Kickstarter Gives Journalists a Category of Their Own

Tip of the Week


There’s been plenty of talk circulating about Kickstarter’s new rules.

But a change that has generated less of a splash is that as of June 11, Kickstarter added Journalism to its growing list of categories and subcategories. (The other new category announced is Crafts.)

Considering journalism has been knocked about and turned inside out (thanks, Internet), this is good news because — to borrow from the best — it gives journalism a metaphorical “room of its own” (thanks, Virginia Woolf).

The category includes books, magazines, web publications, podcast, investigative or photojournalism, photo essays, and even live tweeting events.

If you launch a journalism project on Kickstarter, in solidarity Mediabistro’s 10,000 Words wants to give it a boost. Just tweet them your project @10,000Words or put it in the comment section here.

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

What it Takes to Create a Crowdfunding Movement

Social media can be credited with facilitating lots of movements—from flash mobs that make a lonely kid’s fantasies come to life to the Arab Spring.

And crowdfunding is the newest go-to vehicle to rally financial support around important things, ideas, and objectives that matter to the masses.

Here’s what author and business consultant Jim Collins suggests about creating movements in his must-read book, “Good to Great.” (Emphasis is mine.)

When [what you are deeply passionate about, what you can be best in the world at and what drives your economic engine] come together, not only does your work move toward greatness, but so does your life….Perhaps, then, you might gain that rare tranquility that comes from knowing that you’ve had a hand in creating something of intrinsic excellence that makes a contribution.

How do you know if you’ve got a movement in need of your leadership on your hands?

When people want to schedule a consultation with me I ask them to first fill out a short questionnaire. It’s designed not only to make our time together most impactful—so we don’t waste time having you explain you idea to me. But more importantly I use it as a gauge.

The most telling question I pose is: How will [your thing, idea, or objective] benefit the crowd?

Much too often the response I receive is something along the lines of: They will benefit by having/participating/owning my thing, idea, or objective!

This response puts the project creator’s contribution topmost in the equation. But a true movement isn’t about the individual; it’s about a group connecting around a singular passion, be it social, political or artistic.

Social media is partially to blame for the confusion. It has given us a skewed sense of our power to influence. But influence follows; it’s a result of our ability to resonate and connect with a large group—a consequence not a cause of it.

So how can you recognize if your thing, idea, or objective transcends the self-serving?

In some ways, you should have an I-know-it-when-I-see-it kind of reaction to it. But in truth it’s way easier to recognize when something is not a movement in others than it is in ourselves. We have blind spots, after all, which is why we need good friends! (Or, worst-case, good consultants.)

I have great respect for the many people who want to launch crowdfunding campaigns in order to effect some kind of major change; we all know our world could use the help. Movement making is a great and noble goal and one that takes dedication and commitment.

Here is a short checklist to ponder if you’re looking to run a crowdfunding campaign that goes beyond one person having a great idea they want to birth—which is hard enough as it is!

  • The stakes are very high
  • Your life in one way or another has somehow revolved around this issue
  • You’re willing to lose something personally, be it privacy or comfort or normality
  • You’re willing to endure criticism
  • It makes you scared
  • You are not motivated by economics

We’ve seen many examples of movements that crowdfunding has fueled. I wanted to share the most recent campaign I learned about, Embrace – the Documentary That Will Create Global Change.

That’s quite a title to live up to. But if you watch the video below and compare project creator Taryn Brumfitt against the checklist above, she more than fits my movment-maker list of criteria.


Crowdfunding Lessons From David Ogilvy and Other Pop Culture Icons

Any Mad Men fans out there? If you are you know that at the end of last season — season 6 — Don Draper managed to get himself put on an involuntary leave of absence by his fellow ad agency partners for losing it in a pitch meeting with Hershey’s execs.

“Crying like a baby,” was how Jim Cutler, a particularly antagonistic senior partner characterized Draper’s outburst.

One of the things I love about the show (besides the mod mid-century design) is that it’s full of dialogue that places us in the world of Madison Avenue advertising in the 50s and 60s. Like Cutler’s chauvinism and those morning nips of Scotch, some of it is pretty dated.

Consider how copy chief Peggy Olsen describes the creative style of the guy who’s temporarily replaced Draper: “Lou likes to write the tags first and sneak up on a strategy.”

I don’t even know what that means — except that it sounds like a bad idea.

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

Or go here to read all my Tips—just in case you missed some.


How to Create a Memorable Crowdfunding Campaign

Sometimes the simple projects are the most memorable. Tabtag is one of those.

I don’t often write about a campaign—unless it’s thriving or bombing fantastically—but when I received this email I jumped for joy. Here’s why. (Click on image to enlarge.)

Screen Shot #1 PM
I get many requests to promote people’s projects. Yet if those people read my blog they would know that’s not the focus of it. My blog is primarily educational. So when someone takes the time to read it and compliment it—that’s refreshing! So I clicked on the campaign link and what do you know?

Tabtags are really cool!
Screen Shot #2PM
These glowing, removable and reusable stickers have both a practical and whimsical application. I can put it on my Mac to display my logo during trainings and conference presentations, which would be eye-catchingly cute. I wanted one already.

Plus it’s a good way to distinguish my Mac from the others, so I’ll never mistake my husband’s computer for mine again.

The funding goal is reasonable
When the project creator sent me the email, the project had already fully funded—and then some. This was another positive. People tend to write because their campaign is very stalled. But if you stop to think about it for a second, who promotes failing projects?


Screen Shot #3 PM

There are also so many campaigns out there trying to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars it makes me cringe. The more reasonable your ask, the more likely you are to achieve your goal.

Tabtag offers choices

They’ll custom make one from your logo or you can choose one of their designs.

Screen Shot #4PMWhich are kind of adorable.

Thanks for sending me your campaign, Volker Lobmayr!


How to Tell Your Crowdfunding Story from Multiple Angles

There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.- Mark Twain, a Biography

 I’m not sure people in the 19th century were thinking much about inventing Twitter, say, or Oculus Rift, but Twain’s point is well taken and is more true in the crowdfunding space every day.

This means project creators have to work that much harder to distinguish his or her projects.

It’s absolutely possible to do so but it requires thinking about your idea from every conceivable angle and then being agile enough to deploy whatever point of view best suits your given audience.

I see too many projects blending into the background because of a failure on the creators’ parts to understand what makes them different. They settle for the most obvious points and don’t explore beyond them. I can only assume this is because they don’t know how to—or that they should.

The first scenario—not knowing how—is forgivable. But often, when I point out that major messaging changes should take place, people register a resistance to go beyond the message they settled on.

Both scenarios will cost you.

This post for those people who don’t know how.

The problem with trying to teach, or describe the mechanics of how to shine the brightest and most original light on your story is difficult because the thought process is so internal. It’s a mental thing.

So blogs and articles continue to give generic how-to-tell-a-good-story advice; I’ve probably written some of them myself, which I confess leave me a little unsatisfied; I’m not sure I’ve helped anyone when I spout platitudes like:


Anyone can have an idea. But it’s your vision that is exclusive only to you!

These kinds of sweeping statement can a) make you feel overwhelmed or b) can feel painfully like a blah blah ginger moment.

For example, I hate Pilates, and have quit a couple of times, because the instructors use so many words to try to get me to understand the physical actions they want from me. Too much of that and I shut down.

I want to see it in action.

So now, in Pilates, if I feel a headache coming on I’ll quickly ask the instructor can show me? When she stops talking and just does it—that’s when the light bulb usually goes on.

If you’re still with me, I’m going to attempt to make this blog post a “show, don’t tell” teachable moment for those who are tempted to shut down.

The backstory

Last week I set up an interview to speak with a man by the name of Abdullah Rufus AKA DJ Grandpa. He hosts a weekly podcast called DJ Grandpa’s Crib in which he interviews crowdfunding people—mostly project creators.

We’d spoken the week before and thought he’d make a great tip for my Tip of the Week column on

My plan, as is usually the case, was to gear the story to the project creator, to show them that DJ Grandpa’s Crib could be a great place to be featured because campaigners who are invited on his podcast tend to fund.

Right before the interview ended, however, I learned a piece of information that changed everything for me: Rufus charges project creators a modest sum of money to be on his show.

Now, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that; it’s just that it’s my personal policy to not write a tip for this column about anyone or anything that directly benefits someone or some thing financially. I do this in order to prevent a perception that I may be paid for my articles. And I do not, and will not, write sponsored articles. (Again, no judgment to those who do!)

It was the close to deadline and I had to change course quickly.

Here’s what I ended up writing.

Here’s how I arrived at it:

Don’t settle for easy

I could have taken the attitude that one article straying from my policy would be okay. Or I could have dropped the Rufus story completely and chosen a less-interesting tip chosen from the list I keep on hand and used one of those instead. That would have been the easy way out, and I would have had a so-so Tip that week.

Keep a brainstorming list and keep copious notes

Instead I went back to my interview notes and analyzed what information I had about Rufus that would take the focus off the impression I was shilling for him. That took some time but, hey, it’s my job.

Before launching you should be thinking about your messaging and how to fine-tune it to particular audiences. One set-in stone message will prevent you from benefiting when an unanticipated audience reveals itself or a related news peg appears.

Keep those session notes that list your campaign messaging from different angles. It will help you tremendously as your campaign progresses to expand beyond your obvious network.

Never stop paying close attention

For a 300 or 400 word piece, I talked to Rufus for about an hour (not counting the previous week when we were just chatting and getting to know one another.) I wrote everything down (and recorded, too, because I’m not the best note taker.)

This really helped me when I had to change my approach. Rufus provided me with lots of stats, most of which would be useful to the project creator. Then I hit on one stat that could be of interest to another audience: the backers and investors. The stat was that the podcast averages 10,000 listeners weekly.

That stat would be great information for investors!

Why? It acts as a sort of “proof of concept” for the show. In other words, 10,000 listeners per week are obviously learning something important on DJ Grandpa’s Crib. So I changed my angle in favor of the investor rather than the project creator.

Remember this:

As project creators, never fall in love with a single identity. If your goal is to reach the masses who care about what you care about—and it is—make sure you provide some interesting takeaway to a variety of audiences.

When you run a crowdfunding campaign you want to provide a big a tent as possible, right? So make room for different audiences to fit into it!

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.

Here’s How to Make One Dollar Donations Add Up!

Tip of the Week

Historically, crowdfunding had been a project-based method for raising capital. To qualify, your idea needed to have a beginning, middle, and an end.

When Patreon came along last year, it shook up the status quo by offering a much-needed alternative for artists and content creators that have ongoing financial needs. Patreon users set the terms of the perks at various payment levels, with the typical 5 percent going to the platform.

Right around that time, YouTube also launched its own paid prescription plan. Content creators have to have at least 10,000 subscribers and users that subscribed could view the content on various platforms and devices.

Between these options and hundreds of crowfunding platforms, competition is stiff for market share. But that didn’t deter the founders of TapRaise, the self-described “everyday crowdfunding,” Brooklyn-based startup for anyone seeking ongoing support for his or her work.

Their confidence stems from the simplicity and streamlined use of its flagship product, the “Give a Dollar” button.

To continue reading this week’s Tip of the Week installment go to



Tips on How to Get Content Shared on Social Media

This morning I was having a conversation with a colleague about some intriguing discoveries he’d made on his crowdfunding-related website where people are invited to post their videos. While analyzing how and when people tend to click on videos tweeted out, he noticed that when he tweeted a link to someone else’s videos it was clicked on and retweeted far more widely than if the person who created the video tweeted it out.

What does that say? That people were less responsive when they believed the posting was self-promotional? And that if it came from an objective third party the crowd was more inclined to give the video a look-see—and often a push with a retweet?

Until he comes up with a good way to A/B test this theory, it’s all guesswork.

It reminded me of the film “Defending Your Life” in which Albert Brooks’ character dies and has to “defend” the choices he made while on Earth. Pretty funny. But one of the lines that has persisted in our imaginations is the idea that humans only use 3 – 5% of our brains. If you’ve got a few minutes and you want to laugh, here’s the scene.

If you switch out the words “social media” and “brains” you’ll understand what I’m driving at.

Like the good technologists the modern world has advised us we have to be, we all got accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and on and on and are blasting out content every day. But how effectively are we using these communication channels?

Broadcasting is out, narrowcasting is in.

Spamming is out, engagement is in.

Helpfulness is in.

Consistency is in.

Automation is definitely out.

All of that could mean a lot of different things to different people. My idea of being helpful may feel like spam to you.

Thankfully there are some smart people on the case. One of them is Neil Patel of QuickSprout. In this infographic he takes us through the finer points of one of my favorite subjects: word choices. It turns out they can drastically affect your social traffic. But the best part is that his analysis reveals some pretty surprising results.

I learned a lot from this nifty visual. For example, did you know that words that persuade on LinkedIn may sound overly sales-y on Facebook? Neither did I.

Like anything (other than math) you needn’t get too robotic about it—no keyword stuffing, for example. (That would fall into the “spam” category.) Patel’s idea, I think, is to become more cognizant of our word choices and how they will bounce off your intended audience. And—this is important—the audiences respond differently depending on what platform you’re writing your content on.

Afterwards, check out my post on a Georgia Study that analyzed 200 Kickstarter campaigns for thumbs-up and thumbs-down word choices. That was another eye opener. Don’t worry, we’ll push that brain capacity up a percentage or two before this decade is out.


The Surprising Words That Get Content Shared on Social Media
Courtesy of: Quick Sprout




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


The Crowd vs. Investor Due Diligence? The Crowd Wins

This is a repost from my LinkedIn blog. I will be adding posts that pertain to crowdfunding here on The Crowdfundamentals blog, in case you miss them the first time.

Have you heard about Clinkle, the mobile app created by the 20-something techie golden boy, Lucas Duplan? The wallet app was touted to utilize a high-frequency sound to transmit money between users in close proximity.

Silicon Valley fawned over its simplicity, intuitiveness, and primo user interface. There were gamification elements, social rewards, and even a philanthropic component that allowed users to seamlessly donate cash or perks earned to good causes.

Savvy VCs, not least of which included Virgin CEO Richard Branson, threw money at it—to the tune of $30 million. It was the largest early investment raised in Silicon Valley’s history.

While Duplan spent lavishly on “culture-building” parties and fancy digs, the app stayed in stealth mode for three long years. Yet no one openly questioned why. Until last November when a former Yahoo and xAd exec was hired and quit after only one day. Duplan is now under fire for deceitful practices because it turns out that the actual product being developed has fallen short of what the demo led everyone to believe it could do.

For those who have been following some of the investigative reporting on possible crowdfunding scams alleged to be perpetuated by Healbe GoBe, the calorie-counting watch; and TellSpec a hand-held food-scanning device, both of which have scientists raising eyebrows, there are some interesting contrasts to be drawn between how quickly the Crowd complained about a fishy odor wafting around online, and the glacial pace at which the sophisticated VCs, the angel community, or employees caught wind of Duplan’s duplicity during many face-to-face meetings with him.

In all cases, the jury is still out on whether Duplan or the crowdfunding projects, which were delivered heavy payloads by backers, will make good on their promises.

But in the case of Clinkle, depending on when you start counting it took anywhere from nine months—which was when the investors kicked in millions—to three years—which is when Duplan first started shopping his app around Silicon Valley—for anyone to realize that the app development was not progressing.

Compare that to the 15 days for red flags to be waved at HealBe by PandoDaily, (their first piece appeared on March 20) and exactly two days for the first complaint to hit a forum about TellSpec. (That campaign started October 1, 2013 and this ran on October 3.)

A lot of criticism has been lobbed lately at platforms like Indiegogo and Kickstarter for a lack of transparency in their vetting processes and an unwillingness to interface with critics who demand accountability when issues do arise—and for good reason.

Unlike investment deals in which investors are responsible for due diligence, crowdfunding is supposed to stand on pillars like transparency, engagement, accountability, and follow through. Each project creator is asked by the platforms to abide by them. But whenever a domino falls the other way, and the platforms are asked to do the same, they hem and haw or say too little , too late.

Wouldn’t the platforms be serving themselves and the crowd so much better if they acted in accordance with their own guidelines? Which, by the way, should be expanded and specific as opposed to using such general language as to conveniently leave them enormous room to interpret as needed.

Shouldn’t the platforms be much more transparent about exactly how their vetting process works?

And with the enormous sums of money these platforms raise everyday—Kickstarter recently boasted passing the $1 billion mark— shouldn’t they be throwing money at hiring real eyeballs to focus on it?

Remember, unlike the Clinkle investors, the crowdfunding backers continued willingly to give money to Healbe and Tellspec, even after news of possible malfeasance had begun circulating widely, because they understand their dollars don’t fetch equity shares and are willing to take the risk.

Given all that, I don’t understand the reticence and pushback from founders. We really do trust in the wisdom of the crowd to find the scofflaws. All we ask is a little support from the big guys we’re keeping in the green.