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The IDA Comprehensive Crowdfunding Tool Kit: Tips From the Professionals

By Lisa Hasko

by Lisa Hasko and Katharine Relth 

In the past few years, crowdfunding has gone from the new buzzword to an integral part of the independent film funding landscape, especially when it comes to documentaries. Some people say running a campaign is a full time job. Others even equate it to having a newborn baby. But one thing is for certain: just as with most large undertakings, planning is everything.

At our November 18 Doc U event at the Cinefamily Theater in LA, Crowdfunding: Raising Money the New-Fashioned Way, we heard from Principal and Evangelist at Indiegogo and IDA Board Member Adam Chapnick, founder and CEO of crowdfunding and distribution platform Seed&Spark Emily Best, and filmmakers Lotti Pharriss Knowles (I am Divine), Camilo Silva (After 68), and Tracy Droz Tragos (Rich Hill), all of whom have recently completed successful crowdfunding campaigns. From this lively conversation, deftly moderated by IDA's Fiscal Sponsorship Program Manager Amy Halpin, we at IDA have comprised this crowdfunding tool kit to better help you navigate the maze of this rapidly growing fundraising strategy.


Build your list. (But really, do this consistently.)

According to Adam Chapnick of Indiegogo, if you’re not adding one person to your list everyday, you aren’t doing it right. In other words, it should always be a priority. After you’ve recognized this, take the time to learn where to focus your outreach to build your list and audience.

Any crowdfunding strategist will tell you that strangers are not likely to be your bread-and-butter donors. The most crucial group of people is your social network and the list you’ve (hopefully) been building over the prior months -- think Facebook groups, email lists and your Twitter feed.

But how do you build your list if you don’t have one? Our panel of experts recommends reaching out to groups, other organizations and blogs that would be interested in your subject matter before you launch your campaign.

Think about your campaign far in advance of your planned launch date.

At a recent Film Independent panel, Lisa Callif, partner at Donaldson + Callif, stated that "Most of [her] successful clients had 6 - 12 months preparation for their campaign prior to launching." A good place to start that planning process is to line up publicity opportunities several months before your campaign launches. Reach out to bloggers who might be interested in your film’s subject matter. Contact radio stations. Start to research and get in touch with like-minded organizations and other press outlets to let them know about your film project. After you’ve made those contacts, organize press to come out at certain times prior to and during your campaign.

It might also be helpful to think about suitable upcoming events that might make your documentary's topic more visible and relevant. This groundwork will help leverage that extra time you need to create a buzz about your upcoming campaign.

Research which platform is right for you.

Each crowdfunding platform has different fee structures and offers a variety of ways you can set up your campaign, so it's important to find one that will work with your project's overall fundraising strategy. Some platforms, like Indiegogo for example, allow for fixed and flexible campaigns while others, such as Kickstarter, are fixed only. A fixed campaign means you must meet your goal to be able to receive the funds you raised, while a flexible campaign gives you more breathing room: you receive your funds regardless of whether or not you meet your goal, but at a higher fee rate. Be sure to pay close attention to the fee structure and what you will be charged if you do/do not meet your goal.

While you're at it, it helps to check out campaigns that have successfully met their goal. These are your role models. What did they do right? Did they have a compelling trailer? What were their incentives like? How did they involve their donors and keep them interested? Keep these things in mind as you set up your campaign page.

Know where and how long to set your goal.

Crowdfunding campaigns shouldn’t be your only fundraising strategy. Unless you’re a giant fish in the documentary community, you’re unlikely to raise your entire budget this way. Based on experience and the knowledge of our panelists, we know the average donation to any crowdfunding campaign is $25. Using this metric and your list size will help you determine an achievable goal.

Keep your goal on the lower end of the spectrum so that your campaign is certain to be a success. People are more likely to donate when a project has clear momentum. And if you surpass the set amount? Even better!

Now that you know how much you want to raise, you can decide on the length of your campaign. Film Lead Marc Hofstatter of Indiegogo says their research shows the average campaign lasts 47 days, with anything between 30 - 40 days being most common. Many experts suggest that shorter campaigns can actually be advantageous since it’s less likely you’ll have long lull periods that tend to happen with a 60 day campaign. That’s a long time to keep people excited about your project and only creates more work for you!

Know your audience and use them to promote your campaign.

Let people know what their donations are going toward and how they are making a difference. Why is it important for them to donate to your project? What aspects of the project will their donations be assisting?

Our panel also suggested that you consider whether you will need a fiscal sponsor. Will your audience be donating in larger increments and expecting a tax deduction on their gift? If so, you’ll want to look into fiscal sponsorship prior to setting up your campaign. Not sure what fiscal sponsorship is? You can learn more here.

Director Tracy Droz Tragos (Rich Hill) recommends establishing a set group of donors that she refers to as "bundlers," or fundraisers who pool other contributors from their social network. Bundlers will asking their community (some of which might have overlap with your own) to spread the word for you. "Can you bring in at least 10 people to donate $10?" You’ll be surprised by how these supporters can truly bolster your campaign.

And now, it's time to launch!

It might also be advantageous to consider launching your campaign in two stages. A "soft launch," where you identify your core circle and ask them to be ready to donate early, can really help you start at a base level. Aim for collecting 20 - 30% of your goal in the first couple of days of this soft launch. Reach out to your inner circle beforehand to ensure they know to donate within this crucial time frame. Your "hard launch" will be the launch date that you publicize through press and your social networks. When strangers and those that your bundlers have asked to come in see that your campaign has strong early momentum, they will be even more inspired to give.

As in the making of a film, this initial prep phase will require the most time and effort. But it will also ensure that you're ready put your head down and start raising those funds!


Be aggressive! The filmmakers on our panel agreed that they had to get over being shy about asking for money. Since it can sometimes take people a few visits to your campaign’s page before they convert from a visitor to a donor, you shouldn’t be afraid to promote and engage your social network regularly. One way to keep them involved is to engage your audience in your creative process and help them participate in the project by sharing your experience with them.

Like panelist Tracy Droz Tragos astutely noted, running a crowdfunding campaign is like having a newborn: you have to check on it every two to three hours. For the days that your campaign is live, maintaining it should be Priority #1. Make it your full-time job. If you don’t have the resources to commit yourself to it during all of your waking hours, it might be time to bring someone committed to the project on board to help you part-time.

We also recommend sending out one-to-one emails to make a more personal ask to your inner circle. Reserve some of these core donors for lull periods, which are usually in the middle of a campaign, to help maintain momentum.


Be sure to send out your promised incentives and thank yous in a timely fashion or at any dates that you specified. It’s a big job, but you’ll be more likely to retain donors if they trust you.

As you start that next phase of applying the dollars you have raised to your production, keep in contact with your list. Track your progress in videos, emails, social posts, and other engaging ways so they can see your project come to life.

A recent finding shows that serial campaigns - or multiple campaigns for the same project - actually work! It’s unrealistic to expect to meet all of your fundraising goals at once. Segment out your crowdfunding, and be extremely targeted about what you are fundraising for in stages and phases.

In closing, here are some helpful links that will give you even more advice on running a successful crowdfunding campaign: