On Oct. 25, Liz Vaughan and Jarod Charzewski were sweating. They needed to raise $2,000 by the end of the day for Receiver Fest, a time-based media festival that the pair will be launching this March. They were close, very close, but not quite there. It didn’t matter if they raised $1,999. If they didn’t hit that $2,000 mark, they wouldn’t get a penny. It was all or nothing.
They were using Kickstarter, a new website that allows artists, musicians, filmmakers, and other creatives to connect with backers from all over the world. The site allows its users to present their projects, whether it be putting out a new album or putting on a multi-day art festival, to a huge fundraising base. If successful, they’re rewarded with money that they can then spend, no strings attached. But the contributions come with a few stipulations.
Vaughan heard about Kickstarter through a friend, and when it came time to start organizing Receiver Fest, she thought it was ideal for their purposes. For their festival, they have artists coming in from as far north as Canada, and some who are performing for three straight days. The two wanted to take care of them, making sure they could get to Charleston and do their work as comfortably as possible.
“Basically, we have a lot of different areas where we need to spread our money, the nature of our festival being a multiartist, multivenue, multigenre festival, so there’s just any number of things that we can spend it on that would qualify,” Charzewski says. “We can spend it however we want. There’s no one looking over our shoulder saying, ‘Hey wait, you can’t buy boiled peanuts with that.’ ”
When you create a project on Kickstarter, you must set two goals for yourself. The first is the amount of money you expect to raise, from mere hundreds to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Next, you have to set yourself a time limit. You’re allowed to choose between one and 90 days in which to achieve your goal. If a project falls short, the creator can reassess their goals and craft a different set of rewards that are more attune to their particular audience.
The backers’ credit cards are not charged until the project reaches its goal. For example, if you can’t raise $5,000 in the 45 days you’ve set for yourself, you don’t get anything. They have an all-or-nothing policy.
Kickstarter has had a diverse array of projects from emerging to established artists. Filmmaker Zana Briski, who won an Academy Award for the documentary Born Into Brothels, raised money for her next movie using the website. Besides Receiver Fest, local band Megan Jean and the KFB, and the films The Wise Kids, The Debutante Hunter, and Butterflies Wake all have used the site.
With Kickstarter, the backers receive something in return for their money.
“It’s this cool exchange where you put down $25, and in exchange for that, you get your value back,” Vaughan says. For $15, Receiver Fest promised backers an official Receiver Fest flag and screen-printed T-shirt. For $1, they gave virtual pats on the back. An unrelated project in New Orleans offered homemade gumbo for $100.
Kickstarter pledges average at $68. The most common pledge is $25. Often, you can promise as little as $1; some backers have even pledged up to $10,000.
Receiver Fest submitted its proposal to Kickstarter in July and eventually went live in September. They decided to end it in October.
Vaughan’s mother was the first person to donate to Receiver Fest through the site. They promoted their project on a blog and “e-mailed the crap out of people.” A lot of their backers were people they knew personally. Vaughan considers the support they received to be a serious community effort. “It’s really about catering and appealing to the community, because the festival itself is a community endeavor, so that’s why it’s appropriate,” Vaughan says. “It’s not about trying to win over millionaires and benefactors. It’s about how you can integrate people around you.”
Vaughan says there was some danger of their project not being successful. But the money came trickling in, with the majority of it coming in on the last day. “If you think about it, if you are a person that wants to pledge some money, you are going to be watching it to see how it’s going” Charzewski says. They knew there were a couple of cash cows who would drop serious money if they had to. But with two hours to go, they still hadn’t seen their names.
It was down to the last hour when two random backers, or “mystery angels,” as Vaughan calls them, came out of nowhere and brought them over the top. With 28 total backers, they exceeded their original goal and managed to raise $2,141.
“It really did sort of open some people’s eyes about it, I think. Even though some people gave and maybe didn’t get the opportunity to give as much as they want, we can contact them and keep them interested with the blog and keep them up to date,” Charzewski says. “It really has become a tool for dispersing the information to the community.”
The money goes into an Amazon Payments account. Both Kickstarter and Amazon take a small percentage of the total, and the rest is for the project creators. Without the money, the Receiver Fest founders believe they wouldn’t have been able to bring in all of the 30 artists they will feature in March.
“It’s easy to exhaust one’s resources in Charleston. I could ask everyone I know and we wouldn’t have got as far, but we got people from all over the world,” Charzewski says. “I got friends of mine in my hometown that were pledging money. That’s unlike any other fundraiser.”
They’ve also learned how to optimize the resource. They say they would have considered making the contribution period longer than two months. They would have also thought more about the prizes and what people would actually get from them. “You have to think about the costs of the stuff that you’re going to produce to give to these people for even donating. It’s a juggle,” Vaughan says. Most importantly, they would have shared their site with the artists participating in the festival, which would have helped them get attention from all over the country, not just locally.
“It feels really good to see ‘successful’ come up on your profile and then see all the other awesome projects that have been successful, and you can compare … collaborate even,” Vaughan says. “It creates a community all on its own, and it feels good to be a part of that.”