Just as she began to experience fatigue from self-funding a project that had put her in debt, the community formed around her Kickstarter project came to the rescue. The health of a couple of the HIV-positive women was rapidly declining, and Johnson wanted to return to Swaziland quickly to capture their stories while she still could. Without Kickstarter, “It would have taken me another year and a half or more to go back,” she says. Instead she raised almost $3,000 over her goal, reached her subjects in time, and used the momentum from her success to win a grant to let her return again soon. She credits her Kickstarter backers for her renewed vigor. “They gave me all this energy,” she says. “I just wrote them to say, ‘This is because of you.’”
For many photographers, Kickstarter’s role is more team member than money bag. The staff watches every project from inception to fruition—or failure. Employees regularly back projects with their own money; a museum of sorts displays rewards in their spartan headquarters on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
Strickler, a former music critic, is comfortable playing tastemaker: The site’s most prolific backer, he has funded more than 500 projects, often sending personal notes to their creators. And for a photographer, being named a “Project We Love” practically guarantees success.
Just ask Jon Crispin (joncrispin.com), who calls this seal of approval “the key.” His project—photographing suitcases left behind by former patients at the Willard Psychiatric Center in Willard, NY—averaged four or five new backers a day. But, he says, “in the first half-hour after Kickstarter’s email went out, I had more than 50 new backers, and it just went wild from there.” NPR picked up the story, and other sites followed. Strickler was one of his 674 backers.
Crispin was surprised by the community that formed around his project. “I work mostly alone. I am not by nature a joiner or particularly touchy-feely,” he says. “What has blown me away is the connection that I feel with my backers. I see them as a large community of people who are with me every step of the way. It’s very meaningful to me.” And in the process, he found a built-in audience for his work.
In contrast to Kickstarter’s curation stands IndieGoGo. “We’re completely open to any campaign,” co-founder Slava Rubin says. “There is no human curation.” IndieGoGo relies on an algorithm to pick which products to feature on the homepage. And it offers one option Kickstarter does not: flexible funding.
Kickstarter’s threshold pledge system may be its most polarizing feature. With IndieGoGo’s flexible funding option, creators keep all the pledges they receive, though the fee rises to 9 percent if they do not reach their goal.
Strickler insists that returning funds from unrealized goals is crucial to the site’s risk-free nature: Backers are only charged if the creator collects enough money to complete the project, and creators “know they’re only obligated to go through with this if they have the cash to do it.”