Knish + Kickstarter = A Newfound Appetite for Fundraising

by Laura Silver

Thirty days, $5,000 (I hope) and more than 50 backers.

The magic and the mania of my Kickstarter campaign ends today. Now I can focus on the project at hand, writing: The Book of Knish: Loss, Longing and Search for a Humble Hunk of Dough.

Kickstarter is a funding platform for artists, filmmakers, and creative types. I first heard of it last January at a Creative Capital workshop on online tools for artists. Crowdfunding was an attractive alternative to grant applications and a good option for funding the ones that had met with rejection notes.

I pitched the Book of Knish project to Kickstarter in May and was accepted the next day. Then I schemed and planned for four months. A friend volunteered to film the requisite video, pro bono. I studied projects labeled “successful,” “popular,” “recommended,” and “funded” and labored over my descriptions of giving levels and rewards.

Yiddish Kickstarters’ Union

Before I launched my project, I donated to a Kickstarter initiative a friend found online: Zackary Sholem Berger’s Not in the Same Breath: A Yiddish & English Book of Poetry and scoured the site for other Jewish-themed projects. Punk Jews and a movie about Birthright trips were fully funded. A cholent-based card game and photo portraits of Jewish War Veterans in the San Fernando Valley did not get the pledges they needed.

The Fine Pixels

On Kickstarter, supporters are “backers”; pledges become donations when – and if – the campaign goal is met on deadline, donations aren’t tax-deductible (unless projects obtain fiscal sponsorship) and the platform keeps five percent of a successful project’s intake.

Indiegogo, a similar system, encourages creative types to obtain fiscal sponsorship (and the associated tax-deductible status) through Fractured Atlas artist service organization and allows parents of a project to keep what they raise, even if it falls short of the initial goal.

Posting a project in a public forum makes it available to a broader audience, manages the administrative details, conveys clout and makes it easier (at least for me) to solicit support. Still, it’s a hands-on process. I sent out mass emails, posted the link on my g-chat status and advertised via Facebook and Twitter. I donned a full-body knish suit for Knish Alley Revival, a somber processional on New York’s Second Avenue and stopped by the Kickstarter offices in full regalia. A few staffers tweeted my picture, but it didn’t have the same viral effect as the much-coveted “Project of the Day” spot.

Heather Quinlan, whose If These Knishes Could Talk documentary on the New York accent, raked in $7,538; credited her 301-percent success rate to chunky donations from strangers who found her through the special designation.

Camaraderie and Community

My own obsession with Project of the Day introduced me to the “faux-graphic memoir,” Axe Man, Who Will Be 70 in the Year 2010. I pledged $35 for a signed book. The author thanked me and relayed this message: “tried to back your project, something snafu-ed along the way on the site. I have had several potential backers say the same to me.”

One of mine succeeded on her fifth attempt.

Thanks Audrey. And friends, colleagues, family and new people I met through the fundraising effort. I’m honored and humbled and eager to fulfill your rewards.

I’ve already received mine: reassurance that I’m not going at it entirely alone.

And the influx of dough? After 14 days I can transfer the funds into my bank account. After two weeks of intensive writing, I’ll be ready for a diversion, and especially grateful for the monetary support.

Laura Silver is a journalist whose work has been published in the New York Times, National Public Radio and the Jerusalem Report. She has written about long-lost menorahs, complex carbohydrates and forgotten family members for The Forward, The New York Times and National Public Radio. She is currently at work on Book of Knish: Loss, Longing and the Search for a Humble Hunk of Dough.