Fandom Fundraising II: Strategies

From 2011 to 2015, I’ve been involved in charity fundraising efforts that raised over $300,000 for several charities. I hope others can draw on some of the experiences documented here to repeat this success. This is the second of three articles and gives a detailed account of how we organized specific campaigns.

You may want to start by reading the introduction to this series of three blog posts if you haven’t already.

  1. The first part gives a chronological overview over our activities.

  2. This second part describes how we organized our various events and is mostly interesting for someone who wants to see if there is something they can borrow from our experiences.

  3. The third part highlights our learnings and makes recommendations as to how I think projects like these might be replicated in the future.

Conventions

The part of our fundraising that is still going strong is everything we do at conventions. In the following, I will use GalaCon as a model. In its five years, we have raised over €77,000 at GalaCon alone.

The conventions that we’re cooperating with originally reached out to us, but we could’ve probably reached out to them just as well.

We haven’t had the ambiguous case that a convention offered us a comped table, did not accept our recommendation for the charity auction, and yet chose a charity for the auction that could likely be in the same ballpark in terms of effectiveness as our recommendation would’ve been. That case is probably similar enough to the one where they accept our recommendation that I don’t need to cover it separately.

Running a Table or Booth

  1. If the convention offers a comped table, then we can use it to accept donations and give out merchandize as thank yous, and to advertize effective altruism and our charity or charities of choice.

  2. Here, we make it a point to call what we do “accepting donations” and “giving out merchandize as thank yous” (not “selling”). This allows people to feel good about having donated, keep them in a generous frame of mind, and avoids any framing (common at conventions) where “this is overpriced” would make sense. Some of our gifts are clearly symbolic relative to the donation threshold, e.g., our buttons/pins that people can wear as trophies, so the framing around thank you gifts is probably more accurate too.

  3. Our merchandize has included the following – with the donation thresholds above which we give them out:

    1. Bound Together, our comic book (≥ €25).

    2. Bit coins, brass coins similar to those (called “bits”) used in the show (≥ €1 or €2).

    3. Different buttons, circular 5.5 cm across and custom shaped metal pins (≥ €5).

    4. Postcards designed by fandom artists (≥ €10–12).

    5. Indie collectors cards, produced by artists in cooperation with us and GalaCon (≥ €12).

    6. Drawings by artists (≥ €10–12).

    7. Animal Equality and Animal Charity Evaluators booklets (no threshold).

    8. A general EA leaflet (no threshold).

  4. The strongest sellers have been:

    1. Bound Together – especially in Germany and especially back when people didn’t have it yet.

    2. Buttons – especially metal pins and back when people didn’t have them yet.

    3. Bit coins – which are pretty new, so people don’t have enough of them yet.

  5. Our stock is always counted beforehand and split in bundles of 25, 50, or something small like that.

    1. We try to count after each day (most cons are two-day events around my parts).

    2. This is easy, because you can easily count all the untouched bundles and multiply the count by the bundle size. Then you count the leftover from the opened bundle and add it. Finally, you subtract the sum from the original total you had in stock.

      1. If we’re too tired and fail to count after the first day and we have enough stock, we can count the untouched bundles in the morning and leave the opened bundle aside. Then we can reconstruct the tally of the first day after the con.
  6. Counting the money:

    1. At a very basic level, I follow this counting method.

    2. First, I need to find a safe, sheltered, and silent place, ideally somewhere at someone’s home behind locked doors.

    3. I at least have trouble recognizing people in different clothing and with different hairstyles unless I’ve known them for a bit. If I need to transport the money to another place, I try to make myself look as different as easily possible from how I looked on stage.

    4. When I have arrived at a suitable place, I need a lot of space, rubber bands, and plastic bags.

    5. I try to keep as many small subtotals as feasible, because I will make errors, and when I do, I want to have to recount (several times) as small of a fraction of the money as possible.

      1. Evidently, making the subtotals maximally small gets you back to not having subtotals at all. I prefer something around ten bills/coins.
    6. I count every subtotal (and later the number of stacks) several times.

    7. I write down every little thing and use a calculator even for very simple operations.

      1. I try to be unself-conscious enough to type 20 times 6 into a calculator. After getting 50% of my sleep for two nights in a row and then working a 16-hour day at the table, I might even forget to hyphenate a compound modifier whose first part does not end in -ly and which modifies a noun phrase that follows it!
    8. I want to make the bank teller happy, so I align all bills in the same direction. If I didn’t do it, though, it would have the advantage that I could marvel at the superhuman speed (two or three bills per second maybe?) at which the tellers count, realign, and test the bills all at once.

    9. Finally, I roll up the bills, still sorted, and put the coins into separate bags if I remembered to bring bags.

    10. The German Postbank has been best with accepting a lot of cash.

Auctions

  1. Open submissions for in-kind donations months before the convention, maybe three to six months.

    1. Collect data such as:

      1. The name of the donor.

      2. A description – in particular one that points out what makes the item valuable.

      3. The estimated value – this will be the starting bid.

      4. Additional notes – such as that it has been donated by a company on the condition that the company is credited during the auction.

      5. Means of submission – whether they’ll send it by mail or will hand it in at the convention.

      6. What they would like to have happen if it is not auctioned off – it can stay in the possession of the convention for the next year, the donor can reclaim it right after the event, or they can pay for the convention mailing it back.

    2. Asking for the estimated value is very important so that nothing is auctioned off below the production cost!

    3. GalaCon usually only allows submissions at the convention until a certain time, so that they have enough time to prepare the auction sequence.

    4. GalaCon also asks for a picture up front. If it is not good enough, they can still scrap it and take a new one.

    5. GalaCon at times politely declines donations that are clearly of little value.

  2. GalaCon uses an Access database to maintain all submission data and automatically generate a presentation and silent auction sheets from it. This is probably a bit more work with Google Sheets.

  3. The following assumes that the convention has received a lot of in-kind donations, potentially more than it can auction off. When a convention receives less, the returns are bound to be much lower, and less effort is warranted.

  4. The sequence of auctions is currently one of three events: (1) silent auction, (2) small auction, and (3) main auction.

    1. The silent and small auctions help get rid of less valuable items because the time of the main auction is limited and extremely valuable.

    2. Items that got hardly any bids in the silent auction are awarded to the winners; items that got a few more bids go into the small auction; more popular items are held back for the main auction.

  5. Silent auction:

    1. All items (or possibly minus the most valuable items) are on display, always guarded or behind glass.

    2. They have numbers, and there are numbered sheets, one per item, that give donor and description of the item, list the rules, and let people enter their bids.

    3. To bid, people need to get numbered donor cards by entering their contact data into a list and signing that they accept the rules.

    4. Then they enter their number and bid into the respective sheet.

    5. The rules can also be used to explain the other auctions. They stipulate:

      1. Who the auctions work, so much of this subsection.

      2. The minimum increments of the bids.

      3. The timeframe of the silent auction.

      4. The means by which the winners will be announced.

      5. The payment methods and currencies that we can accept.

      6. That we do not give out items on credit (it worked a few times but we also lost €600 from someone who didn’t pay up after the first GalaCon).

      7. Where the ATMs are, so people can fetch enough cash before or during the auction (we have allowed people to reserve items they won for a few minutes to go to an ATM).

      8. That people who disrupt the auction can be removed from the hall.

  6. Small auction:

    1. The small auction takes place in some context that distinguishes it clearly from the main auction auction so not to detract from its prestige.

    2. The items are less valuable, but otherwise the same procedure applies as to the main auction.

  7. Main auction:

    1. The sequence of items is important because we don’t want people to hold back to save their money for a particular valuable item at the end only to then, overwhelmingly, not win it and take their money home again.

    2. It may be useful to start with one or two small items, so that people can learn how the auction works in a low-stakes situation, but then we want to quickly move on to the valuable items.

    3. The order should be set beforehand and the items arranged on stage accordingly to save time and prevent mistakes.

    4. The auctioneer spends less than three minutes on the least valuable items and less than ten minutes on the most valuable items with the rest around five minutes each.

    5. They wait a maximum of 20 seconds for a new bid before selling, often much less.

    6. In addition to the auctioneer, GalaCon also has someone on stage to accept the payments, protocol them, and hand out the items, and several people to assist the two.

    7. Behind the scenes, the main organizer gives instructions to the auctioneer via headphones and other people operate the projector.

    8. GalaCon shows the photos on the projector to make sure that everyone in the audience (1000+ people) knows what is being auctioned off.

    9. Sometimes guests of honor at the convention come on stage to animate the audience. This works well if they know how auctions work and that the time is very valuable. We limit these performances to valuable items and to 3–5 minutes each.

  8. A professional auctioneer – but one who is used to inexperienced audiences – makes a big difference, because they’ll be as fast as the audience allows. If in doubt, faster seems to be better.

Charity Albums

Donations to our Seeds of Kindness fundraisers 1–4

Our greatest success and key to our online fundraising strategy with about €150,000 raised has been our series of charity albums. (The graph above, however, includes some offline donations from conventions.)

Resources

  1. A few highly committed friends.

  2. Access to a few news outlets/blogs that are read by the target demographic.

  3. Contact to about 100 good amateur musicians.

  4. 3–5 friends who are very good with music as judges.

  5. Someone who is good at cover art.

  6. An account with something like CauseVox.

  7. Friends at online radio channels for a big premiere.

Process

  1. About six months out, we ~make plans for pulling it all off in four months~ agree on a title.

  2. We set a release date and a soft and hard deadline for musicians to submit tracks. If they submit after the soft deadline, we won’t be able to give feedback and allow them to resubmit an updated version.

    1. Spacing these out by one month each gives us some room to pester and wait for important (gifted or famous and gifted) contributors without stretching the patience of the musicians who submitted in time.
  3. Then we announce the project on our blog with all necessary details (here a sample announcement):

    1. We announce it on various pertinent forums where musicians are.

    2. We email all musician we are in contact with or who have contributed in the past.

    3. We send a shortened version of the announcement (with reference to the full version) out to all news sites we are in touch with.

    4. We post public reminders every month or so.

    5. There were or are several competing news sites in the fandom, so it was important to involve them all equally in the premiere lest the ones that feel excluded conclude that we must have sided with their competition in their conflicts that we want to have nothing to do with.

  4. As tracks come in, we have the judges decide whether they make the bar, and give feedback otherwise so that the musicians have a chance to resubmit an improved version.

  5. One or two months out, we put together the release party and find an artist for the cover.

    1. There were several competing radio stations in the fandom, so it was important to involve them all equally in the premiere lest the ones that feel excluded conclude that we must have sided with their competition in their conflicts that we want to have nothing to do with.
  6. After the hard deadline, we start putting together the album:

    1. Encoding all tracks with the same codecs and settings, e.g., FLAC or MP3 VBR 0.

      1. Most people expect some MP3 format, but some prefer losslessly encoded files.
    2. Cleaning and filling in all ID3 metadata.

      1. I first convert them all to FLAC, then fix the metadata with EasyTag, then convert them all to the compressed format.
    3. Normalize the volume of all tracks (one of our judges can usually do this).

    4. Experiment with different orders of the tracks (our judges usually have strong opinions here).

    5. Produce versioned release candidates while new songs come in, titles change, orders change, etc.

      1. These archives are huge, so I like to create a copy of the previous version on the server, rename it to the latest version, and then use rsync to only upload the diff between them.
  7. We prepare a preview video of the top songs for the announcements.

  8. We tell each musician whether their song has made it into the album and do so in time ahead of the premiere.

  9. We prepare a submission schedule according to which every musician uploads their song or songs to YouTube on a particular day and submits it to the respective news sites. This avoids that all musicians submit at the same time increasing the standards for everyone, and only very few songs actually make the cut.

  10. The “release party” livestream has its own section below.

  11. A week or so after the release we follow it up with an announcement of the album fundraiser itself for everyone who couldn’t make it to the release party and then forgot about it. It gives an overview over what we’re planning for the year and also contains the album preview.

Learnings

  1. In our first fundraisers of this sort, we wanted to reward our top donors with donated gifts. People would offer in-kind donations for the top donors; months later, when the top donors could be selected, we asked these people to send their in-kind donations to the top donors. This was a mistake, because at that point, many of the these people could no longer be reached or did not possess the item anymore and we had to apologize to the top donors. We could’ve acted as escrow agent, but we decided to rather do away with the prizes altogether.

  2. Fundraising platforms we tried had various problems:

    1. Betterplace makes it hard to reach donors again, in particular personally, and allows for little formatting, which makes instructions hard to follow.

    2. AMF’s fundraiser system is hard to use – you have to fill in a lot of data redundantly, and the WorldPay interface is highly confusing. We probably lost some donors who couldn’t figure it out.

    3. CauseVox costs money in addition to the transaction fees. (This is our favored solution at this point.)

  3. We used to set a single deadline, but then many important contributors who were working on tracks missed it, and everyone who had submitted in time got impatient while we waited for the belated tracks. The musicians’ tardiness became our tardiness and blemished our image and standing among the musicians.

  4. We relied heavily on a rather undiversified musician community that organized through one online forum. When the forum saw an exodus of talented musicians, we lost an important channel for reaching many of their kind.

  5. Musicians often asked for their tracks to be freely available rather than just for a donation. The idea was that people would donate voluntarily since it had not been hard to circumvent our “security” all along. When we made them free (which was also necessitated by some technical limitations), other musicians complained about that decision.

Album Premiere Livestreams

We experimented with four livestream formats: our album premiere livestreams, art livestreams, panel livestreams, and gaming livestreams. This has been a hard one to get right, so we experimented with a few different formats.

Resources

  1. Two or more friends (who can work together) with experience in livestreaming audio to several hundred listeners (or however many you expect).

  2. A playlist of all tracks of the album as well as the tracks themselves.

  3. Moderators for the listener chat.

  4. Contact to all musicians.

  5. A single page that integrates player, chat, and a donation button (ideally also a donation counter).

Timeline

  1. We usually started planning these streams rather late, maybe two weeks in advance, because we were busy with the album itself. In 2012, we still had interview guests at the premiere streams, but that would’ve become too much work the other years.

  2. First we decided on the format of the stream:

    1. Do we want to prepare everything – intro, outro, and playlist?

      1. If we need to have several stations play the identical stream to avoid favoring one, then this option helps to keep it roughly in sync.

      2. In this case, we can’t also have interview guests.

    2. Do we want to leave it to a moderator to introduce tracks and ask us to read the intro and outro live?

      1. This makes the stream a lot more lively. It’s possible when there are no competing radio stations, when they all work together well, or when we have streamers who are only associated with us.
  3. We set up a website on a reliable server that can handle at least a hundred requests per second with ease. (In our case just a low-end VPS and static files served through Nginx.)

    1. Ours had the advantage that it would update automatically for all viewers when we changed something on the server, e.g., because we had to switch to another streamer. (Contact me if you need a copy.)
  4. Set a date and time that works for your prospective streamers and radio stations and is situated such that your core demographic is not at work during the stream.

  5. Find people who are familiar with IRC moderation, register an IRC channel, set up chanserv to give op to the moderators and possibly voice to the musicians, set the topic with a link to the viewer page, and embed a client in the viewer page.

    1. A display of the name and artist of the current track is valuable.
  6. Find at least two streamer’s of whom one is ready to be the hot standby for the other in case something breaks. Embed the audio or video stream in the viewer page.

    1. We’ve had many internet connections failing and routers dying on our streamers during the streams. This is not just some rare contingency!

    2. If you went with 2.a. and have several radio stations embedded in the page, viewers can easily switch between them if one has an outage, so this is less of a concern.

  7. Model the timeline of the stream in a spreadsheet (e.g., Google Sheets) so that everyone is clear on when who is responsible for moderation and streaming, and when interview guests are tuning in. This is probably less necessary for 1–2-hour album premiere streams, since one person (each) can fill each role for the whole time.

  8. Send announcements to the news sites about one week out and the day before. You can send them earlier and ask the sites to schedule them for roughly that time so that they at least see them in time.

    1. Social media may help a little too, especially if all the musicians share/retweet/reblog you.

    2. The announcements should ideally already contain the preview if it can be finished in time.

  9. Prepare the playlist and intro and outro if necessary.

  10. During the stream, the artists can congratulate each other in the IRC chat and geek out about their methods and references.

Art Livestreams

We observed that there were two things that were popular in the fandom: artists livestreaming the creation of requested artwork and interviews (with moderated questions from the audience) with the professionals working on the show. So we combined the two. Our Kallisti livestreams were 24 hours long, enough time for interviews with some 12 guests.

Resources

  1. Two or more friends (who can work together) with experience in livestreaming audio to several hundred listeners (or however many you expect)

  2. Voice” moderators or hosts of the stream.

  3. Text” moderators or “IRC envoys” for the listener chat.

  4. A single page that integrates player, chat, and a donation button (ideally also a donation counter).

Process

  1. It has taken us two months and more to organize these. We discussed dates with our streamers first. Since we had 24 hours for interviews, it was easier to find time slots for our interview guests. It simplifies the process to set the date and rough timeframe among organizers only.

  2. First we prepared a schedule (e.g., as Google Sheet). Our Kallisti IV one had the following columns: Time (PDT), Time (EDT), Time (UTC), Time (UTC+2), Interview Guests, Hosts, Streamers, IRC Envoys, Livestreaming Artists, Events. In it we noted:

    1. the times, as redundant and unambiguous as possible,

    2. the interview guests and what special requirements they have (e.g., only one interviewer or special technical equipment to only reveal their number or handle to one person),

      1. we may distinguish community guests and show guests, so that we can schedule a community guest we trust to support our host in an interview,
    3. the hosts,

    4. the streamers, main streamer and hot standby,

    5. the IRC moderators,

    6. the artists livestreaming at the time,

    7. and any miscellaneous events, such as auctions or announcements.

  3. Some of the artists will be more involved than others, so that we could ask some of the more involved artists for artwork for press releases and the viewer page.

  4. We typically sent two announcements to the news sites, one about two weeks out and one a few days ahead of the stream.

    1. We accompanied the announcements with an email text asking them to post it at a time when people are likely to read it and post it before the date of the stream, and we also included links to our embedded images in case of rare technical problems where the images got filtered by some security or privacy mechanism.

    2. We put USPs in the title if at all possible, e.g., famous interview guests, well-known artists, etc.

    3. We put important things like the date, the link to the viewer page, and the names of the interview guests in bold text.

    4. We also included the times when the interview guests would join, because someone may only be interested in some of them, and rather than watching all 24 hours, rather not watch it at all.

    5. We always named and credited (with link to their portfolio) the contributing artists.

    6. Our Kallisti IV announcement as example.

  5. The combined artistic streams:

    1. We and our partner convention already had contact to many artists. If we hadn’t had those, we’d have had to reach out to them. In the case of Kallisti IV, we had 23 artists signed up and up to 15 drawing in parallel.

    2. We needed a whole bunch of streamers to ensure that someone was available at all times. It has happened that in the end enough routers caved in that one streamer had to stay awake some 48 hours to keep the stream running, but that is not optimal.

    3. The artists streamed to each their own channels but asked their viewers to go to our page instead. The streamers tended to use a paid version of XSplit to capture these videos, usually via screen capture. (The APIs seemed to be much less reliable.)

      1. Running 10+ video streams in parallel, screen-capturing them, and encoding them all into one video stream takes many large screens and fast GPUs and CPUs. Stress-testing the equipment beforehand is important.
    4. In the week before the stream, we did a dress rehearsal of sorts. This is relatively easily done, since the streamer can just pick random streams and combine them while chatting with others on the team. All the while, one person can watch and listen to the end product on the public stream and notify the team of any problems.

    5. People will make art requests during the stream, which need to be recorded by the chat moderators and others in a shared spreadsheet. Our last one had the following columns:

      1. Status (pending, reserved, in progress, or done), Artist, Character(s) to Draw, What to Draw, Appearance, Shipping, Art Style, Theme, Fandom, Requested By, Special Guest, Other Comments (like references), Link to Finished Work, Request No., Copypasta Text (the exact text from the chat), and various columns to keep track of whether we have a backup, where it still needs to be published, etc.

      2. On Kallisti IV, we received 275 requests of which over 100 were completed.

  6. The interviews:

    1. It was always necessary for us to start really early with this, about two months before the stream.

    2. Our initial emails had a structure like this:

      1. Remind the potential guest of who we are.

      2. Give them details on the format (audio-only).

      3. Assure them that we filter questions, will not ask for potentially NDAed information, and can accommodate special requests.

      4. Motivate them telling them about the impact of past streams.

      5. Tell them where the proceeds from this stream are going.

      6. Ask them if they want to participate, and if so, when they are available.

      7. Keeping the work they need to do to a minimum (e.g., looking up things in their calendars) and keeping the emails short is probably advantageous

    3. We typically had a longer back and forth of emails to arrange details and often had to wait about a week for a reply. Hence the need for the liberal time allotment.

    4. If possible, we tried to go through their agents to speed up the scheduling. They have highly organized agents so they don’t need to be highly organized themselves. So talking to the agents can be much more efficient. The agents, however, may be more or less altruistically minded than the guests themselves, so we fall back on direct emails when we don’t get a reply.

    5. Some data from Kallisti IV:

      1. we sent out 26 interview invitations,

      2. got 14 responses,

      3. among them 9 positive and 4 negative responses, and

      4. one maybe eventually did not work out.

      5. In total, we sent 133 emails.

  7. We often used the time between interviews to conduct little auctions in the chat, live singing (there are slight delays on all sides of the call, so can’t make music together very well), and general jolliness.

  8. We live-tweeted the stream to the best of our ability and directed tweets at some multipliers in the fandom. We may’ve done the same on other social media. Some of the news sites were also ready to post reminders during the event. These have the advantages that people can tune in spontaneously without having to remember to do so at a later point.

  9. Finally, we always published the gallery of all the scores of images that had been drawn during the stream, and often also video recordings of the interviews.

Learnings

  1. One mistake that we didn’t do was screw up communication about dates and times. Use ISO 8601 dates and UTC at all times to avoid confusion! (Always writing out the name of the month is also a viable hack.)

    1. You can additionally convert the times to some common timezones, but bear in mind that daylight saving time starts and end at different dates in different countries.
  2. We cannot have a guest of honor waiting for their turn to be interviewed during a livestream, and we would’ve felt obliged to discuss it with our guests if two of them might meet on air. Once we had learned this lesson, we left a lot of time between interviews, so that one guest can be late and we can overdraw the scheduled time for the interview without the next guest noticing anything.

  3. Were were always very careful to have knowledgeable people conduct the interview and review all questions that the audience submitted:

    1. Otherwise interview guests may get asked questions they cannot answer for legal reasons; if this happened repeatedly, they’d reconsider whether they want to be interviewed by us again;

    2. they may get annoyed by being asked the same questions over and over or by being asked dumb questions (imagine a voice actor being asked for the reasoning behind a plot line), or

    3. they may see unseemly questions.

  4. It’s hard to schedule interviews for short streams because interview guests first have to be ready to get interviewed at all and on top of that have be available during a specific time window. When we wanted to have two guests at the same time, we asked them for their availability and then exploited any overlap we could find. Doodle would be perfect for that, but we were afraid it might come off as disrespectful.

  5. It’s useful to have a few people of the team watch and listen to the public stream rather than the call, so that they can catch problem quickly when they arise.

Panel Livestreams

We started doing panel livestreams – Charity Chitchat 1 and 2 – as an alternative to the art livestreams that would be easier to organize. I will only mention in what aspects they are different rather than repeating much of the timeline above.

They need a lot less lead time, perhaps a month or so, since we only need two guests for them, but we wanted to pick two guests who would be interesting to have together – two guests, who we thought would enjoy each other’s company, have similar interests, etc. Therefore we selected and ranked several pairings and tried to get in touch with them.

In one case, our top pairing fell through, and we fell back on our second option, two people we had more rapport with and were more sure that they would agree if they have time. If only one of the people of the first pairing had agreed, we’d have to get creative, since we can’t possibly turn them down.

In each case, we proposed several (perhaps too many) possible dates to choose from, so that the guests could basically Doodle out when the stream would happen. Only when they had agreed on a common date did we announce the event.

While the shorter duration makes it much easier to organize, it is also less time for donations to come in, and the lack of the artistic component also diminishes the size of the audience that is interested in attending. Hence the returns have been consistently low.

Gaming Livestreams

I was not involved in the organization of either of the gaming livestreams, and being swamped with something both times, was happy I didn’t have to think about it. I think the idea was that well-known extroverts from the fandom played and streamed a video game for a long time. It would get boring for the audience after a while, but they would not switch to a different game before a donation threshold was reached.

Neither of the streams was a really resounding success, unfortunately.

Comic Books

We’ve only published one comic book, so this section is less of a composite than the others. The comic book is an anthology, to which each contributing artist added a comic of several pages or an individual image, each self-contained.

Resources

  1. A publishing professional.

  2. An art director.

  3. Means of selling the book.

Process

  1. A cofounder of a partner convention conceived of the idea around August/September 2014; we started accepting preorders January to March 2015, and shipped the books starting April 2015.

  2. Our art director (who is also a publishing professional) invited artists personally and vetted our nominations keep the art quality consistently high without having to turn down anyone.

    1. Alternatively we could’ve opened applications publically and picked the top artists, but that may’ve caused misgiving among the artists that we didn’t pick.
  3. We originally underestimated the initial costs by roughly half. Even so, it was beyond our combined donation budgets, and loaning the project private funds seemed more complicated than the alternative of preorders.

    1. There was probably no alternative to using something like PayPal for preorders since the money needed to remain at our disposal.
  4. We put together a Skype group chat to stay in touch with the artists and for them to get in touch with each other for collaborations.

    1. We tried using a forum at first, but the hurdle to posting must’ve been too high.
  5. We selected the printing company based on many factors such as price, location, and technology.

    1. The art director greatly preferred offset over laser, so that we couldn’t expect to get proofs. Choosing a printer in the state where the art director lived had some tax advantages and allowed him to have an eye on the printing process.

    2. It was also meant to save shipping costs, but that didn’t work out because we underestimated demand in Europe and overestimated demand in the US.

  6. We first served the preorders, then sold the book at conventions, and eventually opened online sales.

    1. To keep an overview of the sales, we used a spreadsheet with the following columns: Date, Buyer’s Name, Quantity, Total Paid, Country, State, Comments / Notes, Status (different pending states and “shipped”), Total Sale (calculated), Shipping Paid (calculated), Postage Cost, Shipping Costs, Paypal Costs, Book Cost (calculated), Total Costs (calculated), Net Profit (calculated), Profit per Book (calculated), Cost per Book (calculated).

    2. We shipped from the US and Germany depending on which was cheaper.

Learnings

  1. I think we well trusting our art director on most decisions. When we compared our motivations, it turned out that he was terminally interested, first, in creating a beautiful work of art, and second in raising donations. The BfG team was either primarily or exclusively interested in raising donations.

When it came to deciding on the number of pages in the comic book, I felt that the marginal value of extra pages would scale more slowly than the price (which already scaled sublinearly). Our art director was adamant that a sizable number of pages was necessary to meet expectation or not to disappoint. I had very low confidence in my hunch, so I trusted the expert despite his slightly different goals. I would generally recommend this approach. 2. We planned to have the books in time for a large US convention but failed largely because of one artist who overdrew the deadline greatly (and others to a lesser degree). This was probably a costly failure. Our art director also concluded that we should have invited more artists so that we’re less dependent on any tardy ones.

  1. We should’ve ordered some sort of coating for the covers because they rub off.

  2. We tried to suggest an EA-related theme for the comics, but none of the artists used it. It may need to be figured out in collaboration with the artists.

  3. Since we needed to use the preorder funds to pay for the printing and initial shipping, we couldn’t have people transfer them to the charity directly, e.g., through something like CauseVox. Instead we used PayPal, even though we knew that it was known for freezing accounts. PayPal froze our account luckily some time after the printing was paid for. We stopped online sales, and a half-year bureaucratic back-and-forth ensued. Eventually, we were allowed to transfer to AMF again.

We continued using PayPal after the preorder phase because we wanted to keep our options open for creating a second Bound Together without having to take preorders. In hindsight, it would’ve been better to switch to CauseVox at that point.

The third part in this series gives recommendations on how one might try to reproduce our success or preferably exceed it.

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