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Crowdfunding has become such an integral part of the maker experience that sometimes we forget how young an idea it really is (Kickstarter launched in 2009). Clearly, it’s a very powerful tool. One where the actual culture and norms of crowdfunding are still being defined. I was reminded of that last week, during a discussion I was having with a friend about the “appropriateness” of a $1 pledge.

This person had never run his own Kickstarter campaign, but had backed several projects. Like many people, he felt overwhelmed by the number of projects they were invited to support. My mom came to a similar conclusion a few months back: “David, it seems like everyone is asking me to donate to their Kickstarter campaign. It’s becoming too much.”

I understood where they were coming from, but encouraged both of them to look at the situation differently. Instead of seeing this as an explosion of charity cases, I suggested they view it for the wonderful reality it is: a future where all your friends and family get to live out their wildest creative dreams. I also told them it doesn’t have to be a huge financial burden, just back projects for $1 or $2. They both responded the same: “Really? A $1 pledge? Doesn’t that make me seem cheap?”

No. That’s not the case at all. In fact, I think this general misunderstanding around the simple pledge is holding back a lot of people from participating in an otherwise beautiful process. Here are several reasons I believe we need to de-stigmatize the $1 pledge.

The emotional (not the financial) support is what really matters.
As someone who’s been on the creating end of three projects – two successful, and one not – I get it. Launching a campaign is one of the most emotionally vulnerable and exhausting endeavors I’ve ever undertaken. It’s hanging yourself out for the internet to judge. Everytime you get a notification email that someone has backed your project (and the creator sees EVERY single name), you fill up with a special type of gratitude for having that person in your life. I promise.

Gareth Branwyn, former MAKE Editorial Director, summed it up beautifully in an update for his ongoing campaign for Borg Like Me:

“Yesterday was like Christmas, as all day long, the alerts on my phone told me that (mainly) my family, friends, and colleagues were backing my project. It palpably felt like they were voting for my idea in real time, voting for me. Each little chime felt like a hug, a high-five, or a smooch on the cheek. OK, with some of you, it felt like a firm, manly handshake.”

(You should really go read the whole update for a full sense of the feeling. And definitely back Borg Like Me!)

The money is great, but…
I know what you’re thinking: if everyone only donated $1 then none of these projects would reach their goal. And that’s true. However, I don’t think the $1 pledge takes away from the larger pledge crowd. I think it creates an on-ramp for the non-pledgers. Having more people following along with updates, care about your success, and be cheering you on is always a good thing. The $1 backers are giving you the gift of their attention. In today’s world, that’s the most precious commodity.

Yancey Strickler, the co-founder of Kickstarter, once told me:

“What people often forget is that money gets spent, but a community can stick around forever.”

It’s true. For Zero to Maker, all my success metrics were based on the number of backers who supported the project. And it’s totally paid off. The backers have been a critical part of the development of the book: helping choose the subtitle, design the cover, and point out confusing sections of the book.

I’m surprised more projects don’t do that.

Signaling is Everything.
One of the most underrated features of Kickstarter is their Facebook integration. Many in the Kickstarter community have enabled the feature where they follow their Facebook friend’s activity on the site, meaning whenever they back a project, all of their followers/friends see what they’ve done. It creates a powerful network effect. And in that regard, a $1 pledge is the same as a $100 pledge. It’s community validation.

Some of the $1 pledge rewards are great.
Kickstarter wrote an entire blog post on the power of $1, citing a number of the cool rewards being offered at that level. That’s just a small sample of what’s out there. If nothing else, backing the project allows you to follow along with all the great updates.

So next time you see a campaign you like, or see a friend’s post on Twitter asking to support their project, jump in. Even if it’s only for $1.

David Lang

Co-Founder of OpenROV, a community of DIY ocean explorers and makers of low-cost underwater robots. Author of Zero to Maker. And on Twitter!


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