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Tell a Story, Crowdfund a Project [Part 1]
© Image: Flickr.com / MontyAustin
editorial

Tell a Story, Crowdfund a Project [Part 1]

Here at Crowdsourcing.org, we often write about how crowdfunding is evolving a full-fledged industry. Part of that means highlighting some of the support services that are emerging for crowdfunded products – from product fulfillment to consulting. Today, we feature the first part of our conversation with Rose Spinelli of The CrowdFundamentals. Spinelli is a new (but not inexperienced) player in the field who loves to help entrepreneurs tell their stories. She is also an avid dog-lover, and she offers free services once a month to canine-friendly organizations. In this part, we learn how Spinelli got into crowdfunding and what services she offers to potential customers; the second half of our conversation will be up tomorrow.

Anton Root, Crowdsourcing.org: How did you get into consulting on crowdfunding projects?

Rose Spinelli, The CrowdFundamentals founder: I am a journalist by trade, and have been for about 20 years. Getting into crowdfunding was sort of coincidental. In 2009, I went to see a theater performance that was with former shelter dogs that have been adopted and trained using positive reinforcement training. It was a goofy, game-show format, and the dogs were doing tricks. I fell in love with their project, and I started volunteering. I really wanted to see this guy re-mount the show, which is called ‘Life’s Ruff.’ He kept saying he didn’t have the money, so I convinced him that we can run a Kickstarter campaign. He had never heard of it before, and I had minimal knowledge about running a campaign. We set about doing all of this, and we raised a little beyond our goal of $10,000. A few months later, we launched ‘Life’s Ruff.’ I was hooked. It’s very addictive to watch, observe, and monitor these campaigns on a daily basis, and you’re learning all these little things as you go along. It’s not like I was sitting there thinking, “Oh, I’m learning all these things as I go along,” but in fact it was happening.

Then, there was another opportunity about a year later to participate to run another campaign, this time on Indiegogo because Kickstarter turned us down. It was weird that they turned us down because the whole idea was to launch a social media site for people with disabilities. I think the person that we were in touch with could not get beyond the word "disabilities," so they kept reading it as a charity, which is not within the guidelines of Kickstarter. I did some research and discovered Indiegogo, and we ran a very successful campaign on that [platform].

My next campaign was for a friend of mine whose dog – again, it’s dogs – got very seriously ill with an invisible toxin that dogs inhale. There was an outbreak of it, so every time she went into the vet’s office, it was about $700. She was facing the situation of, "Am I going to have to put my dog down, because I can’t pay for the bills?” Now, this is a woman who is a total Luddite, but I sort of [convinced her to run a campaign]. She was totally game to jump in and learn as much as she could about social media. She did so much work that she inspired me. We worked together daily, and we did a lot of things wrong – I knew she was making a mistake when she wanted to raise $18,000. I told her a few times, she wasn’t really listening, so we went ahead with her goal of $18,000. She ended up raising $6,000, which is a bit of a miracle.

The reason for that was that, like I did with all my campaigns, I had my journalism cap on. I was always looking to see how a story was going to appeal to the most people. In this case, it was all the other dog owners out there thinking, "Oh my god, I need to educate myself as much as possible on this because I don’t want this to happen to me." We got an incredible amount of press. It was just another sad, sad dog story, and there are a million of them out there, but I think that this one was elevated because we figured out a way to make it into a story. This is when I started realizing that what I have to offer is the story. It’s always, always, always about the story. I think that the projects that don’t do well – there are many, many reasons for that, but often, it just comes down to the fact that their story is not told clearly. Or it might be clear, but it’s not approached in a way that people have a good understanding of the bigger implications of whatever it is.

That seems to be the biggest thing I hear from people who have been successful in running campaigns: if you can’t sell the story, or choose which storyline is the best one, that’s when the campaign runs into a little bit of trouble. How do you – and I realize some of this may be a trade secret – identify the one thing or the few things that you think will really appeal to people?

I really don’t think it’s a trade secret because it’s different with every project. I think there are times when I’m on the other side [of the interview] and somebody calls me and says, "Hey, are you interested in writing about such and such?” And I have to say no, because I realize that people – and I don’t mean this in the wrong way – but they have an over-inflated sense of the importance of whatever it is they want me to write about. So, I think it’s just being able to walk around with an eye looking for stories. For years I was a freelancer, and I was just constantly looking for the next story. That’s how my brain works. It’s what I love to do, it wasn’t a reach or anything like that. It’s how I’m wired to look at the world. The other thing I came to realize made me good at this – and I don’t claim to be good at all levels, because it’s very, very complex what makes successful campaigns – but one of the things I just love to do it connect dots. If you tell me you’re looking for a 1954 Chevrolet or something like that, I’m going to get off the phone and start thinking about who I know who might be able to help you do this. I spend way too much time thinking about that stuff, but I think it’s fun. So this is a way to match people up with their interests and take it onto a bigger arena. It’s a blast!

What did you learn from your first several campaigns?

This is not going to be anything life changing for anybody who reads this because it’s a piece of information – as valid as it is – that’s the same piece of advice that everybody gives. You’ve got to have your community before you start. The reason I’d be more hesitant to take somebody on today, if that wasn’t the case, is because you work extra hard to build your social media community. In all three examples above, we didn’t. You’d think that in the theater production, the guy whose project it was would have had his community together, but he had an pretty inactive Facebook page, the website was sort of a disaster. And that’s often the case with non-for-profits – they’re so busy in the trenches, doing the actual work, that other things fall by the wayside.

The thing that I also think we keep hearing on the internet is that you have to have these things, or it’s just not going to work. Having said what I just told you, I still think successes happen all the time when that’s not the case. There are wildcards left and right on what makes something work. But you’re definitely at an advantage if you’ve got your social networking in place.

What fees do you charge for your services?

I was ready months ago to launch my site and my business, but what to charge was kind of hanging me up. We’re all pioneers out there, there’s really no other models to look at and say, "This is how they did things, let’s try that." So, what I’m doing now may very well evolve when I start seeing what people need. The whole idea behind crowdfunding is that you’ve got to do it yourself. It’s very personal. So I offer a ‘Jumpstart Basic’ plan, and it’s advice on what your pre-launch preparedness needs to be, how you need to be able to shift gears quickly and respond to a campaign and to whatever the crowd is telling you, how to turn a campaign that’s not doing well back around (or attempt to do that), and how to maximize on when a campaign is doing well. Even though it’s different for every project, I have a template for that. What I do is give people that template and then work with them individually, based on what the project is. That’s $250. Beyond that, I do have other levels, but I feel that we’re going to have to decide between me and the campaigner what the fees will be.

Beyond the basic, I offer writing and editing of their story, ideas on how to develop a media strategy, or help in how to conceptualize and create a video, which I call ‘Jumpstart Plus.’ There are no fees attached to that right now because I will make those calls on an individual basis. Beyond that – and I’m not encouraging people to do this (laughs) – but beyond that, there is ‘Jumpstart Premium,’ which is helpinig people with the basics and then giving them support during the life of the campaign. That’s what I did with the other projects I worked on .You’re just on the phone with people every day saying, "This is what happened, this is what we need to do." And then, I’d be willing to coach groups, that’s the other level. That’s how it is now, and we’ll see what the crowd, and its inimitable wisdom, will tell me. If it’s not working, I’ll shift gears along the way.

Would you also negotiate whether the fees would be up-front or depending on the success of the campaign?

You know, these are all things I’ll have to chew on. I did traditional fundraising (in the past, I was a development director for a non-profit) and because of that, I have a lack of comfort with charging a percentage. Say you want to raise $10,000, and then you’ll give me 15% for that – I'm not comfortable with that. Honestly, it’s going to depend on what the project is. I certainly wouldn’t turn down a filmmaker who needed help, or a gamer who needed help, but those two groups, they’re very good at storytelling. I used to teach writing composition in a college here in Chicago that’s called Tribeca Flashpoint Academy. These were all college students that were in media arts, and the games students by far were the best writers. I think those are the groups that are probably going to need me less. The groups that are probably going to need me more are either individuals who have a great idea but don’t have an idea about where to begin, or cause-related groups. They, again, spend so much time working hard on the cause at hand, that they don’t have a lot of disposable time to think about all of the pieces that need to go together to run a successful campaign.

As part of my offerings, actually, once a month I offer a dog-related organization a free consultation. It has to do with the bigger philosophy that I see crowdfunding falling into. Without getting all "woo-woo" on you, I think there is just really a bigger phenomenon going on right now with crowdfunding. I think it, weirdly, has something to do with a spiritual awakening that we’re all having, and crowdfunding is where the technology and spirituality intersect. It’s this realization that we’re all interconnected. (laughs) But I think the reason that people are responding so profoundly to the concept of crowdfunding is that for the longest time, we had this desire to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, and to help. And now, technology has offered us the ability to actually feel good about ourselves. With fundraising, you give money to other people, but I would argue that you get more out of it. It makes you feel good about yourself: it’s a bit of selfish act, with a bigger positive overlay. To me, my interest in doing this work has so much more to do with my own personal beliefs about wanting to be a part of doing good in the world. I’m totally open to the idea that this is a journey and who knows where it’s going to take me. It’s fun, and I like to recreate myself. I’ve done it many times in my life. 

The second part of our conversation is here

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