12 Tips to win at Adventure Crowdfunding

If you launch your campaign with zero audience, you are launching to crickets.
— Khierstyn Ross of CrowdfundingUncut

1. You need a crowd before you start! 

It is up to you to have a crowd in place before you start (which is where all our focus on audience- and influence-building comes in). Sarah Outen reported that in her adventure film crowdfunder "maybe 5% of pledges have come just through Kickstarter." The rest came from the networks and PR of herself and filmmaker Jen Randall. 

The crowdfunding platform Chuffed suggests that the core of your campaign rests on your ‘True Believers’ - people you are 90% sure will give. A campaign of £5000 or less can run off these folk alone, above that you will need to turn to influencers in your space to amplify your message. 

2. Warm your crowd up beforehand

Let your supporters know the project is coming, ask for their help in designing it and then in spreading the word. Don’t have your first contact be a straight pitch for their money. This is where an email list is crucial - you can do individually tailored private outreach, rather than just shouting into the wind on social media.

What happens when you put up a campaign on a whim with 5 days of planning? A waxed backpack company found out that “It's a very cost effective way to sell a handful of bags & it's a great way to receive lots of spam, and by 2031 we will have raised half of the £2,500!” (Six weeks in, they have raised £272 from 8 backers.)

You want 30% of your money in the first 3 days

3. Know upfront where some of your money will come from

You want to have done your figures, spoken to people privately up front, perhaps tailored your more expensive pledges to fit specific requirements, so you know who will buy them. Kerryann Hayes of Travel Play Live told us how much work went into their pre-launch outreach. "It's really about reaching out to the community, not just on social media but personally," she said. "If I have to, I will contact every connection that I’ve got in Australia"

Chuffed suggest that as a rule of thumb you want 30% of your money in the first 3 days. 

4. Creating a buzz around your campaign

Encourage people to comment as well as donate, reply to all comments. Have things happening on all your social media feeds. Offer spot prizes and celebrate intermediate successes. A crowdfunder is not a set-and-forget event. You need to be working it daily. 

People are more likely to donate when there is time pressure

5. Go for a shorter time period - under 30 days

People are more likely to donate when there is time pressure. Some platforms let you start with a deadline and then switch to open-ended. 

jumping girl orange.jpg

6. Be prepared for the mid-project plateau

Funding comes in fastest at the start - and at the end. Have a plan in place to keep momentum going through the middle plateau. 

7. Have a back-up plan if you are on an all-or-nothing platform

On a platform like Kickstarter, you only get the money if you raise all of it. There are stories of miraculous last-minute successes, like Tom Allen's adventure documentary Kickstarter. "The last day, all hell broke loose on the internet... watching the total go from 88% towards 100% in just a couple of hours." 

Rather than rely on a miracle, it is better to have access to money to push you over your goal if needed. 

8. consider the downsides of the transparency of crowdfunding

The upside is that backers feel personally invested in your success, and excited to be part of a rising tide. The downside is they can be angry and vocal if they question your funding model. The Yes Bus crowdfunder from summer 2017 did not reach its goal, and did attract a small number of vocal critics who attacked the funding model. 

One of various comments: "I think some clarity is needed please! Is this a profit making company or a charity as I was told?" The team did do a post to explain the finances.

Adventure projects do best when they are effectively pre-selling a book or a film

9. Think about what's in it for your backers

Adventure projects do best when they are effectively pre-selling a book or a film. The backer is buying a product, and paying a little extra for the early-adopter buzz. It is much harder to raise money this way to fund an expedition, or anything else that seems personal.

The Yes Bus crowdfunder fell well short of its target - 4 months in (on an open-ended model) they have £22,615 raised of £48,000. They had a very active campaign team and a large and engaged community to reach out to. The problem may have been that many people didn’t see any personal benefit is supporting the renovation of the bus. 

One of various comments: “This feels a bit to me like you are just funding for a space that will mostly just benefit the Sayyesmore core team?”

10. Beware of the hidden costs

Generally costs always creep upwards on a project. But with crowdfunding, you have additional concerns. Close to 10% of your raised money may be lost to platform fees, banking fees, VAT and failed card transactions. 
And then packaging and posting of your pledge gifts and your final product can be expensive, particularly if your backers are world-wide. If you build postage into your pledge amount, you lose a percentage of that in platform fees.

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And it's not over when you reach your financial target! Now the real work begins.

You had one job and that was to do what you promised

11. Keep communicating with your backers

People want to know that the project is on track. If there are delays, backers are always more forgiving if they have an insight into why things have gone off track. 

12. Deliver the product!

Failing to deliver your product will damage your reputation for any future project. And it makes it harder for all future crowdfunders as backers become increasingly cynical. The transparency of the process means the failure is out in the public eye and will stay there. 

A mea culpa from one adventurer who had raised £8000 to produce his book, which is now 18 months past due. 
"Five months have passed without a word from myself. No updates, not hellos. Nothing. And for this I am so very sorry.... You’re probably wondering why I didn't tell you all this as it was happening? Why I remained silent?
Well, I was embarrassed. Having passed way beyond my estimated completion date, severe guilt set-in because I was letting my backers down. I’ve been hiding away from everyone, online and offline. Friends and families ask where the book is and I don’t know what to say."

He then vanished again, leaving his Kickstarter comment page to his betrayed backers.

  • “This book should be titled "How to make 8000 pounds sterling for nothing, 101" I'd like to be surprised and proven wrong. I'd also like to meet Santa.”
  • “I've waited patiently for updates on this project. It's been a very long time and I have been angry and felt like I've have been robbed. Unfortunately, projects like this makes it hard for others and myself to give freely from heart. You had one job and that was to do what you promised. ”