Vermont Arts Council

Kristen M. Watson on Crowdfunding

Kristen M. Watson is one of nine artists who received an Artist Development Grant from the Arts Council in FY2017. She’ll be going to the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson for a four-week residency — something she described as, “a huge opportunity for me to have uninterrupted studio time, indispensable critical feedback from fellow professional and accomplished artists, and valuable networking opportunities.”

Along with a scholarship from the Studio Center, the grant is one piece of the funding puzzle she is putting together. Another is a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo.

Artist and Community Programs Manager Sarah Mutrux asked Kristen about the fundraising process.

Before you applied for the Artist Development Grant, had you planned on doing a crowdfunding campaign? Did you have other planned sources of income for your project?

I ran a campaign last year so I knew it was an option. This year I received partial funding in the form of a grant from the Vermont Studio Center but needed to raise several thousand more to avoid depleting my personal and business savings. I decided that my first line of funding would be the (Arts Council) grant application, and, because I know how much work it is to run a crowdfunding campaign, that I would do it as a supplement or back up to the grant if I wasn’t awarded the full amount for which I applied.

collage on vinyl reads "unfriend me unfollow me unpin me ignore me reject me remove me swipe left downvote me report me block me"
From Kristen’s show “Digital Immigrant.” Collage on twin duvet cover with collage on vinyl.

Which crowdfunding platform did you choose? Why? Did you look at other platforms?

I used Indiegogo. Before I ran my first campaign I researched all the options (GoFundMe, Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and others). They each have their advantages and disadvantages, but I found the Indiegogo platform to be relatively easy and the service fees reasonable (they vary depending upon the site). I wanted to keep as much as I could of what I raised. I also really like how much information/data Indiegogo formulates for me to review. They do a great job collecting donor info so when it’s time to send out perks it’s all right there ready to be printed out and used.

What steps did you take in preparing your campaign? About how long did you take preparing your campaign?

The first time I ran one it was a lot more work because of the learning curve on the user interface and having to read through all the prep material Indiegogo supplies, but it paid off. I didn’t run into some of the problems others did (because they didn’t read the guide). To prepare for a campaign I had to:

  • amass an email list of potential supporters and send out personalized emails to them all — because people don’t respond as well to mass emails. I had over 400 this time. I send an initial appeal (and record the date and whether I got a response), then I’ll go through again about halfway through the campaign and send another round of follow up emails. This is HUGE in getting support. Emails get missed, people are busy, or they’re waiting to see if you really need the support.
  • create image groups of my work that are platform compatible so they could be sold as perks
  • create the copy for all the perks I’m selling
  • decide shipping prices
  • make sure my PayPal and bank accounts are connected properly
  • write, edit, revise my story for the page
  • create a video (you can skip this but you wont get onto Indiegogo’s home page or trending page without one — visibility is everything!)
  • plan social media presence
  • design and order postcards, thank you notes, and other perks that are not created yet
flatware has social media icons on handles
Eat Your Media flatware

Time: many, many, many hours. Just putting the campaign together is probably 40-plus hours. Then all the emails! [I probably made] embarrassingly low wages if I took the amount raised and divided it by the hour. But it’s not just about that. I’m also getting my work into people’s hands, and proving (to myself and future grant makers I may apply to) that I have the ability to connect with my community and that they support me. It’s a beautiful thing and an opportunity to experience gratitude.

How many days did your campaign last?

Still going! It’ll be 35 days, the recommended span from Indiegogo.

What was your fundraising goal? Did you reach your goal?

First campaign: $3,200. Indiegogo says I raised 126% of my goal the first time, plus some gave via check or cash, which didn’t get recorded on the campaign site. This campaign: $3,350. The response has been phenomenal and I’m so grateful because second campaigns can be tough, asking the same people for more money only one year later, even if it is for a good reason!

How did you decide how much money to ask for (your goal)?

I went for the whole lot based on my past success. If I’m going to do all the work I may as well go big. I’ve struggled about whether to include my lost wages (because I’m at a residency) in my ask. That’s a personal choice.

How many of your donors (ballpark) were friends and family? How many were Facebook or other social media friends or contacts already? Did people you did not know donate?

Almost all are friends, family, fellow artists, and past collectors of my work. I would say a handful are complete strangers.

From "The SHE Prjoject, part I."  Photo by Jude Domski.
From “The SHE Project, part I.” Photo by Jude Domski.

What was the most common giving range in dollars? ($5-25, $25-50, etc.)

First campaign: $35-$75. Second campaign (so far): $75-$125.

How do you plan to keep your donors updated on the project?

Blogging, social media platforms. Indiegogo has a way to send blog-like updates to all donors through the platform which is fantastic.

Do you plan to do a crowdfunding campaign again? If so, what might you do differently next time?

Likely, but hopefully not for a while because it’s so much work. I’d like to find a way to get personal emails to folks in a more efficient manner.

If you could offer advice to an artist in your same position, what would you say?

  1. Do your homework, take the time to read the guides the crowdfunding sites offer, they are there for a reason and will give you great ideas and keep you out of trouble. The last thing you need during a campaign is for your donors to have problems giving you money.
  2. Be prepared to ask everyone you know, no matter how casual your connection seems. (Sometimes more than once!) I got donations from people I barely knew or hadn’t talked to in years! Look at is as a wonderful way to share what you’re doing and reconnect.
  3. Don’t have any expectations about who will give (and who won’t) and how much (or how little) they’ll give. Money is a funny thing and richness or abundance is all relative.
  4. You can’t be bashful about asking for money and be successful with this method. You have to believe in yourself and your project and lay it out there.
  5. Consistently tend to your campaign and be prepared to put the time in to keep it in the public eye on social media.

top left photo by Matthew Thorsen

Kristen’s campaign on Indiegogo

more about Vermont Studio Center residencies

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