Fundraising questions – no answers

Should an artist be fundraiser for herself? Are grants or individual supporters a better approach? How does an artist to do a successful fundraiser?

I started the Spindrift Commissioning Guild because I believe support from many individuals is a democratic, broad-based way to connect with my community, current and potential fans, and people willing to support my new music on a small, realistic scale. I became interested in crowd-funding platforms like Kickstarter, since they were a practical implementation of my Guild idea. I was excited and pleased to find out that Fractured Atlas, my fiscal sponsor (Sp Guild at Fractured Atlas), started a partnership last year with two crowd-funding sites, RocketHub and IndieGo-Go. I did a 60-day online fundraiser at RocketHub for my Spindrift Commissioning Guild 2012 projects ending in January 2012.

So how did it work out? I’m left with more questions than answers.

First, very few people I talked to knew what Kickstarter or online crowd-funding was. So my personal community didn’t overlap with a very big online community of supporters. I needed to rev up my online social networking. During my fundraiser,  I spent a lot of  social-networking time connecting with more people and figuring out what to say on Facebook and starting up with Twitter (@SpindriftMusic). I wasn’t too interactive before I started the campaign. I trained myself to pay more attention online;  I enjoyed seeing more of what my friends are doing, and I sprinkled Likes onto interesting ideas and projects and commentary. Now, can I keep up some amount of online participation?

I did raise a good amount in my fundraiser, half of my ambitious goal. However, offline contributions from two generous patrons made up 4/5ths of the total. I didn’t achieve the broad-based support of many donors making small contributions. What does this mean? Did I not have the right message? Do friends not know enough of my music to care about it? Are people not interested in making small donations, or any donations? There are a lot of projects clamoring for support when you start looking for them.

My first reaction was that I wanted to do a survey to find out how people want to support art-making. These questions nipped at me:

  • How do people find new music experiences
  • How do people support music with their dollars (e.g. buy tickets, buy recordings, donate, don’t support)
  • Are people interested in dealing with artists directly
  • Do people prefer a curated experience — donating to arts organizations and buying from record labels

There’s a lot of variation in ways to ask these questions. Putting a survey out there wouldn’t really help. I’d need the reach of a big randomized sample for it to really tell anything, and that wouldn’t tell me anything about how I personally interact with my community.

So what do I do? First, I keep writing the music I want to write, in partnership with performers who want to play it. I’ve also done a web site redesign so people can find music more easily.  Then I get the new music performed and recorded so more people can hear it. Maybe I apply for some grants, but I must spend some more time in the recording studio!

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