August 4, 2020 -

As told to Siena Oristaglio, 2579 words.

Tips for Community Funding In Challenging Times

Void Academy's Siena Oristaglio offers advice for artists on how to raise funds to support themselves during crisis.
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Over the past few months, many artists in my community have reached out for my advice on how to raise funds to support themselves through these times. That’s because along with two colleagues, I run an organization that helps artists to raise support for their work through crowdfunding, websites, and newsletters. Now, many of these artists—and even more of my friends—have lost gigs or have had their tours, shows, exhibitions, or events cancelled.

Back in 2018, I co-wrote a guide for TCI on how to get over the fear of asking for support. To help artists to raise funds during this time, I’m offering more tips on how to ask your community for financial support right now.

Part One: Asking

Should I ask at all?

Artists have asked me, “With so many people in need, should I even be reaching out to my community for financial support right now?” If you’re battling this same worry, consider posing the following questions to yourself:

  • Have my finances been severely impacted by the global pandemic?

  • Am I struggling to make ends meet right now?

  • Have I taken account of my privileges (with respect to race, class, gender, sexuality, ability and otherwise) in my consideration of whether community funding is the best option for me right now?

If your answer to any of these questions is “no,” now may be the time for you to step back and make room for other important voices in need, supporting those individuals in whatever way you can. However, if your answer to all of these questions is “yes,” it is likely to be in both your and your community’s best interest to seek support so that you can survive and continue creating your work.

How to assess which fundraising platform makes the most sense for you

Before you begin the community funding process, it is crucial to take stock of your needs. This will help you to make a concrete, specific ask, and will also guide your decision around what community fundraising platform you might want to use when you ask for support.

To figure out which fundraising platform will make the most sense for you, fill in the following statement as accurately as possible:

I’m an artist who... needs quick emergency funds.

If you’re an artist in need of emergency funds, you want to be as clear as possible about this urgent need when you put the word out to your community. For these purposes, I recommend running a campaign on a platform like GoFundMe, as it is quick to set up and does not require you to create rewards for your backers. I have also seen artists have some success doing short live-streamed events and/or posting on social media about urgent needs while including their Venmo or Cash App handle. These kinds of actions may help you in a pinch, but you are less likely to raise large amounts this way.

I’m an artist who... wants to raise funds for my practice and livelihood via a specific creative project.

For this type of ask, my advice would be to run a Kickstarter campaign. This platform enables artists to create rewards that align with the mission of the project and incentivize backers to give you their financial support. Kickstarter’s all-or-nothing fundraising structure, while it may seem intimidating, creates a sense of urgency and encourages backers to give more than they might otherwise to help you reach your goal. This structure also ensures that you raise enough money to be able to complete your project at the scale that you’ve promised to, which builds trust with your backers, who may ultimately become lifelong supporters of your work.

I’m an artist who... is invested in building a community of long-term supporters.

If you’re looking to start on a smaller scale and grow a community of supporters over time, the platform I currently recommend to artists is Patreon. This site allows individuals who support your work to do so on an ongoing basis, either by month or by “thing” produced. Backers can cap their pledges at whatever amount feels comfortable for them and may also sign up for specific rewards that the artist offers at various levels of support. Patreon is not well-suited to raise emergency funds as it takes time to build a community of supporters. However, I’ve seen many artists of all kinds who have worked up to the point of making significant monthly income using Patreon. It’s definitely worth exploring as a tool to build a financially and emotionally supportive community around your art practice.

Moving through fears around asking

Once you have a sense of your needs, don’t let your nervousness around asking for financial contributions prevent you from moving forward. Almost every artist I know has struggled with asking for support at one point or another, yet despite this, I’ve helped more artists than I can count work through fears around asking—and together these asks have brought in over $2 million. However, it makes sense to feel some tension— asking can be scary, vulnerable, and uncomfortable. Here are a couple of tips that have helped the artists I know to to tackle their fears around asking:

  • Notice how you feel when you give: The next time you give something to someone, notice how you feel. Remind yourself that it feels good to give. Giving builds community, strengthens relationships, and makes people feel impactful. These are things that all of us need in abundance right now. Before running a campaign, I always recommend that artists find an artist’s campaign to give money to (even simply at the $1 level) and pay attention to what it feels like to become a patron of the arts.

  • Reframe asking as giving the opportunity to give: Keeping in mind the above, it becomes possible to reframe asking as giving the opportunity for people in your community to help you. So many people feel helpless right now and giving small amounts to artists they care about is something they can do to make an impact. Remember that people won’t give if they don’t want to or are unable to, and those who do give get to experience all the positive feelings that come along with doing so.

How should I ask?

Once you’ve decided to seek support from your community, you may wonder how to make an effective ask. Here are some tips for making the best ask possible:

  • Provide context: Be sure to answer the important questions that provide context for your ask — who, what, when, where, how, how much, why, and why now? To elaborate on each of these, answer the following: Who are you? Why are you raising money, and for what? What timeline? How much do you need for your ask to be successful? Why is this campaign important to you (and why should it be important to the person you are asking)? Why are you raising funds for it right now as opposed to any other time?

  • Make it personal: Reach out to people in your community individually, and say hello! Ask them how they are doing. Ask them about their dog or their kids or their own work. Drawing on what you know about them and their interests, tell them why you think they specifically would be interested in supporting you. If you are running a campaign that includes rewards, highlight the ones you think they may like most. Show them that you care about them and value their support.

  • Offer incentives: The best asks feel like an exchange that everyone can walk away feeling good about. As you craft an ask, be sure to think about the following: What does the person you are asking get in return if they chose to give to you? This doesn’t have to be something physical—it could simply be the satisfaction of knowing they’ve helped you. Whenever possible, put yourself in the shoes of someone who is being asked to give. Think about how to make the experience of giving as enjoyable and impactful as possible for them.

Part Two: Tips for Raising Funds

In my time working on artists’ campaigns, I’ve had the chance to see what actions most help projects to succeed. Here are a few that I recommend to anyone planning a fundraising campaign:

  • Plan and pace yourself: Plot out who you’re going to reach out to, and when. Also plan out what you’re going to post, and when. I know it can be extremely difficult to plan during stressful times, but it does help to at least create an action-oriented calendar that details what steps you are taking to get your campaign out there during the days that it’s live. This pre-launch checklist may be useful in helping you to prepare. Keep in mind that you don’t need to go overboard and post online fifty times a day, but when you do post on social media, try to make posts as fun as possible — I always encourage adding videos, photos, behind-the-scenes clips, or anything to spice up your posts for those who might come across them without yet knowing the full context of your work. It also helps to secure a few backers who are ready to support your campaign before the moment it goes live to build momentum in the campaign’s early days.

  • Set short-term goals: Okay, so you have one big goal and you’re trying to get there, but smaller, short-term goals are a great way to keep momentum going with your campaign. I’ve especially seen short-term goals be effective when artists set a goal for a number of backers to have by a certain date. For example, “I’m trying to reach 50 backers by Friday at 3pm!” This creates a sense of urgency within the longer term of the campaign and encourages people who can even only back for $1 to do so to help you reach this short-term goal.

  • Reach out directly: The most effective artist fundraising campaigns I’ve seen are built on direct, one-on-one outreach to individuals the artist already knows, with an included encouragement for those people to reach out one-on-one to people they know. These reach-outs can occur over the phone, via email, or in private messages on social media, as long as they are personal and specific. So as not to have to reinvent the wheel every time you reach out, I recommend using a template and modifying it for each person. I’ll give you a barebones template to start with below, and you can modify and flesh it out according to your own voice and needs:

Dear [potential backer’s name],

Hello! [Something personal here.] I’m writing to let you know that I’m currently raising funds for [describe your fundraising campaign here. Include the who, what, when, where, how, how much, why, and why now?]

As I know you’re passionate about [some interests of theirs relevant to your campaign], I thought you might be interested in supporting this.

Although the overall campaign goal is [overall goal] by [overall goal deadline], I’m trying to reach [your short-term goal] by [your short term goal deadline]. If you’re able to help me get there, I would appreciate it so much! [Optional: describe a couple rewards you think they may be interested in.]

If you’re not able to support at this time but are able to share information about the campaign with others who you think might be interested in supporting, that would also make a huge impact. Thank you so much in advance for your time and support.

All best,
[your name.]

  • Offer thoughtful rewards: If you are able to create rewards for backers, I always recommend doing so. Rewards incentivize people to support and make the interaction feel more like an exchange, which can help with those icky feelings around asking. To reduce the amount of work and expenses required, prioritize creative rewards that are experiential and digital. These types of rewards are especially useful now that we are not able to be with one another in person and are connecting mainly through virtual means. Some great examples I’ve seen include giving backers access to an exclusive live stream or Zoom chat, leaving fun voicemails for backers, or sending PDFs, audio recordings, videos, or photos via a platform like Dropbox or Google Drive. Here is a great article that might give you some ideas on where to start. Get creative and make sure it’s enjoyable for you and suits the spirit of the project. When possible, I recommend creating rewards no matter which platform you use. Even if running a GoFundMe for emergency funds, a simple digital reward sent to all backers may give an additional incentive for your community to back and often helps the campaign to raise more funds than it would otherwise.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask again: For those running campaigns on Kickstarter or GoFundMe, feel free to ask people to up their pledges in the final week of the campaign. You can do so by emphasizing how much of an impact it would have if everybody at the $5 level upped their pledge by $15, for example. Often, backers have been following your campaign updates and are more invested at this point. Thus, they will give more if they are able to! Again, try not to be afraid about taking this step — those who can’t up their pledges simply won’t, so you have nothing to lose.

  • Communicate with your supporters: If things go wrong with your ability to complete your project or fulfill your rewards, be sure to communicate with those who have supported you. Supporters tend to be extremely understanding as long as they are kept in the loop about what’s going on. So just keep them posted to the best of your ability! Artists I’ve worked with who have communicated well with their backers after their campaigns have been surprised and happy to find that they’ve landed themselves an engaged community that supports them long into future projects.

I hope these tips on how to work through your fear of asking, craft a great ask, and effectively raise funds from your community were helpful. I’d like to close with some examples of great artist campaigns that you can use for inspiration as you plan your own fundraising efforts. Pay special attention to how these artists contextualize their ask and make the experience gratifying for their supporters. I wish all of you and your loved ones the best during this time and am available to offer guidance — don’t hesitate to reach out with specific questions.