How We Crowdfunded $18K With No Experience Or Fanbase, Phase 1: Make Yourself Cry With A Community-Oriented Vision

TThis is, my money journal, a reflection on my successes & failures to make money doing what I actually love. I want to share it with you cuz… I bet you’re on this journey too.

Editor’s note: This series was originally published at Justina’s Justina Kamiel Grayman, phd is a NYC-based dancer, dance filmmaker, and “failed amateur comedian who creates revolutionary messages and spaces to live.”

In the first series of my money journal, I’m sharing my first big success as an artist. At the end of 2016, I was listening to my boyfriend’s song Black Man in America when a vision for a dance film struck me. Five Black men seated at a white table with guns. Don’t worry. It is nuanced.

By January 2017, I was storyboarding. By June, my boyfriend was on board, we determined we needed $16,000 to bring it to life, and we launched our crowdfunding campaign. With no fan base and no real fundraising experience.

On August 6th, we filmed. I was freaking out. I had opened a credit card just for this project, was $4,000 in debt and owed our cast and crew $7,000 more. I was all in. By August 20th, 400 backers had given a total of $18,000 for Black Man in America to come to life, exceeding our goal. Look how happy we were when we met our goal (photo below)!

In this first series of my money journal, I’m going to share how we did it, because – imagine what you could do with $5K ,$10K, $20K to bring your visions to life. It’s our tiiiiiiiiime. (Shine bright, shine far…)

Phase One: Make Yourself Cry With A Community-Oriented Vision

What is your vision for your life? Your family? For the world? What have you always imagined creating? What would it look like if you had all the resources to make your visions come to life? If I had all of them, I would create what some would call a hippie commi utopia, where people’s needs were met, where robots did all the work, and where I could wake up and play in a loving, intimate community. A paradise for conscious people who hate rules, find oppression um distasteful, and know they deserve freedom. What would you create? Too often people get mired in the details of online platforms and they miss the whole point of crowdfunding, which is just modern, insanely convenient fundraising to bring your visions for the world and your life into reality. The content of the fundraising campaign matters more than anything. Then comes how we describe the campaign, and lastly comes all the bells and whistles of which platforms, what rewards, how long it should last, etc. So phase one focuses only on the content of the project, the project vision. In this detailed entry, I’m going to walk you step by step through how we designed a successful crowdfunding campaign for Black Man in America.

1. I dreamed up a compelling vision that made me cry

Family photo from the 90s

Family photo from the 90s

An extremely clear vision for a project hit me. It ignited me, moved me, and that I thought it would resonate with other people. Now, how did I know that it moved me and might resonate with others? Well, it literally made me cry. The story behind the film – my relationship with my brothers – is so personal and such a lifelong roller coaster that it means everything to me. If I could say anything to anyone investing their time in creating, it is to choose what what ignites you, makes you bawl on the floor, what gives you pain and pleasure, what lights a fire in you, what forces you to confront your past, what makes you squirm, what makes you feel heavy as you express it and light afterwards. My advice is choose what makes you cry. We cry when we are in awe, when we are in pain, when we are astonished by pleasure, when we are vulnerable, when we are in love. If it makes you cry, it is personal, and common empathy tells me I would want to hear what you have to say. Don’t choose anything less, because it is likely that as a human being what makes you cry, makes another human cry. Like – these people, my amazing brothers, my family, make me cry.

2. I ensured the vision was community-oriented

The next most important, in my opinion, step of this process – is to ensure your vision is compelling, moving, and community-oriented. If you are asking others for money to create a project, it must must must be something that offers something desirable to the larger community. Otherwise, it will be hard for people to justify giving you money – why donate so you can put up a portrait of yourself in an alley no one will see? Why? Perhaps if homeless people see it that is a community project with a cause (but that’s a long shot; a community-oriented project is intentional about who benefits and how). Once you think about it, many projects can be community-oriented. A music album or a film can be community oriented if it’s purpose is to reflect the voices, concerns, or experiences of the community – or if events accompanying the album or film meet the needs/desires of a particular community. A documentary can clearly be made with and for a community. An activist retreat project can clearly be community-oriented. The point is that if a project and its vision are specifically designed to address the needs or desires of a particular community and the project intends to empower the community, it is community-oriented.

3. I specified the community that would benefit from the project

In my case, my initial vision was all about Black men and the experience of being a Black woman who cared for Black men. And what it felt like to watch them go through all that they go through and not be in control. So my audience basically was clear from the beginning – the Black community. For your project, you may already have a specific community in mind or you may not have one at all. By making the campaign for a particular group, you are making a message that to people in that group, will seem like it was sent from heaven specifically for them. They will thank you for finally making something for them. The group should be pretty specific and the more specific the better – for example, as a highly educated Black woman who has worked in many all-white settings, the show Insecure seems like it was sent from heaven to me.

4. I refined my vision based on conversations with community

The most essential part of a community-oriented project is that it must be created with the input or ownership of the community that is benefiting. Start having informal conversations with people about the the issue or desire your project focuses on. In the first step, I thought the original idea for Black Man in America would resonate with people. But I had no idea. I legitimately didn’t know how people were dealing with the news and hadn’t done much sharing with people I knew. So I sent out lots of emails to close friends and family entitled “worrying about my brothers.” In this email, I simply described that amidst all of the controversial news about shootings of Black males, I was worrying about my brothers and wanted to know how they were doing given the political climate. Get the exact e-mail here I sent to friends and family to start this conversation.

The point of an e-mail like this is NOT to talk about your crowdfunding effort but actually to get a sense of how people are feeling and what might resonate with them. My original vision for Black Man in America started off aggressive to prove a point, but, after understanding what people were dealing with, thinking about what I wanted to see, and then talking to Black men in depth, that would have made no sense. That wasn’t what people needed. People needed to feel powerful, not depressed. So my thoughts: if you want your project to resonate with a particular community, talk to that community while you develop your project about what they are experiencing. You can incorporate patterns of how community members feel into the project vision. Click here to get the exact e-mail I sent to friends and family to start this conversation, along with all of my other crowdfunding materials!

5. I ensured the vision for my project was rare or underrepresented

Of course, it’s always okay to do something similar to what others are doing, but even better: shape your project around a perspective (of your community) that is rarely heard. Ensure that your vision is about creating something that doesn’t exist for/with a community that needs it. With a vision that makes you cry, is community-oriented, is based on community conversation, and is underrepresented, you are already on fire. If you are missing any of these elements, it’s like trying to fry chicken in water. I mean, I guess you can try…

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Originally published at Justina Kamiel Grayman, phd is a NYC-based dancer, dance filmmaker, and failed amateur comedian who creates revolutionary messages and spaces to live. As she pursues her childish & reckless dreams and makes money from them, she invites you to follow the lessons she learns about making money as a full time artist / eternal creator. She hopes to make lots of money now and then burn the planet’s money supply in the future. Read her money journal weekly + be her friend (she needs some).