Danielle Batist is an independent journalist who is one of the most consistently successful writers on Contributoria.comin terms of securing backing for her work – funding at least one article a month for the past year, mostly two. In fact she’s managed to fund 22 articles in 9 months via the site. I was interested to hear how she does it and to share her experience for the benefit of other writers looking to crowdfund their work on the independent journalism network.(Disclosure: I am editor/co-founder.) Here’s what we discussed during an interview today.
The main tools she uses are an email newsletter, her blog and social media. The email newsletter she uses to keep people informed about her Contributoria work is a specially selected list of people who have chosen to receive the conversations about the crowdfunding site, rather than her more general newsletter.
When she first started with Contributoria, Danielle told her general newsletter subscribers what she was doing and asked those interested to sign up to this new one. It’s not the biggest subscription list, approx 150 people, but all the members are particularly interested in this activity.
I wanted to make sure that I was giving people something that they wanted to receive, especially if I am knocking on their door every month. You can have hundreds and hundreds of subscribers but then not many people will open it. I always check the click and open rates for the newsletters. If you’ve ever done any marketing, and many journalists haven’t, but that is a skill set you need for any sort of crowdfunding.
I have really high engagement – 70-80% who open the emails – because I only send them out to a group I know who want it.It’s not so much about numbers as quality. The main point I think is consistency. I have dates in the calendar every month and stick to them.
The email cycle begins at the start of every month with Danielle outlining what she has recently had published thanks to the subscribers’ efforts, as well as outlining what’s coming up that she is looking for support with.
And the information about the support required is very detailed. She estimates that helping people (to help her) takes at least a couple of hours every month.
“You have to make it very clear, with some people you have to actually ring them up and talk them through the process.”
On the financial side of things, the emails are very specific about what money is required and what the money is being used for.
For example, if it is about travel I try to explain about it and what I do. For non-journalists, they don’t necessarily know how it works and you have to point out that if you’re travelling to New Orleans or Chile you’re going to need the first couple of thousand pounds just for flights and then there’s food and getting back before you start with the time.
— Sarah Hartley (@foodiesarah) March 13, 2015
This diagram I saw at a crowdfunding event in Norway last week shows the typical journey of a crowdfunder – friends and family first, then friends of friends, and then a need to get out into the world.
As with all crowdfunding activity and, shown the diagram above, Danielle’s first port of call is with family and friends but it is her approach to the wider potential of community of interest around her articles which I find particularly inspiring.
Take her coverage of the Homeless World Cup, a story she’s been covering for ten years for a multitude of publications. Knowing the topic so well meant Danielle had knowledge about many people already involved and interested in the subject – volunteers, referees and organisations etc. They were not the same people who’d sign up to back her work (or even usually read in English).
She was able to target the organisations she was writing about – sometimes simply urging them to tweet to their own followers – as well as a wide net of individuals and groups she knew would be interested in the subject whether or not they would be interested in getting involved in her other endeavours.
In addition to pitching one-off topics, Danielle has also been funding an entire series on Contributoria. She told me thet her ‘someone I met’ feature had been something of an experiment to see if people would be interested in reading whatever she came up with each month, rather than her spelling out exactly what they should expect in return for their support.
I have also been promoting the series on my website, which some people have told me they first found it and started supporting: http://daniellebatist.com/someone-i-met. Some months I get creative about where I promote my proposals: at the bottom of my email signature, in newsletters to ‘fans’, twitter, facebook, linkedin and other places.
Finally, just in case you think this all sounds rather exhausting, here’s what Danielle had to say about the pressures of crowdfunding versus traditional pitching.
If you’d like to support Danielle’s current proposal, please click here.
I’m interested in crowdfunding in all its guises, shapes and sizes and am keen to quiz people about their experience of using it for journalism when I get the chance. I’ve already posted here about the things I learned in 2014, but now I’m sharing someone else’s experiences – Jon Hickman’s in fact. Jon is a senior lecturer at Birmingham School of Media and a member of the Birmingham Centre for Media & Cultural Research. He wrote this article for the February issue of Contributoria after it was successfully crowdfunded. The non-commercial share and attribution licence on Contributoria means I can republish here also.
By Jon Hickman, originally published at Contributoria.
I’d not really done any crowdfunding until 2014. Sure, I’d backed the odd Kickstarter project but I’d not really ever used it myself for anything. However, by the end of the year I’d written quite a few pieces through Contributoria and I’d successfully delivered my own Kickstarter project too.
1. CROWDFUNDING IS ‘PULL MARKETING’
When lay people like you and I think about marketing we tend to just think about one part of it, advertising, and that’s the sharp end of something called ‘push marketing’: a team of people scope an opportunity, develop a product or service, and then take it into the market; at the most extreme end of things that opportunity might be quite slim but the Don Draper-types in the ad team can make the product sell anyway.
So that’s ‘push’ as in “let’s shovel this at them and make them buy it”. Pull marketing goes the other way: the customer in some way demands the product, and then it’s created for them. So when Threadless ask us to vote on which t-shirts they should print, that’s pull marketing and when you order a mug from a CaféPress store that doesn’t exist until it’s made for you, that’s pull marketing too. Crowdfunding is pull marketing.
It’s asking people what they want, generating demand through dialogue before the product is even made. That’s great because it can save you a lot of time. My Kickstarter project was for a book, 101 Things Birmingham Gave The World: by asking people if they wanted to read it we could gauge demand; if we hadn’t got the support we got we wouldn’t have even written it and certainly wouldn’t have got a load of them printed — after all the world already has too many unread books.
2. FUNDING IS HARD WORK
If you build it they won’t necessarily come, just ask some of the people whose work made it to Kickended — a collection of Kickstarter projects that didn’t raise a single penny. I’m pretty baffled by these projects: imagine, they didn’t even get a sympathy back from their mums.
No one is looking for your crowdfunding project, you’re going to have to tell people it’s there; counterintuitively your pull marketing needs some push marketing to get it started.
3. USE YOUR NETWORK
We all have a network, a mesh of people whom we have various levels of connections to. The things that build networks are shared interests, values and goals. That’s pretty handy when you’re crowdfunding because if you are interested in your project there are people all around you who will be interested too.
They in turn will know people who have similar values and interests. Just putting it out there on Facebook and Twitter should return something and make sure you don’t feature on Kickended — unless your idea makes no sense at all, in which case thank goodness you haven’t done any work yet.
Beyond the scatter gun of the social graph, you can make much more pointed moves: think about the sub-groups of your network, and the key players within those, take the idea to them personally and canvas their support as a backer, but more importantly as a champion for it. When working on Contributoria proposals I tend to think in my head about the parts of my network that will be interested in the story, I package it for them, and I reach out to those people on a one to one basis — most of the time it works.
4. YOUR NETWORK WILL GET WORN OUT EVENTUALLY
Some of the people who back your crowdfunding projects will be backing them because it’s you not necessarily because of the project itself. The more of this you do, the less of that sort of support you’ll get. That’s not a huge problem for Kickstarter projects as they’re something of a one-off, but with Contributoria if you are pitching monthly it feels like you’re always asking for something. That’s proved to be tiring for me as a writer. I realised that I’d become embarrassed about asking for backers and had pretty much stopped sharing links to my proposals, which has then cost me getting some work commissioned. The thing is I needed to stop with the asking for a while for the sake of friendships and for the sake of how I felt in myself. Which leads me to…
5. IT FEELS A BIT LIKE BEGGING EVEN THOUGH IT ISN’T
Once you start pushing, asking people to help get your project off the ground, it can feel a little bit like you’re just going around with the cap out: “asking people to back you is a form of panhandling” says my book co-author and fellow Contributorian, Jon Bounds “it’s embarrassing to be honest, especially when it’s a little unclear what they get from it except for more of my words in the world”.
6. YOUR CROWDFUNDING NEEDS A NARRATIVE, IT NEEDS A JUSTIFICATION
OK, let’s get a little deeper into the ‘begging’ thing for a second. A crowdfunding pitch needs a narrative, and part of that needs to address the question “why is this being crowdfunded?”. When Zach Braff used Kickstarter to finance a film there was some controversy over the project: Braff faced criticisms over why he wasn’t using his own money and why the film suddenly secured significant studio funding; it appeared to many that his Kickstarter was simply a publicity stunt, and that the crowdfunding had never been needed.
Much closer to home, Birmingham Impact Hub recently ran an ambitious Kickstarter to raise £50,000. This caused local controversy because nobody could understand what they were doing or why they needed so much money. In the end they made their target, but not before they spent a lot of time addressing peoples’ concerns.Get your story straight, and you should be golden.
7. REWARDS COST MONEY
Sounds pretty obvious, but don’t lose sight of the fact that the money you raise isn’t profit, and that you are going to need to deliver things. We left lots of contingency in our Kickstarter’s financial plan and we used all of that contingency money up — if we hadn’t budgeted for our stupidity we’d have eaten into the profits too. It’s good to know just exactly how stupid you are before you start.
8. REWARDS COST TIME
If your Kickstarter project involves sending physical products you must plan for the logistics. Packing a few hundred rewards can take a lot of time. Unfortunately we didn’t know just exactly how stupid we were when it came to dispatching goods — fortunately for us the counter staff at Moseley post office are totally fine when you turn up at ten to closing time on the Friday before Christmas with 300 packages. I am forever in their debt.
9. AND THEN EVEN MORE TIME AND MONEY
Things get lost in the post, things get damaged, people don’t know how to get the ebooks they ordered onto their Kindles… Once you have been backed on Kickstarter you’re a company in the eyes of your backers, even if you are actually just a couple of friends publishing a toilet book, as my compatriots and I were. We spent a lot of Christmas week sending emergency replacement parcels out and offering technical support. We went above and beyond in doing this because we owed these people, because we’d made them a promise.
10. IT’S A BUZZ
When it’s going well, crowdfunding is a big adrenaline rush. We worked hard to get 101 Things Birmingham Gave The World backed, and we were rewarded. Our target was modest but enough to do the project.
We smashed it. For a while it felt like every day we were dreaming up new stretch goals just trying to get the total higher and higher so we could do more and more, make the book better and better. In the end we got to hire a great local artist to design a cover, we got enough of a print run together that we could work with a local supplier (instead of shipping it all out through Amazon’s print on demand service as originally planned), and we raised enough cash to hold a book launch. The thing we did was so much better than we ever could have imagined and better than we could have afforded — it all happened because of our backers.
I think it was the feeling of absolute impotence which made me feel like bursting into tears when I got home last night. I’d travelled from a wonderful day of work in London (spent with fellow independent publishers at #Tal15), back to Darlington – a journey I do pretty regularly but last night was different.
It started well enough. A tweet from another journalist alerted me to the fact that this would be my last journey on East Coast Trains. I was feeling a bit nostalgic and went to buy a cup of tea, passing the time of day with the young woman serving and asking about their new work arrangements. (New name badges for Virgin are on they way, but not uniforms).
Back at my seat and the train stopped at Peterborough where five or six very noisy, drunk passengers got on and proceeded to break out the booze and amuse themselves with stories from the day’s football match.
Then the chanting started. Then some racist conversations. Then a loud assessment of any women passing by. Then what sounded as if it could develop into a sexual assault on a young women attempting to navigate past the group.
In my head, I wanted to be that person, the one who would go and stand up to them. With a hand on the emergency chord, threaten them with being handed to the police if they didn’t shut the **** up.
But of course I didn’t. I did what everyone else in the carriage did and shift out of view in my seat. Turned up the volume on the music, avoided eye contact, paid for extra wifi time to pass the time.
It wasn’t just due to English reserve or feebleness – it did actually seem to me that things might turn violent.
And so the abusive behaviour continued.The carriage was mostly occupied by women travelling alone and so I guess none of us wanted to run the gauntlet that would have been required to contact the train guard.
I considered attempting to alert East Coast by Twitter but then I heard the female thing (possibly called Rebecca) that was with the group mention she was tweeting, presumably between laughing like a drain at every joke and comment made.
But then it looked like something might happen to relieve us – a male train attendant with the drinks trolley. Even if he didn’t feel he could face up to things there and then, surely he’d go and call the transport police in readiness for the next stop.
But no, the train pulled up at Doncaster and half the group went to leave. The remaining half banging so loudly on the train carriage walls that the guard standing on the platform must have heard them. If he didn’t hear those inside the train, the yobbo standing behind him chanting back to the group as they staggered off to delight the ladies of Donnie couldn’t have been ignored. Still no action.
Finally, after two hours or so the remainder all got off at York. A collective sigh of relief turned to anger as the train announcer put out a message declaring the train company’s zero tolerance approach to anti-social behaviour.
The new female train guard came to check tickets and received all of our complaints. It was at that stage that I dared come out of my seat and discovered to my horror that two young black women had been cowering at the next table to the vile group. All that racist and sexist stuff could even have been directed in part at them.
I realise the chances of anyone being bought to book for any of this are sadly incredibly slim but I have lodged this with the complaints people.
It might well be the first complaint of this type which Virgin Trains have to deal with on the former East Coast route and I’ll let you know how they rise to the challenge.
I suggest there’s a couple of lessons to be learned – 1. what is the role of station and train staff in such situations and 2. how to empower passengers to be able to make a complaint from their seat.