Six years ago, Slava Rubin tried to start a charity to raise money for cancer research. As a child Rubin lost his father to cancer, and he wanted to help fight the disease in his father’s memory. But he eventually ran up against the same problem that many in his shoes face: finding the funds.
"[My friends and I] had a shared experience of frustration at the difficulties of trying to raise money—we decided there had to be a better way," Rubin says. "So we decided to create something."
In January 2008, Rubin, along with his friends and co-founders Eric Schell and Danae Ringelmann, launched a website they called IndieGoGo. Today, the site is used in over 200 countries and is the largest open funding platform in the world.
IndieGoGo gives people in need of funding for their creative projects a platform by which they can raise money and see their dreams come to fruition. Candidates put their projects up on the site for browsers to check out and, if interested, fund out of their own pockets.
"The whole idea is to help democratize fundraising so that anybody in the world can raise money for anything," says Rubin.
And IndieGoGo isn’t alone. In April 2009, a site called Kickstarter was created by three visionaries who were inspired by a similar obstacle. In 2002, future Kickstarter founder Perry Chen wanted to put on a concert in his hometown of New Orleans but didn’t have the funds. That problem sparked an idea: If he had some way of knowing ahead of time how many people were interested in the concert, he’d have an idea whether it would be a success and would be better able to gauge the financial risk. The idea stayed in the back of his head until years later he told his friend Yancey Strickler. Strickler was interested and the two teamed up with another friend, Charles Adler, to launch the crowdfunding site four years later.
Since their inceptions, IndieGoGo has helped fund over 30,000 campaigns and Kickstarter has raised $70 million, revolutionizing fundraising in the process. While the two sites have the same basic mission, they differ in the way they allocate the funds raised. Kickstarter’s model stipulates that if the project leader doesn’t reach his goal he receives none of the cash committed by funders online, whereas IndieGoGo allows the project leaders to keep whatever funds are raised— but the site takes only 4 percent of the funds from successful projects as its revenue and 9 percent from failed ones. Kickstarter takes 5 percent of all funds raised.
Kickstarter backs its all-or-nothing policy as a means for keeping their users honest.
"If you’re saying you get that money no matter what, is that person still obligated to complete their project?" Strickler asks. "It’s really unclear and, in fact, the answer is that they’re not obligated to complete the project. I have to feel like that is going to create bad situations for both the creators and the backers."
But Rubin says IndieGoGo sees the issue in a different light. "We originally used the all-or-nothing model when we started in ’08," Rubin says. "What we’ve learned is that a lot of the funders, as well as the campaign owners, want to know that, no matter what, they’ll be able to get their money. There’s still a lot of incentive to donate."
These sites promote the notion that any passionate person with an idea can give his dream a life of its own simply by putting it online. But projects can only achieve success if people choose them from the thousands up on the sites at any given time, which is why most projects advertise special bonus gifts for funders, depending on how much they donate.
"There’s a warm glow you get from backing one of these projects," Strickler says. "You’re contributing to [someone's work] in a material way to make it come to life and make it exist in the world—I think that it’s surprisingly intimate. I think ultimately that kind of romance is what’s most important of all."
As people accomplish their goals with the help of the sites, news of their success spreads by word of mouth. Strickler says that’s how Kickstarter gets most of its users.
"We don’t have a marketing team," says Strickler. "We’re not out trying to get people to use Kickstarter—people find out about us from their friends. Every time one of them uses the site, it’s a strong endorsement to the rest of the world that it could work for them."
Both Strickler and Rubin agree that their respective sites have changed the way they feel about the fundraising process and the ability of one person to really make things happen.
"We get to be a part of this greater community of people who are doing things—people who aren’t typical, who just want to say ‘Yes’ and want to make things happen," says Strickler. "I came here a much more cynical person than I am now, but when you spend a week looking at people and the things they put their effort and energy into, how can you not have a deep respect for it?"
Hip-Hop Needs a Mike Check!
Website used: IndieGoGo
Mike Check had no idea what IndieGoGo was—even when his very own music project was featured on the site’s homepage.
26, has been rapping since he was a
freshman in high school and has been working hard on his burgeoning
career ever since. For the past six months he’s been trying to record
his latest album, Stars, Dreams and Elbow Grease, with funds from his own pocket. Inspired by his efforts, his friends decided to jump in.
of Check’s music team and friends created a profile for the project
on IndieGoGo, asking the site’s community to help him record and
promote his album. They filmed their efforts and made a video of the
whole experience, which they showed Check at a surprise meeting.
guess they thought that I was struggling and so they took it upon
themselves to help me out," says Check. "I felt humbled…like I had
the greatest teammates in the world."
Upon watching the video, Check scoured the IndieGoGo site, looking at other projects and checking his own for updates.
think it’s an amazing site," he says. "I can only speak from a
musician’s point of view for this fact. A lot of major labels aren’t
handing out a lot of records or advance money nowadays, so to get your
independent career started and to come up with funds can be a little
tough sometimes. I think it’s amazing that you can ask for a little
support from your friends and family and get it."
perks that came along with donating to Check’s campaign ranged from
a signed copy of his latest album to a personal Mike Check-guided tour
of his tour bus at any show location. A donation of $10 earned you a
free download of the album a week prior to its release.
music] sounds somewhere in the mix between J. Cole and Drake,"
Check says. "My message is basically, ‘Shoot for the stars, follow
your dreams, put a lot of hard work into it and good things will come.’"
The Pop-Up Museum of Queer History
Website used: IndieGoGo
January, the first Pop-Up Museum of Queer History, an installation
celebrating the relatively unknown history of LGBT people, was held in
Bushwick. It was supposed to be a one-night-only installation—but it
turned out to be a huge hit.
had 300 people show up and the cops shut us down for being too big,"
says Hugh Ryan, the museum’s founder and co-curator. "So we decided to
keep going with it."
and fellow curator Buzz Slutzky sponsored the first event out of
pocket, but decided to seek out extra funding after they made the museum
an official organization in February. Unsure of how much money they
would be able to raise, they set up an account on IndieGoGo.
didn’t want to go with Kickstarter, because then we’d lose all the
money if we didn’t reach our goal," says Ryan. "We weren’t sure how well
it would work."
was probably a wise choice, as the Pop-Up Museum raised less than half
of its $5,000 goal on the website. But an outside donor gave $2,000 to
the organization as part of a "matching campaign"; she promised to match
every dollar they raised up to $2,000. She didn’t have the funds
readily available so couldn’t put the money on IndieGoGo, but Ryan sent
messages to the online community telling them about the offer.
"It was an added incentive to people," said Ryan. "We told everyone that if they donated, it would get doubled."
the organization fell short of its $5,000 goal—but Ryan says their
experience with IndieGoGo was a positive one anyway. "A lot of the
people who donated are in some other way now connected to the project,"
says Ryan. "That sort of involvement strengthens an organization."
the next Pop-Up Museum is going to be much bigger than the last: the
installation will stay up for three weeks and will include at least 25
exhibits. After that, Ryan says the organization will try to get
monetary support from institutions and use websites like IndieGoGo for
smaller projects. But he’s glad that the museum started off with a
a great way to keep you responsible to your community," he said. If you
do this and you’re not getting any funding, then clearly you don’t meet
Website used: IndieGoGo
Harrigan founded his theater company, Foolish People, in 1989,
initially as a venue for developing his own writing and creative
talents. As its artistic director he has written, directed and been the
driving force behind many of Foolish People’s productions over the
years, but now the company is stepping into a new realm: film. It
reached out through IndieGoGo to fund its first feature film, Strange Factories.
have always been interested in film and have been planning on moving
into this medium for a number of years," says Harrigan. "It has taken a
lot of work to develop the right screenplay/story that lends itself to
creating an immersive, living film."
Strange Factories, though
primarily film-based, remains true to Foolish People’s original mission
of creating immersive theatre experiences by fusing both film and
theater on the silver screen. The story takes the audience on a journey
through the surreal high jinks that ensues as the narrator, overwhelmed
at the excitement of having just come up with an idea for a fable,
searches for four friends he has lost. Once reunited, the motley group
of friends must overcome a series of obstacles before they can return
To add a
unique Foolish People touch to the film, Harrigan says that each showing
will be accompanied by an immersive theater performance by the actors
in the film, to explain different facets of the film in more detail.
audiences enter into the worlds we create and choose their own journey,
a technique that challenges their habitual way of watching art and
entertainment in a conventional manner," says Harrigan. "We are trying
to create a truly unique project that offers our audience a
mind-blowing, immersive experience."
even though Foolish People has an artistic community of its own,
Harrigan says he has found a completely new creative community through
"It’s a wonderful community of creatives who want each other to succeed in their endeavors," he says.
the past, Foolish People has put on critically acclaimed stage
productions commissioned by such organizations as the BBC, Secret Cinema
and the Institute of Contemporary Arts. Strange Factories will
be a groundbreaking step in a new direction for the theater company, so a
strong backing from IndieGoGo is massively important to the project.
have been working toward making a film for some time, as we believe our
creative practice has the ability to capture visceral emotion and
beautiful moments that can be fleeting for our audience and transform
them into a very special motion picture," says Harrigan. "We still need
the support of people who believe in independent filmmaking and the
power of stories."
155 Freeman: Triple Canopy, Light Industry and The Public School New York
Website used: Kickstarter
Triple Canopy, Light Industry and The Public School New York started a
Kickstarter campaign to raise money for a new arts and culture center,
they set their fundraising goal at $20,000. Less than a month later,
they had raised almost double that amount.
results aren’t exactly typical for Kickstarter. Then again, the three
companies involved aren’t very typical either. While many of the people
who use the site are merely trying to get their feet off the ground,
these three nonprofits already had a solid customer base when they
launched their fundraising campaign.
lot of the people who donated are involved in the project in some way
or [are] people we know," says Thomas Beard, a co-founder of Light
Industry. "But since we’re three different companies with different
focuses, it was a large group of people donating."
Industry is a venue for film and electric art, while Triple Canopy is
an online magazine and the Public School is an open, DIY-style
classroom. Together, the three companies are working to open a center at
155 Freeman St. in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, to house performances,
screenings, readings and classes, among other things.
sending out mass emails, messages and updates to their communities, the
trio of companies was able not only to raise funds but to spread the
word about their project.
was a little wary about being ‘those people’ who send spam emails
asking for money," says Beard. "But it does introduce people to
something they want to support that they wouldn’t have heard of
group put a lot of effort into their Kickstarter page, posting a
professionally made video about their plans for the center, detailing
their previous projects and offering incentives to people who donated
($150 or more got you free admission for a year; $500 or more got you a
limited edition piece of art). According to Beard, this professionalism
was a big reason that their Kickstarter campaign was so successful.
you’re going to do it, you should really do it and do it right," says
Beard. "Not just any time you need money for anything."
Website used: Kickstarter
Spradlin, a choreographer and former dancer, used to send out
fundraising letters when she needed to raise money for a project. But
that was a lot of work, Spradlin says, so when she noticed other dancers
using Kickstarter to raise money for shows, she decided to try it for
is easier," Spradlin says. "They help you get going. I don’t think I’d
be able to set up a page like that on my own."
Spradlin was raising money to build a special stage for one of her dances, beginning of something. She
gave herself just one month to raise $4,000 and did—but just barely. It
was only with the help of friends and family that she was able to reach
downside is that everybody is doing these things now," she says. "It’s
kind of a joke in the dance community—we’re just passing around the same
$10. We don’t really have the money to support each other."
though Kickstarter helped Spradlin build the stage she needed, she says
that she and her fellow artists are beginning to find the website
tiresome. As requests for donations fill her inbox each week, Spradlin
is realizing that Kickstarter isn’t very sustainable.
would be a mistake if people saw this as a solution to the funding
crisis," she says. "It’s poor people giving money to other poor people.
It’s not really a solution."
by emailing donation requests to people she knew, Spradlin was able to
garner enough money and attention to achieve her goal. She says she’s
not sure if she would do it again, though—she found the process
difficult, especially because of Kickstarter’s policy that says that if
she didn’t reach her stated goal of $4,000, she wouldn’t get any of the
"When I had
raised $2,000, it was pretty stressful, because I was going to lose it
if I didn’t raise another $2,000," she remembers. "I remember saying to
myself at one point, ‘Never again!’" Another problem with Kickstarter is
that it doesn’t provide a long-term funding solution. Now that Spradlin
has completed her show, she is paying out of pocket to store the stage
she built and may have to give it away.
A word from the sponsors
What the donors have to say:
Max Fenton, Greenpoint
Online Editor Projects Backed: 21 Total Amount Donated: $600
On Kickstarter v. IndieGoGo: "I’ve been asked to donate to IndieGoGo but never have. I like the all-or-nothing fundraising and I’ve been really happy with how Kickstarter keeps connections. I don’t know how IndieGoGo does it, but on Kickstarter, the page stays up forever and I’ll be informed months after I’ve donated."
Jody Oberfelder, Lower East Side
Choreographer Projects Backed: 11 Total Amount Donated: $220
On why she donates: "Most of us are starving artists and it gives us a sense of community. I donated once to get a free ticket, but mostly it was because I believe the little bits add up. Twenty dollars here and there can make a project."
Eleanor Dubinsky, West Village
Musician Projects Backed: 2 Total Amount Donated: $75
On the current state of arts funding:
"Money for the arts was never good, but it’s never been this bad. I don’t know why Kickstarter came to be, but I know why it works. Recently, artists have had no choice but to take matters into their own hands and finally they can."
Filmmaker Projects Backed: 13 Total Amount Donated: $230
Why she donates through Kickstarter:
"I think it gives projects a sense of validity. Maybe that’s not deserved since it’s easy get a page, but there’s something to that. And it forces projects to have certain transparency— and professionalism. Running a Kickstarter project takes a skill that I think is more valuable—more personal—to artists than grant writing, and now it can matter just as much."
Lee Tusman, Philadelphia
Curator Projects Backed: 22 Total Amount Donated: $300
On Kickstarter’s profit policy: "You want an anticapitalist rant? I think it’d be great if they charged nothing or a flat rate but hey, they’ve got to make money."