South Park has remained topical since its first episode aired on Comedy Central in 1997. It’s lampooned everything from the death of Blockbuster, to the lavish praise do-nothing celebrities receive.
South Park’s creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, kicked off their 2014 season by fixing their sights on Kickstarter and the entire crowdfunding industry with the episode “Go Fund Yourself.”
The episode focuses around Stan, Kyle, Kenny, Butters, and Eric and their mission to crowdfund their company “The Washington Redskins,” with the business plan of doing absolutely nothing. Really.
Eventually, and predictably, their business falls apart and all the money they raised on Kickstarter disappears.
As an avid viewer of South Park, it’s clear Parker and Stone are not lampooning the idea of crowdfunding so much as what some people use it for. With that in mind, this guide will use the South Park boys’ crowdfunding successes and failures to show you the best (and worst) ways to crowdfund your next event.
So let’s go on down to South Park and have ourselves a time!
1. Create an event funding plan
As the episode opens we find our favorite fourth graders pondering what their new startup company name will be. After deciding that “Washington Redskins” rolls off the tongue better than some of the other names they had in mind (since the NFL team had their trademark pulled), the boys then go over their detailed plan to success:
- Start Up
- Cash In
- Sell Out
- Bro Down
Now, this may seem like the most ridiculous business plan ever put to paper, but it’s actually more developed than a lot of real Kickstarter-funded projects out there. The boys gather up their name and business plan and head to Kickstarter to raise money and realize their dream of doing absolutely nothing.
Unfortunately for you, unless you are planning on unveiling a revolutionary La-Z-Boy recliner “doing nothing” isn’t going to help you raise money for your event.
However, like our friends from South Park, when you decide to start a crowdfunding campaign for your event a solid plan will organize and help set your campaign in motion. You should have your campaign narrative ready, your marketing and earned media strategy, and your event details fleshed out before you even decide to launch your crowdfunding drive.
2. Choose a crowdfunding platform and get started
Obviously for the sake of name recognition, Parker and Stone went with the most well-known name in crowdfunding as the target of their episode. But this doesn’t mean Kickstarter is the only platform where you can find support for your event.
Platforms like Gigfunder have been developed specifically for the purpose of crowdfunding events, which helps event planners forecast the viability of an event in the first place. By setting fundraising goals and attendance thresholds, and then tracking progress to those goals, you can discern whether it is worth hosting your event without having to actually put down the money ahead of time.
Other general fundraising sites like Deposit A Gift are perfect for funding your event because they allow a wide variety of initiative types, many of which aren’t allowed by Kickstarter (such as charity events).
The “all-or-nothing” model most crowdfunding platforms embrace is also a plus, since it doesn’t actually pull the donations till the campaign time limit is reached. If the threshold is reached or surpassed the funding moves ahead, but if it isn’t you don’t have to worry about going through a difficult refund process.
Make sure to start the crowdfunding process well ahead of the actual event to not only give yourself enough time to raise money and get the word out about your campaign, but also so cancellations can be issued if you fail to raise the funds in time.
3. Market your event
Marketing your event to the public is key to reaching your funding goals.
In order to build excitement for the Washington Redskins startup, Cartman holds several Apple-style launch events to let donors know what they’re getting-or what they’re not getting-for their money. Highlighting idiotic accomplishments like moving chairs from one side of the office to the other, and buying color matching drapes, Cartman lays out just what the Washington Redskins stand for.
Amazingly this marketing strategy leads to amazing fundraising success, mostly from dim teenagers and even from the terrorist group ISIS, which embraces the boys’ “screw you” attitude.
Chances are you wouldn’t want an endorsement or support of any kind from ISIS, but what Cartman’s marketing strategy proves is how important it is to know your audience audience and what rakes in the donations.
When marketing your event, it should be presented as more than just another event. Your marketing should tell the story about THE event in your space. For example, when Salesforce holds their flagship event, Dreamforce, every content marketing and earned media story is centered around why Dreamforce is the place to be for everything tech-related. Every video and blog post tells a story about why, what, and how they do everything they do, from their environmental initiatives to their elaborate lodgings.
Your crowdfunding campaign should be focused around the story of why people need to be at your event. What sets you apart? What do attendees stand to benefit from by attending your event? Will they be entertained? Will the learn? These questions should be answered by your marketing strategy, whether by email, blog post, Youtube video, Facebook post, or Tweets.
Be sure to link back to your crowdfunding page in every outreach attempt.
4. Reward your event donors
After the ACTUAL Washington Redskins, led by owner Daniel Snyder, launch an all-out assault on the Kickstarter offices to force the boys’ company out of business, the crowdfunding giant goes offline, which leaves Kyle and Eric’s startup in a predicament.
In order to stay afloat, they decide to reward the loyalty of all of their donors. Cartman and the gang come up with the best “reward” they can think of that still fits within the confines of their “do nothing” business model.
They call it the “Go Fund Yourself” project, which allows them to collect 10% of whatever funds everyone else raises for their projects and startups. As Cartman says, it is the biggest “F— you” they can think of.
Of course, this is probably not the best way to go when rewarding your own donors for their hard earned money.
Instead, offer them something they’ll value, and that will drive donations at higher tiers. Different rewards can range from discounted tickets, to event t-shirts, to special backstage access. According to Smartblogs, reward levels at $25, $100, and $10 are the most popular and are selected in that order.
Make sure to tie rewards to donation amounts, offering bigger bundles with more benefits, recognition, or merchandise the larger the donation amount. This structure incentivizes higher donation amounts, putting you closer to your goal before the campaign timeline is up.
5. Collect feedback from your donors
Depending on your perspective, either Eric Cartman is either really great or really bad at responding to feedback. When the owner of the NFL team, The Washington Redskins, comes to the startup to ask that they change the name, at first Cartman refuses. But then in an act of “being firm, but also being flexible,” he decides to change the logo to something “more in step with the times.” According to Cartman, “digging in our heels and pissing on public opinion is what the Washington Redskins are all about!”
While I can’t post their logo change to this blog, t Google “South Park Redskins Logo” to see the “tasteful” and snarky changes the boys made as a response to Daniel Snyder’s feedback. In the end, these changes are somehow well-received by the public.
Even though Cartman’s response to feedback is not the most positive way to handle a similar situation, his willingness to take such feedback into account is an example your crowdfunding campaign should embrace. Many of those who donate to your event crowdfunding campaign do so because they believe in the event and its message, so when they attach comments and suggestions to their support, you need to take it seriously.
Whatever your opinion of the irreverent fourth graders from South Park, they usually have some good lessons to teach in each episode. Even if it comes in the form of “this is how NOT to do something.”
What do you think? Have you ever used crowdfunding to finance an event? What went right? What could’ve gone better? Let us know in the comments below!