Special Reports

A Quick Look at Kickstarter

April 2, 2013 | By Dina Gerdeman

A crossroads for investing and donating

Earlier this year, a short documentary titled Inocente became the first Kickstarter-funded film to ever win an Academy Award.

With the help of 294 backers, the film raised $52,527 on its Kickstarter page from June to July 2012. Those who gave as little as $10 were rewarded with both a digital link to the film as well as a “shout out” note of thanks on the wall of Inocente’s Facebook page.

The Oscar win is just one indication of the growing success of web sites like Kickstarter, IndieGoGo.com, and Crowdrise.com, that enable artists, authors, musicians, and nonprofit arts organizations to raise money for projects and causes through “crowdfunding”—soliciting small individual donations from a large pool of people.

Kickstarter describes itself as “46 people based in a tenement building in New York City’s Lower East Side.” When it was first launched, in 2009, The New York Times referred to it as, “The people’s NEA [National Endowment for the Arts].” Kickstarter claims to have launched over 89,000 projects on its web site, 43 percent of which have raised a total of $511 million. As of this writing, some open campaigns are already substantially overfunded, like “The Maze of Games: An Interactive Puzzle Novel” or “Thermodo —The Tiny Thermometer for Mobile Devices,” or “The 10-year Hoodie: Built for Life, Backed for a Decade.”

Other recent overachievers include the creators of an online animated show, Cyanide & Happiness, who raised $560,000 from 10,000 supporters—well above their $250,000 goal. 

Project creators retain 100 percent ownership of their ideas. Kickstarter takes five percent on campaigns that reach their goal. Amazon Payments tacks on an additional 3 percent to 5 percent to process transactions. If a campaign falls short, credit cards aren’t charged.

“The entire Kickstarter experience is about bringing the artist and audience closer together,” says spokesman Justin Kazmark, “by providing a behind-the-scenes look at the projects as they progress.”

All projects must be finite and fit into one of Kickstarter’s categories: art, comics, dance, design, fashion, film, food, games, music, photography, publishing, technology, and theater. “A project is not open-ended,” states the web site. “Starting a business, for example, does not qualify….”

Nor do “fund my life” projects, like seeking money to pay bills or go on a vacation. Charities like the Red Cross are also prohibited. Asked if that excluded nonprofit organizations from eligibility, Kazmark said, “When we talk about charity, we’re talking about somebody giving money to a relief benefit or that kind of thing. But if you’re a nonprofit in the arts doing a project, that’s OK.”

“In fact, there’s a growing community of backers interested in supporting projects in the arts,” says Kazmark—an encouraging sign indeed.



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