Using a Pledge Manager
On our third Kickstarter, for the Rage of Montalbano deluxe expansion for SSO we decided to use a pledge manager for the first time. Engaging and using a pledge manager is not a simple or obvious decision, so I’ve decided to set out our experiences. Currently, since we have only used one pledge manager, I won’t be making too many statements about the platform we used specifically, since I don’t have personal experience of to what degree they vary. However, it should be noted that any direct observations here are from using Crowd Ox.
So, we ran and completed two campaigns and didn’t use a pledge manager but engaged one for our third campaign, why only at that point? To my mind there are three reasons to use a pledge manager and they are, to make life easier for your backers, to make life easier for you and to ring some extra funds out of the campaign. I’ll run through each of those in a little more detail in turn.
Kickstarter, while splendid, does not have the most comprehensive user interface, either for backers or creators. While they have recently gotten better by allowing add-ons to be managed on the platform, they are still far worse than even the most rudimentary pledge manager. As such, if you have more than a couple of add-ons with any range of options, a pledge manager makes the life of your backers significantly easier and allows them to feel more secure in their choices. This is the reason we decided to use one, the Rage of Montalbano campaign had six add-ons including one with five options and navigating that with the basic Kickstarter site was just baffling and would have left backers unsure.
Life can be hard as a Kickstarter creator, and one of the hardest areas is shipping. Shipping costs can (especially at the moment, I’m writing this in late 2021 when the Covid-19 pandemic is making international shipping hard to pin down) shift unpredictably. Worse than shifts in costs, which can raise or lower a few percent over the time of most Kickstarters, is a possible shift in weight or size. Kickstarter creators have to estimate weight and size, even when a printer sends through a print sample it will be a few grams less than the final version due to changes in card stock from sample to final version. Most postal carriers rate packages on a combination of weight and size measures, if the slight increases from sample to final print shift a game across those barriers the increase in cost won’t be a couple of percent but can rather be a doubling or more of shipping costs. Creators are therefore in a bit of a bind, they can’t get totally accurate shipping costs without printing the final version of their game, but they can’t get the money to print the final version of their game without finalizing charges on their Kickstarter. What is needed to make a creator’s life easy is a two-stage charging process with their backers, which is what pledge managers offer. On the one hand, this version is making things a little more complex for backers to make life easier for creators, on the other hand, its making things more certain and safer for backers. As such, this motivation is largely neutral for backers and advantageous to creators and is probably the biggest motivation, especially for first time creators, in the use of pledge managers.
Once someone has given you a little bit of money, asking them for a little bit more at a later date becomes much easier. For example, in our Crowd Ox pledge manager we offered exactly what was available in the campaign and received £2,570 in add-ons, simply from existing backers choosing to spend a little more than they had previously pledged. For creators who are willing to actively leverage this by offering new or upgraded elements in the pledge manager this becomes a real chance to squeeze extra money from backers. Even if creators don’t push this sort of element, its still going to happen if the campaign has any amount of add-ons, but actively pushing for upgrades and seeking to leverage freely given trust for extra profit is arguably rather distasteful.
Those opinions haven’t much altered from before using a pledge manager to afterwards though, so what have I learned from the process?
The Sanity of Crowds
The primary reason for using Kickstarter as a smaller creator is the foot traffic it brings. Its often said that creators need to bring their own crowd to Kickstarter to “be successful”, this isn’t necessarily true and very much depends on what is meant by success. For a small project, well presented and looking to break even, the existing Kickstarter crowd is generally acceptable. Importantly Kickstarter has as two of its most used search functions newest launched and time remaining. These are two totally fair measures; a homemade print and play spends as long as the newest campaign as the latest monster from CMON. Crowd Ox, and most pledge managers, don’t really have anything much in the way of search filters, making browsing tough for arriving backers and meaning that campaigns are generally presented most successful first. Possibly this is because they’re more often set up to advertise the site as a money raising option to creators rather than as a way of finding new projects to backers. Whatever the reason, it means that if your campaign isn’t in the hundreds of thousands raised category already or isn’t bringing its own crowd, pledge managers don’t offer the sort of passing foot traffic that Kickstarter does, and not just because of a lack of visitors but because of a different manner of funneling those visitors. This is worth bearing in mind when deciding to use a pledge manager if creators are mostly familiar with direct crowd funding.
Easy as Pie
Kickstarter is not easy to use, and its support is not massively supportive as standard. They offer necessary technical support and paid support for campaigns, but they do not offer support un-invited. The site itself has a user interface almost willfully awkward and unwieldy, leading most creators to build graphics in more useful programs and uploading them ready made directly to the pages (and leading to difficulty reading phrases on different devices in so doing). Crowd Ox not only has a much easier to use user interface by it has customer support team that are far more pro-active and willing to respond on minor requests and make efforts to help generally. This means that if creators can bring eyes to their own page building an impressive page is considerably less onerous on Crowd Ox.
Crowd Ox has a base charge of $500 dollars, they then measure a percentage of sales up to that $500, then take more if it is exceeded. We didn’t advertise our pledge manager particularly and didn’t offer any new options or charge shipping through it and we still picked up £2,570 in increases and £327 in new pledges, more than covering its charges. This was off of a campaign having picked up £12,642 initially. As such, it would be reasonable to suppose than any campaign of that range with anything like enough add-ons to make a pledge manager worth considering would easily cover their charges.
Something to be aware of that isn’t instantly obvious is that pledge managers keep campaigns open potentially indefinitely. A Kickstarter campaign has a distinct and finite length, once its done its done. A pledge manager can have new backers signing up constantly, Crowd Ox does not notify creators when a new backer signs up, or when an existing backer completes their pledge. This means that manually checking in to keep up with new pledges and send out rewards to backers becomes an ongoing commitment. Its not an extreme requirement with just one pledge manager, particularly since they cool off considerably over time, but it is a potentially irritating aspect and one that could be made considerably easier by offering alerts when surveys are completed or new pledges made. Since not checking at a reasonable period could potentially lead to considerable and reasonable irritation from backers feeling ignored and checking is an easily forgettable chore, if a creator has several campaigns this could create something of an issue.
Overall, I’d say that pledge managers are a low-risk manner of extending a campaign and raising additional funds. They allow creators to avoid some common risks and can, of course, make pledge management more straightforward for backers. Despite that, I don’t recommend them for everyone. They do require more planning and logistics, they are an additional stage to organize and are another hoop for backers to jump through. While experienced backers take them as a matter of course, first time backers can find the idea of not just dealing with a whole new website but giving financial information to them to be a surprising and potentially onerous requirement. If a pledge manager is not necessary for your campaign due to simplicity and basic shipping requirements, don’t use one as a matter of course, consider if they are needed and suitable for your needs and your campaign.