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Putting on a Mini Maker Faire takes a lot, and we’ve documented the process in How to Make a Maker Faire. But even after you’ve figured how how many tables, tents, and portable toilets you need, you still have to figure out how to pay for all of it.

I’m one of the co-founders of the Rhode Island Mini Maker Faire, and for the first three years of our existence, we were completely free. During that time, we were embedded in WaterFire and attendees flowed seamlessly between WaterFire and the RI Mini Maker Faire. That first year, some of the funding came from sponsors and other funding came out our pockets. We started funding our Faire with a Kickstarter in our second year and ever since, raising about $2,000 each time. This year, we’re looking for your support to bring a Mini Maker Faire to Rhode Island for its sixth year.

If you put up a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for something, what are you going to give to your backers? This needs to be one of your first thoughts. For the first three years, we were a free event, so tickets wouldn’t make sense. Well, that’s not entirely true: one of our backer awards was a commemorative ticket that we had printed up (“All Ages–Admit Everyone”). But we needed some other cool stuff as well. Matt Stultz of 3D Printing Providence helped us out by adapting the logo we put on the 3d-printed maker badges and making a keychain we could give to backers:

Anchor Keychain

But that’s not all. We eventually adopted the $1 pledge that David Lang wrote about here on Make. And this ties into something important: a Kickstarter isn’t all about making money. It’s also about publicity for whatever it is you’re doing, as well as engagement. As much as it’s a tool for raising funds, the Kickstarter campaign is also a huge help in recruiting makers and letting attendees know we’re out there.

Back in February, I joined a panel of Mini Maker Faire organizers hosted by Sabrina Merlo and shared my experiences in using Kickstarter to raise funds:

For the past two years, the RI Mini Maker Faire has been embedded in a paid event, AS220’s yearly fundraiser, Foo Fest (the event formerly known as the Fool’s Ball). We didn’t charge a separate admission for the Mini Maker Faire, so our Kickstarter was essential. But this year, we (and AS220) wanted to go bigger, so we’re unbundling the Rhode Island Mini Maker Faire into a standalone event and charging for admission (early bird tickets are a mere $5 right now).

Even with us charging for admission, it doesn’t cover the cost of putting on a Faire. Plus, one of the realities of doing an event every year is that you need something in the bank to start with next year. This hit home when Kipp Bradford and I, through our non-profit Revolution by Design, became co-producers of (and fiscally responsible for) the DC Mini Maker Faire. We had around $300 in the bank when we started, and between the two of us, Kipp and I had put many thousands on our credit card before the first sponsor check rolled in.

The Kickstarter campaign and ticket sales are just part of the fundraising equation. Sponsorship is very important, too (many thanks to Hasbro, our principal, and currently, only, sponsor at the moment). Whether you charge for your Mini Maker Faire or produce a free event, you need to figure out where the money is coming from. It’s when I’m in fundraising mode (like I am right now), that I’m reminded of something Tim O’Reilly said in his great essay, Work on Stuff that Matters: First Principles (and before that, in a commencement address):

Money is like gas in the car — you need to pay attention or you’ll end up on the side of the road — but a well-lived life is not a tour of gas stations!

Last year was the year of 100 Maker Faires. If the thought of fundraising is keeping you from putting on a Mini Maker Faire of your own, just keep in mind that a diverse set of sources (sales, sponsors, crowdfunding) is a great way to build a balanced portfolio of funding. Then once you’ve got the money figured out, you’ll know how the portable toilets will get paid for!