Welcome to On Small Business’s series spotlighting interesting crowdfunding campaigns, where we feature a new company or individual attempting to raise money through these new online portals.


A set of tarot cards based on mental health struggles of Asian Americans raised more than $11,000 on Kickstarter in four days. (Courtesy of the Asian American Literary Review)

Who: Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis, 38, founding director of the Asian American Literary Review, a District-based arts nonprofit. Davis also teaches Asian-American studies at the University of Maryland and is a curator for the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center.

What: A deck of tarot cards based on mental health struggles of the Asian-American community. Each of the 22 tarot cards contains art and text from Asian-American contributors.

Where: The District.

Raised: $11,540 of a $10,000 goal (as of July 22). The campaign began July 19 and ends Aug. 18.

What’s the pitch?

Mental health awareness and tarot cards may seem like an odd mix, but Lawrence-Minh Davis says there is no better way to highlight the heightened rates of suicide and depression within the Asian-American community.

So far, at least 240 Kickstarter backers seem to agree.

Davis posted his project — a set of tarot cards reimagined to reflect the experiences of Asian-Americans — on the crowdfunding site Tuesday morning. By Thursday, he had met his $10,000 goal with more than 200 individual backers.

“We didn’t expect to get that much support, so fast,” Davis said.

His goal, he says, was simple: To bring to light mental health issues and other struggles facing the Asian-American community.

“Anecdotally, we know there are so many people who are suffering,” said Davis, who is half-Vietnamese. “We were looking for a way to start a larger conversation and decided to use fortune-telling because that’s something that’s already important across many Asian-American communities.”

Davis and his team have been working on the project for about two years. His nonprofit, the Asian American Literary Review, has invested about $10,000. Each of the 22 cards in the deck are based on different immigrant experiences, such as “the Migrant,” “the Foreigner” and “the Adoptee.” Asian-American artists, poets and scholars provided the text and illustrations.

“The Refugee can signal a crisis requiring an intervention,” reads one card. “The obstacles presented on the card are scenes of misplaced faith.”

Others are more lighthearted: “The Shopkeeper is shrewd at tax time,” reads one. “The power flowing through them is dime candy, saladitos and picked pigs feet — the power of the salty and the sweet.”

Davis says it took over a year to come up with the different themes and the messages they convey.

“It’s really important to us that it not be just a game or a parody of fortune-telling practices,” Davis said, adding that he encourages people to use the cards for tarot readings. “We want it to get people thinking about what’s going on in our lives.”

Why crowdfunding?

“We could’ve easily gone to our existing partners and supporters for money,” Davis said. “But Kickstarter is a great way to reach a new audience.”

He said he used the crowdfunding platform once before, to raise $4,000 for a literary festival in Southern California. Not only was his campaign successful, but he was also able to quickly get the word out about his event. The same happened this time around too, he said.

“Most of the people backing our campaign are people we don’t know,” he said. “The most rewarding thing has been that we seem to be striking a chord beyond the choir we’ve already been preaching to.”

For $30, contributors will receive an 11″ by 17″ poster of their tarot print of their choice, while $35 gets them a full deck of cards.

Davis and his team have also received funding from a number of sponsors, including the Asian American Studies departments at the University of Maryland, Arizona State University and Ohio State University.

What’s next?

The tarot cards are  part of a larger project, called “Open in Emergency,” which includes a number of writings and illustrations by Asian-Americans. Davis says he plans to begin printing all materials later this summer, with hopes of mailing them out in January.

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Editor’s note: Our coverage in this series does not constitute an endorsement. For more information about crowdfunding, please check out this SEC Fact Sheet.