By Meaghan McGurgan

Meaghan McGurgan, Artistic Director of the FringeBacker-funded Shakespeare in the Port festival, talks about her experiences of running a festival and successful crowdfunding campaign.

There’s been a lot of talk about crowdfunding over the past year: Veronica Mars the movie was fully funded by a fan campaign, Zach Braff funded his sequel to Garden State, artist Marina Abramović raised over 600,000USD for her project. As a working artist in Hong Kong, lover of community outreach and the internet, I wanted to know how crowd funding could benefit me and my projects. 4 years ago I started working on my concept for Shakespeare in the Port. It was a simple dream: outdoor Shakespeare in Hong Kong that was accessible and affordable to everyone. When I went through the traditional channels of grant writing, seeking support from corporate sponsors and government officials I was met with polite but bureaucratic versions of the answer, no. They all seemed to revolve around “insurance… liability” and my personal favorite, “Hong Kong audiences aren’t smart enough for Shakespeare.”

In June of 2013 I was given approval to put on the festival at Cyberport, thanks to the wonderful support of Mark Clift. I then started seeking how to fund my project and went to a corporate sponsor guy who swore up and down that he could get me 1 million HKD. My original financial plan for the festival saw getting half the money from corporate sponsorship and half from community support via a crowdfunding platform. This very nice financial expert asked me not to crowd fund during the sponsorship time because it made us look too “desperate” or “common”. I listened… And then, 5 months later he hadn’t raised any money for me as the festival was “too new” of an idea and people didn’t want to chance backing a concept that hadn’t been tested yet.

So in January of 2013 I started really pursuing my crowdfunding options. I had just been informed of some huge bills that needed to be paid that I hadn’t been aware of. So it came down to brass tacks, I needed 50,000HKD and I needed it now or the festival just wasn’t going to happen. My friends Joe Fiorello and Angie Palmer had just done a successful campaign with Indiegogo. I had friends who had used Kickstarter and Gofundme before and gave me their opinions of the sites they had used. I then had a very pivotal conversation with a friend who pointed me in the direction of Fringebacker. “It’s like Kickstarter but in Hong Kong, so it’s bilingual… Sounds perfect for you.”

It did sound perfect. I wanted a crowdfunding site that was inclusive to everyone, not just the English speakers and after my wonderful meeting with Maryann and Henry I was sold on their site. They seemed to genuinely care about whether my project succeeded or not. They gave me advice on how to make my financial model better, they helped me shoot my video when the lighting in my apartment made the video look bad, they helped with translations… What other crowdfunding site do you know of would care that much about a project and invest so much of their own time? You’re lucky to get an email back from Kickstarter.

I’m a FringeBacker girl through and through… I’ll support them and recommend them to any project or artist that is looking for an interesting way to finance their project and involve the community. We raised almost all the money I needed for Shakespeare in the Port through FringeBacker and more importantly, their emotional support of me and my dream helped me keep going when things were looking pretty bleak. Thanks to FringeBacker over 2,000 people attended Shakespeare in the Port this year and 650 of them were children who got exposed to the arts for free!

Want some advice on how to make your campaign a success? It’s easy…

1) Social Media- Do not underestimate the power of your twitter and Facebook accounts. You can reach out to hundreds of thousands of people using these. Understand how they work, what times people are online the most, how a hashtag can benefit your post and communicate with fellow artists who are campaigning at the same time to boost your profile. Also, use multiple platforms to communicate- the audience that uses Tumblr isn’t the same that uses Meetup.

2) Rewards- Try to think of interesting reward packages for your potential fans. With Shakespeare in the Port it was pretty easy to think of them as we had tickets to sell but I had never considered giving away backstage tours, photos with the cast or talks with me as a reward. (I didn’t think I was anything special…) Low and behold, people actually wanted to talk to me and were willing to pay for the chance.

3) Talk to everyone- Send press releases to every single person you know that might help you spread the word about your campaign. Bloggers and Twitteratti now hold as much power as the traditional media- it doesn’t cost you anything to send an email to a person. Who knows? Maybe their fans will love you!

4) Say thank you…. a lot- Every time someone you know donates to your campaign, thank them. (No matter how big or small the donation is…) I know it sounds pretty simple but sometimes simply seeing that you thanked another person will encourage another to donate.

I can’t thank FringeBacker enough for helping me make my dream true and giving me a platform where I can raise money and communicate with potential audience members. We can see from the success of Shakespeare in the Port that Hong Kong audiences want festivals that are homegrown and reflect their community spirit. Do you have a dream? Go out there and pursue it! Don’t let a simple thing like money hold you back from achieving your potential. After all, if you never chase your dream, you’ll never catch it…