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Good communication is key

With the goals of the campaign clearly laid out, it is important to update backers on the progress of the campaign itself and to spread the word about it once it has started. A project that gets its supporters enthused about its crowdfunding campaign stands a much better chance of increasing its backer numbers. The key here is to find the right balance between regular updates and spam. Campaign organisers should only send emails to backers when there is actually something to say. Sending emails and other messages to supporters only for the sake of trying to gain traffic should be avoided.

Backers should be kept up to date during the delivery phase of the campaign as well, in the event that the fundraising is successful. As with most software development projects, delays will most likely happen, and keeping backers informed on how the work is progressing will keep them happy. The track record established during this phase will make or break further crowdfunding campaigns by the same project or group of developers. And chances are that if a project successfully funds one campaign, it will sooner or later come up with more features that could be financed in the same way.

As crowdfunding essentially comes down to asking people for money in advance of delivering a product, the reputation of the group that is doing the asking is very important. And the easiest way to maintain a good reputation in the open source field, especially in the face of delays and adversity, is to be as transparent as possible and to communicate well with the project's community. Once again, it can not be overstated that finding the right balance in the amount of messages is important.

Addressing the right audience

Probably the most important thing to keep in mind when planning a crowdfunding campaign is who to aim it at. The potential audience will determine a lot about the project, from its goals to where it will be hosted. While Kickstarter currently seems like the place to be, if only for the sheer number of visitors the service gets on a regular basis, some projects might want to consider Indiegogo for its more international reach (Kickstarter is only available in countries that have the Amazon Payments service available) and more flexible funding options, as it offers alternatives to Kickstarter's all-or-nothing system. Campaign organisers will have to decide how they can possibly achieve the widest reach for their project.

In some cases, going for a niche of users might also be advisable, such as in the case of a free software product whose users might not be comfortable with using a proprietary service such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo or the other available alternatives. In such a case, an open-source-based, host-your-own solution like Selfstarter might work better. That particular solution can also prove useful when the project gets turned down by other sites, as happened to the original creators of the software.

In general, going for the widest reach seems like the best advice for campaigns to follow. But if a project leader is aware of their project having a small but very dedicated following, it might also benefit them to go as directly to that audience as possible. That might even mean eschewing the Kickstarter-type model altogether and asking for donations directly. When all is said and done, whatever method works best and gets the most open source software written is the one that should be adopted.

Conclusions

Most of these guidelines seem relatively obvious, but keeping them all in mind while planning and executing a crowdfunding campaign is often less trivial than it seems and the number of open source crowdfunding campaigns that have fallen by the wayside can attest to this. Most of these projects only made small mistakes, but in a competitive environment such as Kickstarter or even Indiegogo, that can be enough, especially when many projects are competing for money, something that most people only reluctantly part with and only for good reasons.

Whatever means a project ends up using to try and reach its funding goals, It is probably a safe bet to say that an important part of the whole experience will be to decide if crowdfunding is needed at all. To plan a campaign that has a realistic chance of reaching its goals takes a lot of time and effort and to kick off such a campaign should not be taken lightly. If it fails, a lot of effort and resources are wasted and the project itself will probably damage its reputation somewhat. For some projects, more dependable streams of income, such as sponsorship, might be a better fit. Many other open source software projects are already carried along by developers who hack on the code as part of their jobs. For such projects, crowdfunding efforts might prove a distraction and can thus be detrimental.

Open source projects that seem to be the perfect candidate for crowdfunding campaigns are often volunteer efforts that contributors hack on in their free time. Maybe these developers feel they are ready for the next step and they want to get funded to work on their project full time. In such a case, a Kickstarter campaign can be the perfect accelerator for the project. But there are also pitfalls down that road. Developers who risk such a step need to work out a solid business plan to accurately predict how much money pays for how much development time and, maybe the hardest task of all, they need to develop a viable plan for the time when the funds raised dry up, as they eventually will.

The developers also need to be sure that enough people use their software and want to see it improved or continued. Assessing this accurately can be hard and is almost impossible to do for one's own projects. In these cases, outside advice or a survey of the project's user community can provide important data points for the decision. In the end, even with the best incentives and optimal planning and communication, only projects that people truly care about will get funded.

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