Why I Hated Kickstarter (And Why I Changed My Mind)
The first time I heard about Kickstarter, I thought it was a joke. A friend told me she was going to use the crowdfunding platform to cover the cost of supplies for a giant mural in her town. “Crowdfunding?” I asked incredulously. “You mean asking strangers to give you money for your art project? Via the Internet? Is that even legal?”
She patiently informed me that it was not a joke, was quite legal, and was growing in popularity among entrepreneurs, artists, and all sorts of cash-strapped types. I thought it sounded like the worst kind of Millennial entitlement: “I want to fingerpaint my feelings on the side of a building, send me all your money so I can Realize my Vision!” I imagined that next, people would do Kickstarter projects to pay off their credit card debt rather than putting in good ‘ol-fashioned Amurrrican hard work (this is against Kickstarter’s rules, which I did not bother researching until after I’d had my mini-fit).
Ultimately, it seemed like begging. And while I willingly give money to homeless strangers on the street, I found it distasteful to consider giving money to a friend so that she could make pretty pictures on an outdoor wall. Fundraisers were for nonprofit organizations and charities and corrupt politicians, not for artists. Artists were gross. I should know; I was one.
Was I an asshole? Yes. Was I completely misinformed about the nature of Kickstarter? Yes. Did I become a Kickstarter donor to projects as varied as a television book program and a gay dance troupe? Yes. And now, after a few years of watching friends find success through the platform, do I have my very own Kickstarter? Yes, of course I do. Here’s why.
First, I hadn’t realized how many people were actually involved in Kickstarter (at present, over 100,000 projects have been launched; 6.4 million people have backed a Kickstarter project). Obviously, this was not just some weird niche endeavor by selfish art babies. In my mind, it took on a little bit of respectability.
Second, I hadn’t realized how diverse an array of projects were available via Kickstarter. Categories include Art, Comics, Crafts, Dance, Design, Fashion, Film & Video, Food, Games, Journalism, Music, Photography, Publishing, Technology, and Theater. “Paying off your AmEx card” is not a category. And you’re not permitted to raise money and then donate it to a charity, either. That’s a big ol’ no-no. Donors don’t have to fear their cash will go to some Koch brothers-funded PAC or whatever.
Third, the financial aspect intrigued me. Kickstarter works on an all-or-nothing basis. For example, I’m trying to raise $15,000 to visit 15 cities in the U.S. and Canada on a comedy, storytelling and service tour. (I’ll tell funny stories in each city and do community service for LGBTQ youth mental health. If you have suggestions for a great organization I can help in your city, email firstname.lastname@example.org, human!)
As of the moment in which I’m writing this piece, I’ve raised $9,169 from 219 generous/demented souls. If I don’t raise the full $15,000 over the next 10 days, I don’t get any of the money, and nothing is deducted from donors’ bank/PayPal accounts. I think that’s great. After all, I’m the one who set the goal. It’s up to me to work my ass off to ensure I get enough donations to meet that goal. I think that if I don’t work hard enough or my “product” isn’t good enough, folks won’t be moved to contribute. That makes sense to me.
Fourth, Kickstarter projects don’t just ask for money. They make promises in return. There are all kinds of cool prizes on offer for different donation levels — everything from the 5-10 minute Skype session with LeVar Burton I earned (plus a bunch of swag) for my donation to the Reading Rainbow Kickstarter, to the t-shirt I’ll receive soon for my contribution to the Prancing Elites. So you’re not just throwing money into a void — you actually get something tangible in return, via an experience or an actual product.
Which brings us to my particular project, This Tour Is So Gay. When I was a confused young person, I got depressed a lot. I had the nasty habit of wanting to kill myself. It was Not Fun. The only reason I survived that period in my life was the intervention of family and friends. I reflected recently that many LGBTQ kids in particular do not have a stable support system in place for crises like the ones I had. I reflected further that I would like to be of help to these kids, who write me lots of letters and ask lots of questions, the primary one being, “Why shouldn’t I kill myself?”
Then I remembered that I wasn’t a therapist, and I felt deflated. But then I remembered that I’m a comedian and an author, and I felt delighted! Maybe I could go on tour and combine my selfish interests (performing, selling books, making people laugh) with my altruistic interests (helping LGBTQ kids.) And thus was This Tour Is So Gay born.
Will I make all the money I want? I don’t know. Will I get to go on tour? I don’t know. But even if I don’t meet my goal and I don’t raise a penny more than I already have, I know this: there is a community of folks out there who are bound and determined to help creators create funky, weird, wild, wonderful things that will hopefully make this world a better place. And that puts a big, dorky smile on my semi-gay face.
Please send money.