Asking for money is hard. This alone can make the very idea or concept of crowdfunding feel uncomfortable. You’re making it clear that you need the support of a community rather than living up to preconceived expectations of what it means to be self-sufficient. I know because I’ve been there.
But as someone who has gone on to crowdfund for my own projects, and as the former Head of Crowdfunding at Seed&Spark where I helped hundreds of creators launch successful campaigns, I also know that crowdfunding represents one of the only fundraising methods that uplifts underrepresented voices and has ability to help you connect with people who truly support you.
My journey with crowdfunding started in 2014. I was looking for ways to finance my latest short film, “Cross”, the story of a young Filipino-American who gets into backyard boxing through the Latinx community in order to support his sick mother. While I’d seen other creators crowdfund, I wanted to explore more traditional finance options since the idea of crowdfunding filled me with a lot of anxiety and dread.
As a Mexican-American independent filmmaker coming from a working class background, crowdfunding initially made me feel incredibly vulnerable and went against my idea of what it meant to be successful. I didn’t want to put myself in a situation where it felt I was begging people for money.
However, when I met with traditional film financiers they repeatedly told me that there was no money for casts that “looked like mine,” showing me that they did not see the value or importance of investing into the Latinx or Filipinx audiences. But I knew differently. I knew from my own lived experience how badly my family and friends wanted to see themselves in film.
Going through this process where I was forced to articulate the value of my film didn’t lead to investors opening up their wallets, but it did fill me with greater resolve. I knew I had to make this film because nobody else would. It also became increasingly clear crowdfunding was the only way to do it.
I came to understand crowdfunding as a method of fundraising that placed your community and audience first. In order to get the necessary resources to tell this story I would have to go directly to the people who wanted to see it in the first place: the Filipinx and Latinx community.
Through a simple Google search, I learned of a free panel that focused on representation of Filipinos in the media. It was here that I learned about Filipino-American arts groups working in the film industry, fighting to have their stories told.
I started attending these community events, learning about the great work other folks were doing as well as taking the time to talk to them about my film and my plans to crowdfund it. I’d share the film’s social media accounts, show them the pitch poster and talk about the story’s themes. The process of connecting and talking to people who shared my values outside of my own friends and family filled me with even greater confidence about my film. I knew that it was finally time to launch a campaign.
Throughout the 30-day crowdfunding campaign, my team and I reached out to our friends and family, as well as everyone we met through our community outreach. Taking time to invest in the community made the process of outreach feel like the furthest thing from begging. We were building something valuable and we had dozens of people behind us.
We created an Excel spreadsheet and calendar that mapped out our strategy and what key times and dates we would release content. We continued reaching out to new people and provided updates throughout the process. The more we shared, the more others became invested in our campaign. They felt like they were part of the film, even sharing and posting content without us ever asking.
At the campaign’s close, we reached the exact amount of money we set out to raise. It allowed us to shoot our film in October of 2014 and we’d go on to premiere it at the 2015 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. “Cross” screened at film festivals throughout the country including the San Francisco Latino Film Festival and Short+Sweet Hollywood Latinx Film Festival where it was a finalist for best film.
Following my successful campaign, Seed&Spark, the platform I used to raise the money, actually reached out to me and offered me a position to help other filmmakers strategize their campaigns and strengthen their materials. I worked there for nearly four years, serving as the Head of Crowdfunding for two.
In my time at Seed&Spark I oversaw hundreds of campaigns, taught crowdfunding workshops at festivals and universities across the country, and collaborated intensely with the company’s tech team to refine the platform to better meet the needs of creators. What I saw over and over again was that the creators who took the time to articulate their powerful vision and take it straight to their community would not only reach their fundraising goals, but also build solidarity in their community while taking meaningful steps forward in creating sustainable careers for themselves.
I share my story because there are so many talented people with big dreams, but have no idea on how to realize them. I want to tell them that it’s possible. If there’s a story, project or business, you’re passionate about, there are others out there who will be passionate about it too. You just have to go out and find them, because at the end of the day, if you invest in your community, they will invest in you.
Editor’s Note: Crowdfund Better is actively working to solve the issues around crowdfunding education for all. We’ve developed La Oportunidad de Crowdfunding the first Spanish-language online course to help you navigate the crowdfunding ecosystem to fund your business or creative idea.