Lately, celebrities have taken to crowdfunding websites the way paparazzi take to them: Actor James Franco is currently seeking $500,000 on Indiegogo to raise money to make three films based on his book, "Palo Alto." This spring, actor Zach Braff raised more than $3 million on Kickstarter to make a "Garden State" sequel and "Veronica Mars" creators gathered more than $5 million on the crowdfunding site to make a movie based on the popular television show.
Not everyone is happy with this new method of fundraising, however. Critics question whether celebrities are co-opting a fundraising method they say is meant to give non-celebrities a chance to raise cash for their own projects. Celebrities, after all, have other means available, such as their own bank accounts or those of their wealthy friends.
In The New York Times Ethicist column, a reader asked if it was "ethical" for Braff to turn to his fans for money: "Is this a fun way to get common people involved in the movie industry or another way for the 1-percenters to make the expenses 'public' while keeping the profits 'private'?" the reader wrote. Columnist Chuck Klosterman determined that Braff's technique might be "uncool," but it is not "unethical."
Braff eventually addressed the backlash himself and used Twitter to urge fans to support non-celebrities by browsing through other projects on Kickstarter, too. Kickstarter also released a statement last month, reiterating that celebrities and non-celebrities alike are welcome to use the platform for creative projects. In fact, Kickstarter asserts that the Zach Braff and Veronica Mars projects brought "tens of thousands" of new supporters to the site, and many of them funded other projects, in addition to the famous ones that initially attracted them to the website. In other words, the tide of celebrities is lifting all boats.
Most of those boats are captained by non-celebrities, of course, many of whom have found a way to get their own projects funded. According to statistics published by Kickstarter, 44 percent of the 103,741 Kickstarter projects launched have reached their funding goals, which is less than $10,000 most of the time. (Only 35 projects, including the Zach Braff and Veronica Mars projects, have raised more than $1 million.)
[Read: How to Market Your Business Online.]
We tracked down some successful, non-famous Kickstarter users and asked them how they found success on the site. Here are their secrets:
1. Have an appealing product. People want to give to projects that they are naturally drawn to, and cake pops – those enticing cake spheres on a stick – are hard to walk away from. "The fact that I sell such a fun, cute, delicious product definitely helped," says Yael Krigman, 32, a former attorney-turned-baker. She recently raised more than $70,000 to open up a brick-and-mortar shop for her cake pops, which she calls Washington, D.C.'s first cakepoppery. (She also took out a Small Business Administration loan and raised private funds.)
2. Draw on your fan base. You might not have the army of supporters of James Franco or Zach Braff, but if you've built up a business of any kind, then you already have a group of people who like what you do. Krigman says her Kickstarter campaign was helped by the fact that her business, Baked by Yael, was already established as an online store. She used listservs, Facebook and Twitter to spread the word about her fundraising campaign. "It was my network of friends and supporters that pushed me to the finish line," she says.
3. Call on old friends. Krigman let former colleagues and her extensive network of friends know what she was up to. Not only did they make pledges, but they helped her spread the word to other people, too. Krigman recommends making it easy for supporters by drafting emails and social media posts that people can then copy and paste.
4. Spend time on the video. Many Kickstarter campaigns feature a video explaining the project; singer and stay-at-home mom Amy Lloyd relied on assistance from her husband and children as she put together clips of her songs and adorable family photos. Lloyd, who sings religious songs and resides in Cheltenham, Md., raised $2,710 and is currently rehearsing her material before she begins recording her album.