She financed her documentary by playing to the crowd

Jeffrey MacMillan/CAPITAL BUSINESS - FAIRFAX, VA. MARCH 8, 2013: Teen-ager Monica Zinn, works on her second documentary funded via Indiegogo, preparing for interviews at Fairfax H.S. Academy for Communication and Arts in Fairfax, VA. on March 8, 2013 .

Nineteen-year-old filmmaker and Burke resident Monica Zinn recently set out to make a documentary — an in-depth look at self-harming behavior in American teens, to be called “Self Inflicted.”

But the Northern Virginia Community College sophomore didn’t have any money to make the film.

Zinn made her previous film — “Perfection,” a documentary about eating disorders — when she was in high school at Lake Braddock High School in Fairfax. She used equipment from the Fairfax Academy for Communication & the Arts and worked on almost no budget. This time, she was on her own.

So Zinn turned to crowdfunding, a new method of fundraising increasingly popular among artists, product makers and others. Internet platforms such as Indiegogo and Kickstarter allow artists to gather donations from supporters online for specific projects.

A successful campaign, Zinn learned, requires more than just a good idea. After raising money from her friends and family, the young filmmaker needed to to find an audience likely to be interested in the topic — and likely to donate. She also needed to maintain the campaign, frequently updating the page to keep donors interested.

Her experience illustrates a common pattern in such campaigns today, said Jonathan Sandlund, industry analyst and founder of crowdfunding news site TheCrowdCafe. Generally, the first 30 percent of any campaign comes from the creator’s personal social circle. After that, he said, “it takes a lot of hustling. They’re PR machines — with social [circles], Facebook, LinkedIn — then the interest graph.”

The “interest graph” — people not personally connected with the creator, but who share an interest in the campaign — is larger group of potential donors, but is “much more difficult to activate,” Sandlund said.

Zinn set up a campaign on Indiegogo to raise the $7,000 she needed for camera and audio equipment rental, and travel expenses. Indiegogo requires artists to provide nonfinancial perks to donors in exchange for their contribution — Zinn’s project had six tiers of perks. For instance, Zinn is offering a DVD of “Perfection” for $10 and executive producing rights for $1,000.

A communications major, Zinn’s dream is to be a documentary filmmaker. She is attracted to topics she considers taboo — such as eating disorders and self-harm — and seeks to bring attention to them and their victims, she said.

“Giving them education helps them cope,” Zinn said. “I can approach this from an understanding standpoint. It’s been ignored so much, it’s been judged so much, and that’s really harmful.”

Zinn said she could have applied for a grant, but she wanted to simultaneously raise funds and awareness about the film from the public.

Creating a campaign

After she’d set up the campaign page on Indiegogo, where she included a description of her project and a short trailer, Zinn used social media to promote her campaign. She only had about two months to raise the $7,000, so she targeted Internet users she thought might be interested. On Twitter, she searched and tweeted specific hashtags — hyperlinked words indicating popular topics — she thought self-harmers or their families might use, such as #selfharm and #self-injury.

Zinn and her graphic designer created a logo to brand the campaign, printing fliers and stickers.

In line with industry patterns, about 30 percent of donors were Zinn’s friends and family, she said. The rest, she estimates, were people with personal experience with self-harm.

“A lot of people have found [the campaign] by ear, but for a lot of people it’s because they know someone who does it. A lot of them are parents, people who work in schools,” Zinn said.

One donor contributed because of self-harm in her own family.

“My daughter had her own self-injuring behavior for many, many years, but much better now. We spent way over $60,000 out of pocket, so I wish I could give more,” the donor wrote on Indiegogo’s page.

Despite her targeted marketing efforts, hours before the campaign ended last week, Zinn had only secured about $6,200 from almost 200 donors. If she didn’t reach her goal by midnight on March 1, she’d have to pay a 9 percent fee to the platform on the funds she did raise.

A final push

On March 1, Zinn uploaded a video plea on her campaign page, asking contributors to reach out to their own personal networks to help her reach her goal. She asked them to make short videos — one or two minutes long — about why they donated, or why others should donate, and then to promote the videos on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media platforms.

Only a few people made videos, Zinn said, but within a few hours of her plea — and about three and a half hours before the campaign ended — “Self Inflicted” reached $7,000 in donations. A few hours after that, it had reached $7,240, from a total of 208 donors.

Though she said she wasn’t sure if she’d use Indiegogo again, she said it helped her connect with other artists looking to collaborate.

“I’ve never shared this much of a project with someone. Normally it’s pretty private, just me and the subjects. It's been cool to see how many people are willing to contribute their time, artwork and music. People are truly volunteering their work for free,” she said.

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