Crowdsourcing: Anatomy of a Kickstarter

In the past two years, we saw a pretty big spike in the number of requests from artists and project collaborators requesting a voice for fundraising efforts on their Burning Man creations. Historically, all sorts of artists have done community fundraising in all sorts of ways, and we’ve shared them on various information channels from time to time, so these requests themselves are nothing new. But the smaller-world phenomenon of the internet has increased the visibility for these efforts and the creative ways that Burning Man artists, theme campers, Mutant Vehicle creators, even filmmakers and painters have been able to reach out to their communities for help to make playa projects possible.

The individual artists and collectives behind these projects keep returning with increasingly creative ways to invite and welcome contributions from other BRC citizens — reaching all of you potential art patrons who know or just admire the work of these creatives already. You’ve told us that you are happy to take part in helping to bring each year’s Temple, zoetrope, or garbage-burning 80 foot mechabolic slug to life in Black Rock City, so while we’re careful not to overload, we have continued to share these messages.

Thing is, citizens have donated to the arts in BRC for years, but time has increased the throw of their intentions. Nothing can change the bare-bones reality of fundraising for creative projects. One look at the art  of Burning Man shows that some ideas are bigger than one person’s vision, but the size of the budget isn’t really the point, for large and small projects alike have continued approaching us for visibility. How to be egalitarian about sharing these requests with the crowd when we’ve shared a thousand other “calls for help” and fundraiser event requests over the years, and when community support is such an ingrained part of our art culture?

Requests from these creative projects mounted, until one day, we  were introduced to Kickstarter.

More appropriately, we asked to be introduced to the folks behind this crowdsourcing phenomenon that in two short years has helped to terraform the playing field for creative/art fundraising.  We heard the story behind their work and their idea, and dug in with questions about the process behind their selection guidelines (factoid: it’s a small team of living breathing humans that review and vet Kickstarter’s daily request queue of creative proposals — surely one of the more fun jobs, ever).

Kickstarter’s criteria and process helped alleviate our anxiety about posting fundraiser call after fundraiser call without knowing each artist personally. A single page and format would help organize these requests, and make it easy for projects to be seen and supported, consolidating it all under one umbrella. And, with this type of funding model, you pledge to contribute…but if the producer doesn’t reach  at least the minimum level to create their project, all pledges are canceled (reducing the chances of unpleasantness when/if projects fail to launch for lack of funding).

Raising Michael Christian's "Portal", Photo by Cameragirl, 2003

Satisfied,  we created a Support a Project page on the Burning Man website to consolidate “crowdsourced fudraising” project widgets together, promoted it on the Jackrabbit Speaks Email Newsletter — and then sat back and watched as Burners flocked to it in droves, with artists collectively raising over $100,000 for 25 amazing projects in 2010. Pretty sweet.

In 2011, even  more projects have taken advantage of this  opportunity to fund their projects on the playa, and elsewhere around the Regional Network… but after a year of this experiment, we’ve seen some wrinkles in the process that needed ironing out. Like, what happens when somebody’s fundraising for a Mutant Vehicle that hasn’t yet (and might not be) been approved to enter Black Rock City? How do you ensure camps that fundraise are using the money to build the public part of their camp, not the private? What if a project uses a “gift with pledge” (a logo’d item, a “VIP” experience at the event) that pushes the envelope of commodification of Burning Man itself?

To help answer those questions (or at least bring them to the surface), we’ve updated a set of enhanced guidelines on the Fundraising For Your Project page.

We also heard from those that wrote us to say they wanted to hear more about other ways to support projects that don’t involve giving money. We couldn’t agree more, so we’ve listed a whole slew of other ways to contribute on the Support a Project page, too. And we continue to hear from readers that tell us that they get a lot of joy out of helping to bring the art of the playa to life, and to watch with interest as our creative community dreams up new ideas and funds them (or sometimes, doesn’t!) with this powerful new method of crowdsourced fundraising.

To the artists, we say THANK YOU for creating art for Burning Man! And to those who choose to support their efforts: THANK YOU for supporting the arts and other projects that transform the Black Rock Desert into such a massive source of inspiration and creativity, year after year.

About the author: Will Chase

Will Chase first attended Burning Man 2001. He volunteered as the Operations Manager for the ARTery (Black Rock City’s art headquarters) and was on the Burning Man Art Council from 2003-2008. He was Web Team Project Manager and Webmaster from 2004-2009, then transitioned to the Communications Department in 2009 to become Minister of Propaganda, working on global communications strategy. He's the editor-in-chief for the Jackrabbit Speaks newsletter and the Voices of Burning Man blog, and content manager for Burning Man’s websites. He also manages the ePlaya BBS and Burning Man’s social networking efforts.

4 thoughts on “Crowdsourcing: Anatomy of a Kickstarter

  • I’m a kickstarter patron and I agree with the wrinkles you’re seeing, Some of the rewards feel borderline like presales. Like you get a free this or that when you come to the camp. In my experience, you’d get a free this or that anyway, and the idea of someone paying for that, and excluding others from seeing or using it seems counter-intuitive. I’m more than happy to help someone realise amazing art. Less happy to see this system used for commodifying the experience. The ones that offer to add your name to something, for example. What about my company logo? Would that be OK? What about if my company pays for your installation in full? Would you add it then? And can I have a photo for my records? For my website? For my TVC?

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  • I had never heard about Kickstarter until I was exposed to it through our community. I was amazed at the ideas and found a really neat project on there and decided to help fund it. I donated $10 which to me is a lot of money. I followed the project as if I had a stake it its success, and I was very excited when it reached 100% funding! Then about a week later I received a mass email from the project creator saying although Kickstarter had reported they reached 100% funding, they still wanted more money. In all honesty, I wasn’t sure if I had been taken advantage of or not. It really felt like a “bait and switch.” We all know how BM always exceeds what we thought it would, budget included. But in the future, I will just donate my time and other forms of resources and avoid Kickstarter. Also, I’m with Jude. This seems like it could turn ugly.

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  • When you start a Kickstarter campaign, you have to set a monetary goal. Usually, this is the minimum needed to get the project done. It does not mean that the project should not have more money, as art can be expansive with more money. I funded a film through Kickstarter last December, which had a 25,000 goal. That was met 1/2 way through the campaign, with the final amount over 35,000.00 I happen to know the Director and Producer, and know that this extra money allowed for one more Union-Actor, and a few more days of renting the green-screen facility. So, in this case, the extra money made the film all that much better. I hope it is the same with BM.

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