A short, useful lesson in raising funds

Anyone who knows the Magnum photographer Larry Towell’s wonderful work will know that he has photographed over the years in some of the most demanding environments — El Salvador, post-Katrina New Orleans, Palestine — bringing back marvellous pictures that now make up an unparalleled body of classical black-and-white documentary photography. Here’s some from Palestine.

Well, today, I was alerted by a Magnum mailing to Towell’s latest project. He is attempting to raise the funds necessary to make one more trip to Afghanistan and finish a book he is working on. There are a number of instructive things about this. First, that a photographer of even Towell’s stature must have funds in order to work in the places that form the themes of his work — land and identity, oppression, poverty and the legacy of war and occupation. Second, the man’s determination. Third, the inventive — elegant, even — route he has adopted to raising the final USD12,000 needed to complete this project.

He’s using a programme called Kickstarter to run a micro-site on which you can watch a video about the project and then make donations by credit card that are linked to a set of structured rewards.

Visit the site and see how this works. It really is an object lesson in how a simple funding operation for sponsored projects can be set up and left to run. If the target amount of funding isn’t met, then none of the pledged amounts are charged. The incremental donations attract differing ‘rewards’ — thankyous, really — ranging from personal postcards to signed prints.

OK, this wouldn’t work for everything but I can see how it would adapt itself to a wide range of projects and activities. And the better you promote and target publicity about the campaign, the more likely it is to reach its target.

If Towell raises the funds — and I sincerely hope he does — than you can be sure that his Crisis in Afghanistan will have something new to say about one of the poorest, most invaded and least developed countries on earth, where 1 in 28 are addicted to heroin, and — even before the present war — the land contains the greatest density of landmines anywhere on earth, with Kabul the most mined capital city in the world…

UPDATE: In something over twelve weeks, Towell’s project has met its funding target and the amount is still climbing. It must be a great feeling when backers demonstrate their personal faith in a project like this.

  1. Ben Parkinson Reply

    I have actually tried Kickstarter – with minimal success – and can give some feedback on the process.

    Firstly, they do not accept charitable ideas. The focus is on creativity, not social impact.

    Secondly, they will not feature your idea. You have to market it yourself, using all of your own contacts. If, by good fortune, you can reach a certain designated point, then they may choose to feature your project on their web-site homepage or possibly include it in a mailout. If they do, you stand a good chance of success, if they don’t, no one will find you.

    I found the staff there to be helpful and enthusiastic. They do take 5% of whatever you raise, which is clearly nothing if you don’t meet your self-determined target. They also have some good ideas for what sort of rewards to offer, but these will not click in really, if strangers do not get to hear about your project.

    It is a good system, though to me it is flawed, as it discriminates against those projects which are innovative but have yet to develop a following. I may have another try with one of my projects, which you are allowed to do, as the followers I do have are keen for me to try again.

    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1397989327/the-imagine-us-here-portal

    However, why not a portal that promotes based on SROI and does not discriminate on size of project either?

  2. Alun Severn Reply

    Ben, Thanks — good to hear first-hand experience from someone who has actually tried it.

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