skype.

My suggestion to all of you fans who plan to contribute is please do Esther and her people a favor and check that little box that says No Perk.

What is Jelly’s Role? Whatever You Want it to Be

Have you heard about Jelly, the new social question-and-answer app created by Twitter co-founder Biz Stone? It’s based on the “strength of weak ties” theory, which basically says weak ties are better at reaching populations and audiences that are not accessible via strong ties.

Here’s a quick tutorial. Download the free app on your iPhone or Android mobile device and you’re prompted to connect to Facebook friends and Twitter followers. (More networks to follow, they say.)

To ask a visual question, you can take a photo or choose among suggested images based on your question. The query will go to your networks’ Jelly users.

To answer questions, tap the icon on the top left. Questions will appear in a queue. You can swipe the question away, star it if you want find out what other people say, answer it, or forward it to your non-Jelly network.

Many a digerati have already weighed in that given the array of social networks, niche forums, and groups we already go to for feedback, what’s the point? It’s true that the app is still so new that a lot of the questions are actually questions about ways to use Jelly.

To continue reading, please go to this week’s installment of my Tip of the Week column at


Don’t Keep the “Why” of Your Crowdfunding Campaign Hidden

Each day I get multiple tweets from project creators, asking for my social support. I try my best to give a look-see to them all and to spread the word if I think the project has legs and I feel the cause is worthy—a very loosely defined term and less about my personal tastes than the strength of the campaign’s message and its ability to hit its goal.

(Okay, sometimes it is about taste. It’s probably best not to ask me to retweet anything that includes the words “post-apocalyptic” or “zombie.” Crowdfunding is about innovative ideas and these just aren’t anymore, even when you tack on the words “with a twist.”)

When I looked at the Lion’s Thread Bow Ties campaign this morning I loved so many things about it, not least this great video that creatively depicts a day in the life of a guy that dons his Lion’s Thread bow tie and the poor sap who settles for one of those crummy old knotted things.

Pretty great, right? It’s entertaining and shows the product nicely. The problem is, after reviewing the campaign narrative; it didn’t dovetail with the video—meaning it failed to fill in blanks not included in the video. So I was left more questions than answers.

In the end, this campaign is not about the bow ties at all. It’s about the people behind the bow ties—the folks who began this initiative and the talented locals who make them—and I wasn’t given much about any of them until I sought it out myself.


“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.”

That’s a Simon Sinek quote. Sinek talks a lot about knowing your “why,” and I quote him frequently because knowing your “why” is vital to your crowdfunding success.

Sometimes campaigns have no “why” and that’s the reason they fail. What’s sad it if they a terrific “why” but keep it hidden under a rock.

I tweeted them looking for some answers. Here’s the exchange we had throughout the day. (Click to enlarge.)


They didn’t take my bait.

So here are some things they could have done better to shine a light on their project:


I had to click on this link to discover the proceeds will support local Ugandan orphans


Sometimes pictures are worth a 1,000 words but in crowdfunding a picture without context can confuse. It would have been so much more effective to explain who the players are.


Along the same lines, I had to click on the full bio link in order to learn that these project creators really do have the chops to make this campaign work.

As of publication, the campaign has a little over three days to go. According to Kicktraq,it doesn’t look good. (Click to enlarge.)


But it’s hardly impossible.

Besides having a great cause, these bow ties are really sharp. Everyone should own one. Just re-watch the video of you don’t believe me. And then make a contribution.

KarmaKrowd, Because DIY IP is Risky

Tip of the Week

In honor of the final day of  Women’s History Month I thought it would be fun to write about a new platform that not only has an interesting niche and suite of services but also happens to be co-founded by a woman. (And it’s based in my hometown of Chicago. Yay!)

KarmaKrowd is a crowdfunding platform that guides startups and entrepreneurs through the process of protecting their intellectual property (including patents, trademarks, and copyrights) before launching a crowdfunding campaign. When you think about the fact that IP-intensive industries directly accounted for 27.1 million American jobs, or 18.8 percent of all employment in the economy in 2010, the value of a buttoned up IP becomes clear.

KarmaKrowd, which is looking for inventors and entrepreneurs who are seriously trying to get a product out there, is currently accepting 25 beta testers. In return they get free PR services and no upfront costs.

To contintue reading, please go to my most recent Tip of the Week installment at

PressFriendly: A Virtual PR Firm for Tech Startups

You are a bootstrapped tech startup. You need PR. Would you retain a PR agency? Joel Andren, co-founder of PressFriendly, the newest kid on the block to tackle this much-debated topic, interviewed over 200 founders and asked about their experiences using traditional PR firms.

The responses were not promising: “The takeaway was that PR is necessary to getting their story out in ‘earned media,’ but their return on investment was not good.”

Since ignoring the media is not an option, and media blasts just don’t work, PressFriendly set about creating a software-drive virtual PR agency that is more in line with ROI.

Launched just under two months ago, PressFriendly was designed to help users plan and build their story, and then send it out to targeted media through a “machine learning” system — software that was trained to mine data and find matches between the pitcher and the pitched. Think of it as the CRM system for public relations.

To continue reading, please go to this installment from my Tip of the Week column on


Backerkit Automates Crowdfunding Fulfillment

Spring is here. Growing up in my family’s house the season signified a time for a thorough house cleaning. But it wasn’t so bad because my mom—and her unpaid labor, her kids—made sure to keep on top of things and one step ahead of a mess.

I don’t do spring-cleaning, mostly because I’m not as proactive and it would be a nightmare from which I might never emerge if I started now.

Are you running your crowdfunding campaign that way? Without a plan? Just reacting and trying to keep up? If you are, you’re in for a different kind of nightmare once your project completes and you enter the fulfillment stage. Because as time-consuming as running a crowdfunding campaign can be, you will soon come to feel that raising the money was the easy part.

Backerkit, a maker of software tools for successful project creators, has been helping them manage the process of rewards fulfillment since 2012. Now they aim to take this support to another level.


Backerkit just announced a beta launch of its Crowdfunding Partners platform, which makes it easy for fulfillment houses, e-commerce tools, and other services to build apps for project creators. The platform gives businesses an API to plug directly into crowdfunding projects.

Fulfillrite is the first fulfillment company to sign on, and currently Backerkit supports Indiegogo, Kickstarter and Crowdtilt Open. As demand from other platforms increases they intend to expand.

What does this mean for you, project creator? I’d call it the equivalent of hiring a professional cleaning crew to clean your house, but humans are flawed; they might overlook the dust bunnies under the bed.

While there are lots of companies that have sprouted up to assist with fulfillment, an integrated solution for the crowdfunding community has been missing. Backerkit is offering a one-click, automated solution.

“A thousand paper cuts hit you after your crowdfunding campaign ends, Backerkit’s Josha Nathan says. “Every aspect of managing a project can be difficult, especially if you have several reward tiers and different combinations of rewards––the actual process of sorting through all those can be mind blowing. BackerKit automates the process and enables project creators to worry about their project rather than the complex issue of logistics. . . . It’s a much better system than sorting through spreadsheets.”

Take the issue of platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo lacking the functionality to produce good quality surveys to their backers, for example. For project creators, integrating means they can easily control the process of back and forth communication from their dashboard.

Integration also enables backers to solve minor problems on their own, so they don’t have to bug project creators with time-sucking special requests about T-shirt sizes or delivery specifications. Backers simply receive an email invite and are then taken through a simple shopping-cart experience. And since fulfillment can take months, backers can log back in and update their information at any time, up until a project creator is ready to ship rewards.

Backerkit supports project creators at various levels, from DIY tools to connecting folks with shipping companies. They also supports pre-orders, so if you missed the chance to back a project, you can easily pre-order from a project creator through BackerKit.

Significantly, Backerkit offers a reduced rate for project creators who sign up before their projects complete, as an incentive to not put off fulfillment until the 11th hour.

Nathan says, “I think it ties right into crowdfunding best practices. The most successful project creators are the people that plan ahead, and know what they are getting into. By setting up BackerKit when their crowdfunding campaign is still ongoing, they get an idea of the tools that are available to them, so they can avoid any missteps as they prepare to complete their project.”

I’d call it the difference between keeping your spring-cleaning manageable, or being buried in dust bunnies. Stay on top of your campaign and you will thank yourself later.






Learn a Lesson in Crowdfunding From a Pro

Everybody wants to be a crowdfunding pro. But I’ve learned time and again that few are willing to take the time and do the work in order to get there, and failure ensues. The lesson: if you want to win like a pro, in crowdfunding you’ve got to learn what it takes.

So I was excited when I received an intriguing email sent by a familiar name. Andrew Heard is a Canadian writer-producer whom I have come to know as a regular social media participant regarding crowdfunding since I began actively following it. Heard could be relied upon to post interesting and noteworthy links about crowdfunding, expanding my horizons in ways for which I have been grateful.

The email in question, entitled The Hero is Coming is Heard’s test run for his email marketing campaign for his crowdfunding campaign. I Am the Bucket is a charity web series about a Good Samaritan who gets a bucket stuck on his head and decides to become a superhero.

What makes it worthy of mention is that unbeknownst to me—and probably many others who received the same email and recognized him as a regular and helpful contributor on platforms such as LinkedIn—is that Heard never mentioned he was planning to eventually run a crowdfunding campaign of his own—a campaign, I should add, about a topic for which he has a personal affinity and experience.

Instead he wisely decided to establish a solid social media presence by being helpful to others. That accomplished, he’s now ready to ask his list of trusted followers to return the favor.

Sound familiar? This is the constant, and often unheeded, drumbeat of all crowdfunding consultants worth their salt. Don’t swoop in out of nowhere and ask strangers for a favor! Instead prove yourself to be a giver so that when the roles are reversed people will be way more inclined to help you.

I sent Heard an email the other day asking if he would like to be interviewed for The Crowdfundamentals. I even sent along a list of questions I would like to ask him so he would know what to expect and could prepare some answers. Instead he did me the great favor of responding to my questions by email, thereby saving me the trouble of a real-time interview, which I’d then have to transcribe. (I hate transcribing.) Before reading, you can check out his series trailer here.

What is your project?

The project is an inspirational web series designed to raise money for charities through crowdfunding and merchandise about a guy who gets a bucket stuck on his head and decides to become a superhero. We’re going to have celebrity guest stars to help raise awareness for various issues.

Why is it important to you?

It’s important to me because it is basically my life on screen. Several episodes are taken directly from personal experiences where I helped someone. As an example, one episode involves the main character, Buckethead, intervening when a couple was fighting and there was a baby being held by the mother. The episode is almost word for word a description of an actual event where I was the Buckethead character in the situation.

When did you begin?

Five years ago I originally came up with the idea of Buckethead and have been developing it ever since with a lot of successes and failures along the way. One of the failures being a crowdfunding campaign that resulted in zero donations and lead me to research the topic incessantly ever since in preparation for a hopefully successful one in the future.

How’s it going so far?

The project is in the best shape it’s been in years. The scripts are written and basically ready to go and I have been in discussions with investors. I also just submitted for a grant with the Independent Production Fund‘s web series program for funding.

What have you learned?

I’ve learned that success is a long road and short cuts ultimately lead to failure. There are a lot of people who believe in the “If you built it, they will come” mentality to business, whether it’s film/television/digital productions or crowdfunding or any other business and I’ve learned that’s not the case. The thing to remember about “Field of Dreams “is that Kevin Costner’s character had no idea what he was building, why he had to build it or who would come if he finished it. You need to know all three of those things before you start constructing anything people are going to buy. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t test things out and just sit around thinking about it. By all means do something, but do it with someone who has already figured out those three things first so you learn what not to do.

What is your ultimate goal?

My ultimate goal is to make a difference in the world. I know that seems rather vague but my philosophy is that changing the world is easy, it happens one person at a time. It’s changing yourself that’s hard. I want people to come up to me after they see the final product and say, “You helped me” whether that’s through the charity work or through the themes and ideas that I present. If I can make a living off this where people come up to me and say that for the rest of my life, then I’ll be happy.





How to Create an Effective Twitter Profile for Your Crowdfunding Campaign

Everyone has their own sniff test for which Twitterers we deem worth a return follow. If your profile makes me laugh it’s pretty much guaranteed you are in. Click on the image to see the follow request I woke up to this morning:



Is it just me or are there some words that have the  same kind of juvenile power over us they did when were were about six years old? The word butt can still make me snicker and snort.

I followed. Then I had to go the campaign.and check it out. (Plus tweet it so others might enjoy a chuckle.)

Big Ass Rainbow is a nicely conceived art book idea by Josh Kraus, a young writer from Philadelphia. Kraus taps into the power and the universal truths behind (a pun!) the word butt and how we offhandedly use it in our everyday language, then elevates it into a collaborative art project. Check it out. According to Kicktraq they’re killing it so far.

Click on the image for my notes on some stuff he does well.

Big Ass Rainbow

Words Matter in Crowdfunding? That’s Music to the Ears

Leave it to science to prove what the heart has known all along.

A study by Georgia Tech, which vetted 45,000 campaigns on Kickstarter, has just released some fascinating data. It seems that the words you use in your pitch DO matter.

Can I just say duh?

The study reported that successful campaigns exhibited “persuasion principles” that their failed counterparts did not. The campaigns that put forth the concept of reciprocity, perception of social participation, and authority managed to grab a backer by the purse strings handily. The word Karma also scored high on the conversion meter. What a concept!

Conversely, words used in pitches that display a level of desperation or negativity were a downer and a turnoff. I am choking back another duh. Too many project creators waste their valuable time and space grousing that if they weren’t so poor they would have created a good campaign. Oy.

The researchers were thorough. They controlled for crowdfunding variables like categories, funding goals, pitch video, the strength of social media networks, and pledge levels, zeroing in on more than 20,000 phrases. Through that they created a dictionary of more than 100 phrases with “predictive powers”for success or failure. Here’s a sample.

Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 1.50.15 PM

The results of the study only reinforce the basic principle that has made crowdfunding so successful from the beginning: the idea that if you are to create and maintain a connection to your audience your pitch must have a positive emotional resonance.

Those who live and work in service of the written word have understood this for a very long time. It’s what’s made the advertising and copyrighting world go round and round forever. When is someone likely to want to stick around to hear what you have to say? When your words make the recipient feel something inside. That applies equally in the crowdfunding space or when reading a poem.

This has been a bit of a stumbling block for some project creators. Often when topic of the importance of good storytelling comes up, they think they are being asked to recast themselves as Walt Whitman or Jane Austen. But the idea is to think of your words, and how you use storytelling, as a tool or business strategy. Maybe now that there are data to back up the idea, this message will have impact. With the failure rate as woefully high as it is, if it does science will have done the industry a great service.