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Crowd-funding was a rough but eventually successful ride for Gill Kirk. She reveals the highs and lows of her month-long campaign.

Image of crowd-funding page

I’ll be frank with you, Grants for the Arts (G4A) forms drive me nuts. I run a business, have sat on a few charity boards, I even report on other people’s budgets as part of my day job. But can I get a G4A form right first time?

The goal was one day’s script development for a quantum mechanics love story. It’s not commissioned, was written in an unusual way and I don’t live with anyone over the age of three. I hired a great dramaturg (the excellent David Lane) and after a couple of redrafts, we agreed that we needed to stand this thing up before it went out.

This was my first G4A attempt and I entrepreneurially said that I would crowd-fund part of the budget. After the second rejection, dates loomed and crowd-funding had to become reality. Wanting a UK site that could attract arts backers, I signed up with Talent Backer. I then realised that successful campaigns need a decent film. And a strategy.

Perhaps most significantly, a lot of the funding came from my Facebook contacts

£1,500 is no small amount to raise in 28 days and if you don’t hit the target, you don't get a penny. Thankfully, Talent Backer are anti-panic and coach you every day. It is in their interest that you do well too. It is not just about their percentage charge (standard practice), but successful campaigns will attract more users and funders to the site.

Once I got going, this was the be-all and end-all. First, I made a short, wallet-loosening film. Pulling people into the world of the script, it conjured up a parallel world without funding, a mad toy elephant leading a drunken teddies' script-reading, and my resulting insanity. The message was simple emotional blackmail, but, especially at the beginning, it did draw people on to the site.

Talent Backer’s daily coaching was tough but effective: “Mail everyone in your address book today.” I did. Fear of falling flat on my face − and the risk to the script’s reputation − was the biggest driver. This is not for the lazy or shy. It is absolutely not comfort-zone stuff. I asked almost everyone I knew for money. I sent out a press release about myself to the local paper with a picture to help sell the story. I tweeted and Facebooked incessantly. Squirming, I asked mates who are a little bit famous to retweet me on twitter.

What happened? We hit the target with six days left and ended up 25% over target. But a week earlier, at the half-way mark, it was not looking rosy and I had to go hell for leather. Perhaps most significantly, a lot of the funding came from my Facebook contacts: friends spanning 20 years and several incarnations (schools, uni, politics, committees, old boyfriends’ mates, various jobs as well as theatre and screenwriting). Twitter and the media brought great publicity for the project (which I leveraged on Facebook and will help when we take the script to theatres), but they did not bring me the money.

Every campaign is different (context, reputation, cause, etc), but here are some tips for most situations:

  • Think carefully about the target budget. Make it realistic or you won’t get a penny, but not so low that it’s not helpful (you might decide to use it as matched funding with other potential funders).
  • Plan. Do not just fill in the forms and press 'Go'. You need a strategy, people to give money on days 1 to 5 to show there is support, segmented audiences and plans for each week.
  • If you’re in a team, agree actions and stick to deadlines. If you are on your tod, warn people (bosses, partners) that this is going to be a full-on month, including evenings and weekends.
  • Don't put in your own cash even if it is tempting.
  • Think about your rewards. If they don’t fit in through the normal envelope slot at the post office, you will end up paying large letter postage which will eat into funds. Pick flat rewards that fit in envelopes.
  • Consider crowd-funding-specific costs, such as video, rewards, postage, print and envelopes, as well as the percentage charged by the site for admin.
  • If you are combining this with a G4A application, speak to someone there, especially about any ‘in kind’ value that your time constitutes. I spent days making a film, with free help from mates as well as significant PR time (local media as well as my own social media). I run my own communications agency, so this was a professional, company resource.
  • Forget embarrassment. It's fun and a unique experience, so enjoy it. It's only 28 days, soon over, and it could change your life.

Gill Kirk is a scriptwriter, represented by Berlin Associates.

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