A Crowdfunding Primer: Feminist Media Producers Engage A Community of Backers

A Crowdfunding Primer: Feminist Media Producers Engage A Community of Backers

by Ariel Dougherty

“This is what feminism looks like,” shout young women in a contemporary street demonstration in the “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry” video clip on the Kickstarter crowdfunding website. Film directors/producers Mary Dore and Nancy Kennedy are in the middle of a campaign, which started October 24th and ends November 28th, to raise $75,000 towards completion funds for their documentary. It is a history of the women’s movement in the late 60s, but with ties to many of the same vital issues today. “It’s a film about activism and how when people band together they can change the world. And these women did that, explains Dore in the video clip. 

A short video clip is usually a key element in many crowdfunding campaigns regardless of the platform. The book collective turned non-profit, Our Bodies Ourselves, currently projecting to raise $25,000 is an exception. Using the Indiegogo platform, this four-decades-old organization wants to raise the money so it can give each congressional representative a copy of its world-famous book. The current book cover is featured in lieu of a video in its campaign, “Together We Can Educate Congress.

The Team at the press conference launch, October 29th, of the Together We Can Educate Congress campaign: Marion McCartney, Cindy Pearson, Diana Zuckerman, Judy Norsigian, Erin Thornton, Vivian Pinn with National Press Club organizer Debra Silimeo. Photo: Angela Edwards. Used with permission. 
The point in crowdfunding, video or not, is to craft an appeal about your project and then encourage your online and real-life communities, and “the crowd” (i.e. friends of friends) to support it by ripple effect. Campaigners set a targeted amount of money to raise, and a time frame in which they expect to raise it. 

New crowdfunding platform technology offers the larger women’s community two distinctive, fresh opportunities. 

Foremost, they put the makers of feminist media in the driver;s seat when it comes to raising funds. These “producers” of media in all formats strive to bring a multitude of women’s voices into public view. A common complaint from many women’s media organizations is that foundations have restrictive guidelines that often have little to do with the needs of their organizations. Now, with a well-thought-out campaign and some people power to do outreach, feminist media producers can better control their destiny. 

Second and more revolutionary is the new, dynamic role of members of the audience or media users.In effect, these audience members pre-buy a part of the production or product. Rewards are offered as incentives. Engaged as backers of a project, they are invested and can become the best agents to draw in more backers. The power of the many, even if many of these backers make small, individual contributions, can actually bring about change. Transparency of campaigns as posted on the various platforms stimulates community engagement. Building such a momentum through one’s community and the use of social media to inform and engage “the crowd” are central to a successful crowdfunding effort. 

The excitement of hundreds, even thousands, uniting around women’s vision of creating empowering media with very modest contributions of $10 and $25 is exhilarating. In the late spring of 2011, I saw this up close with the Mosquita Y Mari campaign. Mexican-American filmmaker Aurora Guerrero projected raising $80,000 to direct her first feature dramatic movie. I gulped at the amount she hoped to raise.  The feminist media projects I had seen, at that point, were skirting at goals of $10,000 to $25,000.  Eighty thousand was a big leap. I avidly watched the campaign and did my own outreach. It moved along well, but 24 hours before the deadline they still had over $25,000 to raise. Then, as if by magic, we all must have gone into high social media gear, massive amounts of $25 and $50 contributions flooded in. In all, 888 backers stepped up to raise $82,468. 

Even more remarkable is Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes Vs Women Video Games campaign on Kickstarter this past June where she achieved an astounding 2,648% of her original $6,000 goal. Her success is a feminist celebration, but it is also a lesson in the abject misogyny that flourishes on the internet. Her project examines common and reoccurring stereotypes of female characters in video games. Within the first 24 hours of her launch, because she has a large and supportive community, she reached her initial goal. But this also brought the Internet trolls out with a vengeance. They hacked her sites, flooded venomous sexism at Sarkeesian, even sent death threats. Instead of retreating as many attacked women have done before, Sarkeesian used her keen analytical skills to parse the harassment

The record breaking $158,922 that Sarkeesian raised from 6,968 backers averages under $23 per person. Some claim the controversy of the trolls led to the swell of supporters. Maybe it helped a bit. However, I attribute her spectacular success to need, her fantastic and vast community, and to her strategic and expanding goals during the campaign. Such evolving goals were also a clear achievement in the Wollstonecraft campaign, enabling it to reach 2,293% of its original funding goal. 

In another campaign, Issa Rae almost doubled her goal of $30,000 in August 2011 for her web series, “The Adventures of an Awkward Black Girl.” In her appeal she stated, “As a black woman, I don’t identify with or relate to most of the non-black characters I see on TV, much less characters of my own race. When I flip through the channels, it’s disheartening. I don’t see myself or women like me being represented. Over 1200 backers flooded her with $10 and $25 contributions. In total she raised $56,259 from 1,960 backers. Rae articulated a well-crafted need and got a fantastic community response. 

No two crowdfunding efforts are the same. But they all demand work. Throughout the entire campaign outreach needs to be a constant activity. On Kickstarter if the project does not achieve its stated goal, the whole effort is nixed. Some really favor this, as it stimulates the crowd to actually step up to participate in reaching the goal. When the activist street harassment organization Hollaback did a campaign on Kickstarter, Emily May explained, “It puts pressure on me, which is good.” It also demands that campaigners are realistic about their needs and their capacity to meet their goal. 

Indiegogo works differently. There, every pledge made toward a project will go to its efforts. The question here is, if the full amount is not achieved, can the project be fully realized? These are pluses and minuses that both campaigners and backers need to consider. 

Timing is also a concern. Maybe now with the election over and no longer taking so much energy, the pace for She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry will pick up. In the 21 days left for this campaign almost five times the number of current 230 backers will need to step up to the plate, close to 1200 people, for the filmmakers to reach their goal. It is very achievable. Chicken and Egg Pictures, one of many curating organizations on Kickstarter, has endorsed the campaign. But the social-media grapevine needs to flutter and excite the crowd. 

The Our Bodies, Ourselves campaign is ongoing until December 18th.  It is already a third of the way toward its goal, and able to keep the current pledged $8015 from 126 supporters. It looks like it will exceed its goal.The additional support is critically needed, filling a gap from a foundation that had long supported the international work of Our Bodies, Ourselves, but switched focus when the recession began.

Emily May, who has now led three successful crowdfunding campaigns for Hollaback says: “Being funded by the community that we serve, it’s like a stamp of approval.” She also knows she is building an engaged community of donors, and that the income earning power of backers will grow. Over the years that can have a vast impact.

Editor’s note:
 NOV 23rd and DEC 14th  — Ariel will provide BRIEF updates for the two key campaigns.  

Ariel Dougherty, a long time media producer, writes about the intersections of women-led media, women rights and right to information and the resourcing of women directed media.