Dear Catastrophe Kickstarter
“Should we go for it?” my husband (then fiancé) asked.
I grinned a nervous and excited grin.
“I guess we’ll find out in a few weeks if we’ll be getting married in Scotland afterall!”
We had been browsing the Kickstarter site and had come across a project we were interested in supporting. Stuart Murdoch, singer for one of our favourite bands Belle & Sebastian, was trying to get funding to make a movie. We were immediately interested in backing the project, and as we scrolled down the list of backer rewards, one in particular caught our eye. A bus tour of Glasgow with Stuart himself, sometime in spring 2013.
I had literally been dreaming about Scotland. More specifically, I had been dreaming about being married there. As Phil and I began our life together, we had been collectively daydreaming about it. This felt like a sign.
“I guess if the project gets funded, we’re getting married in Scotland!”
The project was funded. But Phil and I didn’t get married in Scotland.
Let me make two things very clear.
1) We didn’t get married in Scotland for a myriad of reasons, including pressure from my then workplace, family considerations, and finances, but never receiving our Kickstarter reward was a giant ass ache that made the letting go of this dream even worse.
2) We didn’t back this project for an excuse to go to Scotland. We backed it because we believe in the crowdfunding model, and believed in the band and their film idea.
But I will hammer home this point: the disastrous way in which this project was handled has absolutely ruined our relationship as fans, likely beyond repair.
I’m writing this because I feel there is a lot to be learned from this experience about working with donors. This poorly-managed campaign should be read as an example of how not to treat your supporters.
From Backing To Funding
Once we clicked “fund” we received a myriad of messages and over the span of the funding period about 30 updates. These updates were positive, funny, and inspiring. We were excited about this project. We psyched ourselves up by listening to all our Belle & Sebastian albums. We even had a few personal exchanges with the organizers – we let them know that we were really rooting for them, because not only did we believe in the project, but the fruition of their funding also meant we would take the step to making our own dreams come true. The responses were excited and supportive.
Once the project was funded, we were thrilled to receive the news, and promises of news about different rewards.
And then, silence.
From Funding To Now
The project was funded in February of 2012. To date, there have been 9 updates about the project after it was funded a year and a half ago. These updates mostly focus on how busy they’ve been with the film, with side notes about getting in touch with us individually about reward delivery. Phil has attempted to connect with them directly, with little or no response. A view of the comments section of this campaign suggests many backers are feeling the same. No one knows what is going on. No apologies have been made. Verily, some upset user comments have actually been deleted from the comment feed.
What Went Wrong
I really hate to fault the band for this, but just like it’s Barack Obama’s fault that the Obamacare website sucks, it’s Stuart’s problem that this project was incredibly disappointing for backers. Let’s translate this into fundraising terms.
1) Transparency. From the moment they got our money into their pockets, backers have been struggling to figure out what’s been going on. Sporadic updates about the film itself, while interesting, did little to engulf our passions for the project. And as far as the promises they had made to us as donors? Nadda.
2) Realistic. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. While it clearly states on the Kickstarter website that all dates for reward delivery are estimates, I feel that going on a year late is a bit too far off the mark for me to extend my understanding. Be realistic about the goals you set – and be honest with your donors when you know you’re going to fall short.
3) Respectful. The direct responses we’ve received have been curt and underwhelming. When a donor approaches you with a concern, for Christmas sake don’t be disrespectful. And apologise.
“if you’re feeling frustrated by the wait, we definitely understand. the kickstarter campaign was in december-february 2011-2012, for christmas sake!
this film, like most, has taken a long time to make.”
That wasn’t an apology. That was an excuse.
4) Promptness. Likewise, be prompt. If someone reaches out with a question or request, do your best to get back to them quickly. And ramp up frequency. When a lot of questions are coming in, this means one very obvious thing: you’re not giving enough answers. Be quick to respond, and do it often if there seems to be need for it.
5) Honesty. Some rewards have apparently been delivered, though seemingly most have not. Here’s where a healthy dose of data might help. “To date, x% of rewards have been delivered, specifically to those in the UK” or whatever.
6) You not we. The one thing that really struck me about this was the language used in updates, especially updates after long periods of silence. Between January-October 2013, there was silence, and a culminating amount of comments about feeling disappointed, upset and frustrated by the lack of clarity around reward delivery. The update given was heavy on the “we’re busy” angle, seemingly downplaying the amount of concern and disappointment being felt by the community. The update also came from “Barry” (the individual I assume has been in charge of the whole campaign) – nothing from Stuart himself since the project was backed. The best strategy would have been to send a note full of high praise for the donors with a significant apology signed by Stuart, not the equivalent of a “please stay on the line, your call is important to us” response from Barry.
7) Loyalty isn’t forever. The biggest takeaway for me from this is about donor loyalty, and how one sour experience can truly ruin a great relationship. We were huge fans of the band (the organisation) and their approach to art (their mission.) But the experience of poor donor relations has damaged this loyalty, I fear beyond repair. I can’t listen to their albums anymore. If a song comes up on random, I will quickly bolt across the house to change it. How terribly sad.
Fundraisers, organisations: don’t piss off the people who love you the most. If you cannot rely on those closest to you for support, if your base disappears because you’ve fucked up in some way, you’re screwed.
I hate to sound like a whiny donor here, but I feel like this is just an example of poor donor communications, and thought instead of stewing I would share it with you all as encouragement. I’d also like to add that while this experience has been a particularly sour one, it has not dampened our spirits towards Kickstarter, crowdfunding, and donating to worthy causes. Indeed, we have several stories of amazing experiences in backing these kinds of projects, one in particular I will share in the coming weeks.
For the band itself, I suppose we’re just two fewer fans. They’ll get by. Perhaps for your organisation, two fewer donors isn’t a big deal.
But chances are we’re not the only two who have left our copies of Dear Catastrophe Waitress and Boy With The Arab Strap to collect dust beside some old hurt feelings and worn-out trust in a box at the back of the closet.