Kickstarting Preservation

As we all know, funding and fundraising for preservation projects can be both difficult and frustrating at times. While traditional avenues may still bring in a larger sum, crowdfunding websites may be a great place to get your fundraising campaign started and to hone your message to potential investors. By far the most popular crowdfunding site is kickstarter.com. Kickstarter was launched in 2009 to fund creative projects such as artwork, music projects, and other creative endeavors. Soon after, a multitude of projects from every imaginable facet of creativity came pouring into the site. According to the website, over 30,000 projects have been funded by over 2.5 million people to the tune of $3.5 million and counting.

I have participated in a few Kickstarter projects, an even split between products I wanted to invest in and receive, and philanthropic donations. While visiting one of my favorite blogs, I saw a story for a Kickstarter proposal for the Blue Mouse Theatre in Tacoma, Washington. I wondered how common preservation projects were on Kickstarter. After playing around with different search keywords, I found several successfully funded preservation-related projects. I’ve selected a few for variety’s sake, but I suggest you take a look for yourself.

If you’re thinking about trying a crowdfunded campaign, I have a few suggestions for you. First and foremost, do some research. See if there are similar projects out there and talk to those fundraisers about their experience with it. Find out what they would have done differently. Also, take a look around the web and get some books on the topic. It’s a relatively new concept, so there are plenty of new books coming out that address crowdfunding and similar topics. One I read recently was Makers by former Wired Magazine Editor-in-Chief Chris Anderson. The book deals with a lot of topics that revolve around small-batch manufacturing, which Anderson sees as a major future component of manufacturing. One chapter is devoted to Kickstarter and the experiences of some inventors with the site. The material is very translatable for any preservation project.

Second, have a great story to tell. In my opinion, there is nothing more important than having a good story to pitch to these potential investors. I would wager that even the most amazing gadgets funded at hundreds of thousands of dollars on Kickstarter won people over with the amazing stories told in the video posted on each project page. So, as a preservationist, you’re going to want to tell the history of the building, what it means to the community, why it needs to be saved, and what you want to happen with the structure. In addition, this is a great way to get feedback on your story. When your project is funded, ask your funders about your story and what else they would have liked to have heard.

A major component of Kickstarter is the tiered-rewards system for backers. You set the values and rewards. I strongly urge you to make them count while being fulfillable. Often, projects promise the world, get a lot of money, and then realize they have to fulfill what they promised. So keep them intriguing, reasonable for the amounts, and something you want to offer. A night of tours might be much more rewarding to you and the donor than an agonizing marathon session of personalized, handwritten thank you notes.

Finally, make your goal achievable. Nothing will doom your project faster than aiming for the moon. You may need $100,000 to preserve the windows of a historic building, but wouldn’t it be nicer to get the $10,000 from Kickstarter and plan the rest of your fundraising strategy around that momentum. Remember, it’s an all or nothing game with most crowdfunding sites, so plan appropriately.

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