How to Run a Successful Kickstarter Campaign: Advice for Nonprofits

An Interview with David Lavalley, Executive Director of The Center for the Arts in Natick

Written by: Ashley Bannon, Marketing Coordinator at the Foundation for MetroWest


Project snapshot:

Organization: The Center for the Arts in Natick in Natick, MA (TCAN) 

Kickstarter goal: $75,000 

Raised: $103,420 

Donors: 543 

Campaign period: June 7, 2016 – July, 22 2016 (45 days)

Overall Capital Campaign goal: $1,600,000

The Center for the Arts in Natick, fondly known as TCAN, is in the midst of a capital campaign. Their executive director of 12 years, David Lavalley, was kind enough to share his insight into their recent successful Kickstarter campaign, in which they raised over $100,000.  This money will fund a renovation of the currently unused second floor of their historic firehouse building into an event space and screening room.

Kickstarter is an online platform that helps individuals and organizations crowdfund money for creative projects. According to Kickstarter’s website, “since our launch, on April 28, 2009, 11 million people have backed a project, $2.5 billion has been pledged, and 110,355 projects have been successfully funded….Thousands of creative projects are funding on Kickstarter at any given moment.” But what’s the catch? If an organization does not reach its fundraising goal in the allotted amount of time (anywhere between 1-60 days), they do not receive a penny, and neither does Kickstarter. If a project is fully funded, the organization receives the donations and Kickstarter takes 5% in fees.

This high-pressure fundraising strategy worked well for TCAN, but it is not right for every campaign or for every organization. Here are the main takeaways from TCAN’s experience, as described by David Lavalley:

1) Know your donors

David advises that you shouldn’t expect Kickstarter to bring new donors to your organization. He estimates that 98% of those who donated to the project at TCAN were already connected to the organization in some way, either as current contributing members or patrons of TCAN events. TCAN’s email list includes over 30,000 names, so this resource was an important tool to spread the word about the Kickstarter campaign.

2) Have a plan

David describes Kickstarter as “a small gift campaign, a grassroots effort.” Kickstarter is a great way to increase donor participation for a major project or for a capital campaign, but should be used as part of an overall strategy, not the only strategy. He notes that applying for grants and asking for major gifts are important elements of fundraising that are not included in a Kickstarter campaign. David recommended creating a range of gifts table to estimate current donor capacity, and then to base the Kickstarter goal well under that number to (hopefully) guarantee funding.

3) Find the right project

Donors need to be excited by a project to become invested enough to give. Kickstarter is for projects, and it cannot be used to generate funds for a general annual appeal or for an endowment. Once a strong project is chosen, David recommends basing the acknowledgement gifts, called “rewards” on Kickstarter, on the project itself. For example, instead of giving donors a general discount on tickets, donors will instead be invited to attend an invitation-only opening reception in the renovated space when it is finished. This reward is directly related to the project, and is a unique experience to offer donors as a thank you.

4) Be flexible

David cautioned that there is some stress involved when using Kickstarter- but that’s ok! Donating through Kickstarter is strong at the very beginning and at the very end of campaigns, but slows down in the middle. TCAN had only reached 40% of their goal four weeks into the campaign, and David was nervous they may not achieve their goal! But towards the end, more urgency is generated, so that is when most donors give. Kickstarter tells its users “Don’t panic. This “plateau” is normal for most campaigns and there’s a lot that you can do continue spreading the word.”

5) Create strong content

The single most important element of using Kickstarter is the strong story an organization can tell about its project on the site. By using well-crafted language, quality images, and a strong video, the case for a project will be clear to potential donors. However, creating a strong story takes time and planning. It took nearly a year for TCAN to create the video and content for the site. But this time investment is vital and can really pay off in the end.

Thank you to David Lavalley for sharing his experience using Kickstarter, and best of luck with the renovation!

To see The Center for the Arts in Natick’s Kickstarter campaign, visit their project page.

A rendering of the renovated second-floor screening room TCAN raised money for on Kickstarter.