If you use the internet in the year 2020, it's more than likely that you have a favorite Youtuber, streamer or podcaster. And if you’re a Youtuber, streamer or podcaster in the year 2020, you more than likely have a crowdfunding page. Perhaps you’ve seen your favorite show’s Patreon page and thought, “I bet I could do this.” The good news is that becoming an independent creator is a more viable career path than ever before thanks to the wealth of options available for funding your projects and monetizing your audience. The bad news is that there are so many platforms out there that it can be hard to know which one is the best for your specific needs.
In order to make the plunge into independence a little less daunting, we’ve listed three of the best crowdfunding platforms depending on the size of your audience and the needs of your project. Whether you already have a large audience you’d like to make an income from, are just starting out, or want to produce one major project, one of these platforms will set you up with the tools you need to succeed.
Founded in 2013, Patreon is your best bet if you’re a creator with a regular, consistent output of content. Often a favored funding method for Youtubers or Podcasters, Patreon’s flexible billing options allow you to charge “patrons” either once per month or per piece of content produced, depending on your production needs. There is also a tiered patronage system, allowing creators to set up multiple levels of support for their audience. Much of Patreon’s success has come from the $1 pledge, allowing users to support their favorite creators at a cheap cost.
Really, what makes Patreon such an appealing option for so many creators is that it works as an extension of your brand. A quick look through various Patreon pages will show you just how customizable the service is. Different tiers of subscriptions can be named different things and allow different benefits according to each creator’s needs, the amount of support you receive can be shown or not, and you can regularly post updates and additional content to your Patreon page with different levels of access depending on a user’s level of support. Patreon is not just a page that sits idly raising money - it's one that is part of your business and online identity.
Patreon also borrows some of the better ideas from its competitors. Much like Kickstarter, Patreon features “stretch goal” options, promising patrons not just additional content or recognition for their pledge, but even more down the line if they are able to help rally support. Unlike Kickstarter, however, Patreon’s services are more easily utilized by those who already have an established audience that they’re looking to monetize, rather than by those who are just starting out.
Overall, Patreon’s payment options and customization options make this the ideal choice for creators who regularly output content on any platform and are looking to either get a little extra monthly cash flow or support an entire business. Independent pop culture media company Kinda Funny, founded by Greg Miller, Tim Gettys, Nick Scarpino and Colin Moriarty, survives almost entirely off Patreon support.
One of the earliest success stories on the platform and still a gold standard for how to use it effectively, Kinda Funny wisely invested heavily in fostering an online community based around its content and personalities which has grown to be self-sustaining. Furthermore, the company doubled its cash flow by splitting its Patreon into two, offering subscriptions to Kinda Funny, which focuses on broad culture and entertainment content, and Kinda Funny Games, which focuses primarily on video game content. The lesson to take away from Kinda Funny’s success is that Patreon can be more than a little extra cash flow if you use it as an essential part of your business and brand, rather than as a small side project or tip Jar.
Kickstarter is responsible for almost single handedly kicking off the crowdfunding craze and showing the world that reaching out to your audience for support is a viable way to raise capital. Kickstarter’s name has become synonymous with crowdfunding since its launch in 2009, and has been used to fund major projects ranging from landmark video games like Shovel Knight and Pillars of Eternity to hit products like the Fidget Cube and the Blink security camera. For this reason, Kickstarter should be your go-to platform if you’re looking to raise money up front for a single, long-term project.
A Kickstarter campaign should be viewed as the world’s first impression of your project. The platform asks you to create a detailed first impression of your project, including a description and video highlighting what it is you’d like to create. After you’ve put together a detailed pitch, you can customize payment options. It’s important to know exactly how much money you’ll need to execute on your project, as Kickstarter asks you to lay out a specific funding goal before launching.
While that may sound restrictive and inflexible, Kickstarter does have a wide range of customization options. You can create a series of stretch goals for your project, promising extra features or content if you manage to raise certain amounts beyond your initial ask. These can sometimes get out of hand - the creators of Pillars of Eternity dug themselves into a whole by promising an entire additional massive area in the game should they reach a certain stretch goal, which ended up eating into their time and budget and partially caused them to seek outside funding - but they also help to keep expectations in check when setting your base goal.
Akin to Patreon’s tiers, there are also tiered donation incentives. If someone donates more than $5 maybe they’ll get their name in the credits of your web series whereas someone who donates $20 or more will get a t-shirt with the show’s name on it. The danger here is that you may promise more than you can actually handle, and there are no shortage of stories of kickstarters that utterly fail to deliver on their promises. Kickstarter is still your best option for raising a lump sum before your project begins, but it will certainly require thoughtful analysis of your needs in order to work to its fullest potential.
The appeal Ko-Fi has over the above two services is how easy it is to set up a page. Right there on the landing page, you have the ability to lay claim to a unique URL. From there, it’s as simple as writing a bio and adding a payment method before you’re good to go. There are, of course, customization options like Patreon and Kickstarter, but all of that can come later whereas the other services generally ask you to provide all that context up front.
Ko-Fi allows users to “buy coffee” for their favorite creators in the form of single payments of low amounts. Users can add multiple “coffees” to increase their donation, and are also given the opportunity to set up recurring payments akin to Patreon’s tier system. This means that you’re more likely to receive irregular payments on Ko-Fi unlike Patreon’s monthly consistency and Kickstarter’s up-front sums, which makes its use as a supplemental income more valuable than as a service to make your entire livelihood off of.
For this reason, Ko-Fi is an especially useful tool for small creators to either provide a little extra income or to raise money for a specific purpose - Ko-Fi also allows donation goals like Patreon, and testimonials from creators show that many use the service to fund specific things like a home office or hardware for streaming that they would not be able to budget otherwise. If you’re just starting out and have built a decent following, Ko-Fi is an important step on the way to launching something like a Kickstarter or Patreon page.
There’s an ocean of options awaiting you should you choose to go independent and become a content creator. These platforms are rarely used on their own - Youtubers also generate revenue from advertisements or merchandise in addition to crowdfunding sources, and streamers can make money on services like Twitch as well. These three services should help you get even more out of your audience so that you can keep making the content that drew them to you in the first place.