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How to Raise Cash on Kickstarter What you need to know about using the crowd-funding website to finance a creative project

By Michelle V. Rafter

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Tim Schafer is famous in video game circles as the creative mind behind classic titles such as Full Throttle and The Secret of Monkey Island. But an illustrious track record wasn't enough to interest industry investors in Schafer's latest venture -- an old-school, point-and-click adventure video game.

So the 44-year-old game designer turned to Kickstarter, the crowd-funding website that lets anyone who makes it through a relatively simple review process seek money for a creative endeavor from the internet masses.

The rest is Kickstarter history. When Schafer listed his Double Fine Adventure project on Feb. 10, he hoped to raise $400,000 in 30 days. He ended up hitting $1 million in 24 hours -- the fastest start to any project the site has ever listed. With 15 days left until Schafer's self-imposed March 13 funding deadline, Double Fine Adventure has collected $2.25 million from more than 65,000 backers.

Schafer is one of 17,000 artists, authors, musicians and other creative types who've used Kickstarter to bankroll projects since the website launched in 2009. Their ranks include 10 percent of the filmmakers premiering movies at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, says Justin Kazmark, Kickstarter's communications director.

You don't need to have an established presence in your field to use Kickstarter. The New York-based service accepts proposals from anyone who wants to bankroll an artistic venture, Kazmark says.

I talked to Kazmark recently to find out more about how people can get started on Kickstarter, how funding works, and his advice for anyone thinking of giving crowd-source funding a try.

SA: What is Kickstarter?
JK: Very simply, it's the world's largest funding platform for creative projects. We define creativity very broadly. People come from art, film, technology, gaming, design, dance and publishing. We have 13 different categories.

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SA: What guidelines do people have to meet?
JK: There are three guidelines. One is that it's for a specific work, something with clearly defined goals and expectations. A project could be to fund an album or a film, but not to start a band or a film studio. The second is it should serve a creative purpose, and fits into one of our categories. The third is that it's not charity. Kickstarter is not a donation platform. In exchange for their pledge, a backer will receive something tangible in return.

SA: How does it work?
JK: A creator comes to the site and proposes an idea. The Kickstarter community team reviews the proposal, and as long as it fits the guidelines, it's accepted. Once it is, the project creator can launch their project. Typically, that involves creating a video that explains what they're trying to accomplish. Second, they structure some type of system to reward backers. Project creators get real creative with that. Typically, it involves giving a copy of the thing that's being created. In the dance category, you might get a ticket to opening night, or if it's music, a digital download of the album. In film, you might get a walk-on. In gaming, you might get to name a character in the game. It's something that involves a backer in the process, but also gets them involved behind the scenes.

SA: How do projects get the money?
JK: Project creators determine how much they need and how long they need to raise funds, up to 60 days. If they reach or exceed the amount they need by the date they determine they need it, everybody who pledged to the project will have their credit cards charged. But if a creator is even $1 short, no one's card is charged.

SA: What happens if someone doesn't meet a funding goal?
JK: You can try as often as you like. We have had people launch a project, it doesn't meet their goal, and they try again and succeed the second time around.

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SA: What does Kickstarter get out of it?
JK: If and only if a project reaches its funding goal, Kickstarter takes a 5 percent fee.

SA: What unusual projects has Kickstarter funded?
JK: Two artists had an idea to send a handwritten letter to every household in the world, one town at a time. They came to Kickstarter to raise $2,000 to send a handwritten letter to each person in one small town. They received more than $2,000 from 75 backers and made it happen, and are doing a second project for a second small town. There's a project called Love Ever After, a photo book that shares stories of people who've been married for more than five decades. Another one is Grassroots Mapping, an open-source kit that volunteers could use to get aerial views of the Gulf oil spill to put together a map of what the damage was.

SA: Are many people using Kickstarter in their 40s or older?
JK: We have people on the site who are established artists and creators, and we have emerging artists. It's from all parts of the creative spectrum and all points in their lives. One is Jennie Livingston, a documentary filmmaker who did Paris is Burning right out of college and 20 years later is doing a second project, and decided to fund it on Kickstarter.

SA: What's your advice for someone thinking about Kickstarter for a project?
JK: Submitting a proposal is really simple; just follow the guidelines. We don't make aesthetic judgments. If it fits into the 13 categories, it'll get accepted. Clearly articulate what it is you're trying to accomplish in a way that inspires people to want to back it. Come up with a compelling rewards structure that brings you closer to your audience. Projects that offer behind-the-scenes access are very compelling, and that's part of the Kickstarter experience. Don't be afraid to get the word out to your friends and family and networks.

SA: How should you spread the word?
JK: Email friends, family and fans. Use Twitter and Facebook. Be in touch with regional media, or niche audiences who might be interested in your project. We have a blog and use it to showcase a project of the day. But it comes down to the project creator getting the word out.

SA: Anything I missed?
JK: There are plenty of ideas that should exist, but not because of the promise of profit. The world marginalizes that, but Kickstarter sees value in that. Also, creators come to Kickstarter because it allows them to retain 100 percent control of their idea, which isn't always possible with traditional funding avenues. People are backing the idea or the person because they trust them to get it done. That's important. There's value in having access to the creative process, and it's cool to be part of something, to breathe life into an idea.

Related: What's With All the Interest in Pinterest

Michelle V. Rafter covers business and workplace issues for a variety of national publications. She is based in Portland, Ore.

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