Crowdfunding Autism

“Does he have it or doesn’t he?”
“What? What’s the word for it? How many letters does it have?”
“Six.”
– Six Letter Word (2012)

A powerful, gritty story of a struggling young mom, and a fantastic crossword solver. A trans-american chronicle of families embracing life as it comes. What do these tales have in common? They both spotlight autism, and each was made possible by crowdfunding.

With sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, the ability to connect with people of shared interest and with just enough means, was made a little bit easier. From planters, to game consoles, to dollhouses for budding engineers, crowdfunding has emerged in the last few years as a fantastic route to getting support from the vast reaches of the internet.

This week, we step out of the lab to speak with two successful crowdfunding campaigns for autism, take a look at some numbers and ask: what’s the secret behind hitting your goal?

An Unlikely Parent

With a list of films like I’ll do Anything and The Last Boy Scout, Lisanne Sartor had been involved in creating moving stories for many years now and recently she found herself with an opportunity to create something special. Chosen along with eight other women to direct a short film as part of the American Film Institute’s Director’s Workshop for Women, Sartor wanted to draw upon her life experience as a mother of an autistic child.


Six Letter Word’s original Indiegogo pitch

While AFI’s workshop provides some training and equipment, funding was the responsibility of the participants, and after watching a friend raise the means to adopt a child from China, she decided to launch her own campaign for her short film, Six Letter Word.

Before there was crowdfunding, you would have charity auction, she says, putting money into raising money. “Those things are a lot of time and effort and you had to have a huge group of people helping you do it.” Now you can reach directly to the people without all the same overhead. To be successful still requires effort, Sartor insists. “I didn’t expect how much time it would take every day.” From creating blog posts, to promoting on facebook and twitter, she was constantly reaching out. And it worked. Every blog post brought in new donors, and by the time the campaign had finished, she had raised over $15,000; over $3,000 more than the initial target.

In addition to monetary resources, these sites can act as another channel to connect with the community. “I didn’t just have people contacting me with autism in their lives”. Authors, editors, composers all reached out, wanted to participate and help build the final product. Since the campaign started, Sartor has been featured on The Lady Brain Show to talk about crowdfunding, and Indiegogo approached her about becoming an ambassador based on her success.

What tips does Sartor give for those trying to leverage crowdfunding? Make your promotion video short, personal and be specific about what the funding is for. “People want to know who they’re giving money to.” She also recommended paying attention to the suggestions the sites already give. Indiegogo suggests, among other things:

  • Perks should be personal, unique and offer a tangible benefit to your contributors.
  • Start telling people about your campaign before it’s launched. In person, through email, on social media, blogs or your website; just get the word out as soon as possible and keep them engaged.
  • Post an update to your campaign every 1 – 5 days to keep everyone engaged and to increase your funding.

By the numbers

Kickstarter projects involve a fixed goal and set amount of time in which to attract pledges. If the goal isn’t met within the time period, backers do not contribute funds and the project gets nothing. If, however, the project meets or exceeds the target, the monies are contributed, and backers receive “perks” in return. For media projects like films and video games, perks might vary from a digital copy of the film or software program at the low end, up to a paid visit to the studio or workshop at the upper prize level.

There have been over 100,000 projects on Indiegogo and 73,000 on Kickstarter. some succeeded, some fell short and others are in the process of searching for backers. How many reach their targets? In 2011, Kickstarter published a success rate of 46%, but with Indiegogo the same metric doesn’t quite match. In that service’s case, creators have the option to set “flexible funding” goals, meaning any funds contributed will be exchanged, albeit with a higher service fee, regardless of whether the target amount is raised.

As of this post, there have been at least 256 projects on Indiegogo related to autism, totaling over $700,000 in donations out of $5.2 million requested, with a median project goal of $10,000. The median funding rate of 10% is substantially lower than Kickstarter’s 46%, but without the all-or-nothing constraint, creators on Indiegogo may tend to seek a higher target.

So what’s the secret? Jeanne over at AppsBlogger has a great post on Kickstarter projects, what types succeed and what factors may influence failures: Behind Kickstarter Crowdfunding Stats.

“Do whatever you can to get featured on Kickstarter. Projects that are featured have a 89% chance of being successful, compared to 30% without.”

Size of goal, whether you have a video, duration of project; all these may influence your crowd-funded (or unfunded) fate. At the very least, make sure to look at similar projects and learn from their examples. Sometimes your own experience is the best teacher, as our next story illustrates.

Round Two

The first time Richard Everts went to the well of the people, he wanted to seek funding for final stages of his team’s film: United States of Autism. They needed funds for post-production which was how the team pitched it, but that line didn’t resonate. People didn’t have a film background and couldn’t relate, Everts explains. His film chronicles a journey across America, talking to people in the autism community about life with autism.

Before Kickstarter, Everts’ non-profit, the Tommy Foundation had won $50,000 as part of Pepsi’s Refresh competition. To pay for additional filming costs, they looked to crowdfunding, but after 30 days, the campaign had garnered only 11% of the funds requested, and he headed back to the drawing board.

The Refresh project, he says, didn’t require anything from interested people, they just needed to vote. Kickstarter, in comparison, is much more complex: “We had a lot of people who were really turned off by that.” To back a project on Kickstarter, participants must create an account, link to Amazon for payment, and most significantly, actually hand over their hard earned money.

So he tried again, and in March of 2012, US of Autism re-launched on Kickstarter. They changed their marketing tack, including better perks and a simpler message: “’Help us finish the film’, people can get on board with that.”


United States of Autism (2013) trailer

The result? United States of Autism topped their goal of $10,000 in May of last year. Everts is happy about the result including the networking opportunity that resulted from the successful campaign. Asked if he would turn to Kickstarter again as a resource, Everts was unsure. “For smaller projects … you can probably pull something together”, but they’ll use it as a backup plan in the future.

What’s Next?

As for the next steps, United States of Autism is set to premiere in select cities, starting with New York, this spring. Sartor’s Six Letter Word is complete, and she hopes to turn support from a successful festival run into a feature length film. And many other projects like theirs will continue to raise funds toward worthy causes like autism. Perhaps you will join their ranks, and if you do, send us a line! We’d love to hear your story.

Thanks go to Lisanne Sartor (http://www.sixletterword.org/) and Richard Everts (http://usofautism.com/) for speaking with Autism Labs about their journeys through crowdfunding.