Funding Your Book — A Community Fundraiser Project

Last weekend at the Hawaii Book & Music Festival, a friend stopped by our booth and mentioned that she had a pet project that she would love to see turned into a book. When we handed her a brochure on Legacy Isle’s services, she said, “Oh, I wish we had the money to do this.”

The book project she had been speaking of would document a historic district. While describing the book project, she casually mentioned that she thought that then it could be sold in a community center the district wanted to open, to offer information, archives and a gallery of historic images. “We’re trying to fundraise to start [the center],” she said.

“Why don’t you turn the book into a fundraising project for the center, instead?” we suggested. We offered the following ideas to her:

  • Instead of trying to find money to fund the book independently of the community center, combine the two projects and turn the book into a fundraising item.
  • Use a crowd-funding model and ask for donations that will help 1) create a book to share the legacy of the historic district and 2) fund a center to continue archiving the historic materials and provide information for the community. Naturally, every donation over a certain amount ensures the donor receives a copy of the book when it is published.

Crowd-funding, in the sense of using services like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, is relatively new in the book publishing market (although patronage certainly is not!). Under this model, you can ask people to donate in order to help fund your project—it’s basically like pre-selling your book. The model that Kickstarter, Indiegogo and the others have popularized, however, also offers “perks” when a donation is made. Instead of simply offering a book for a flat pre-order fee that covers the book (usually at retail price) and shipping, you can allow people to donate less than the retail price—and give them a “perk” as simple as a printed acknowledgement of their donation at the back of the book, or a credit in the same amount toward the purchase of the book after its publication. Donors who give more get a more substantial perk, such as a private pre-opening tour of a new community center.

This can be great since authors are bound to run into people who might want to chip in a few dollars, but not the full amount that the book might cost—and those people can add up! It also gives people a reason to lend more financial support and get something enjoyable in exchange. A well-off friend or relative who might be in a position to give you $500 toward your book project may not really want 50 copies of your book, let’s be honest, and they might not like you quite enough to hand you $500 “just because.” But if they got a unique experience out of it, that’s something worth considering.

And for community groups and non-profits, this can be an even bigger motivator. Organizations can often tap into deeper resources—an artist on the board might offer a custom painting in exchange for a $1,000 contribution, or a chef might contribute a home-cooked meal for a $2,500-level perk.

While individual authors might find success with the crowd-funding model—the Galley Cat website has a weekly feature highlighting a Kickstarter Publishing Project of the Week—this post is meant to focus on the applications of using the model for a book published by a community organization or non-profit. These types of groups may find greater success than an individual because of the implication that excess funding will be directed toward the group’s greater mission. In the above example of the historic district group, if their goal to fund the book and start the renovation on a potential space was $15,000, and their fundraising page showed they had already achieved the goal, a potential donor would still be motivated to give, knowing that their funds would help build out the center and maintain it.

A community group may also, if it is well-organized enough, be able to manage their own crowd-funding campaign on their own—it would require meticulous record-keeping, as well as a clear statement of how funds will be used, what should happen if the fundraising goal is not met, and when donors can expect their promised books and other perks. (The reason Kickstarter and Indiegogo are so popular is because donors feel comfortable that if the project doesn’t accumulate the funding threshold, they’ll have their money refunded.* These services also offer online transactions and a website to direct donors to, which are tools not all authors or community/non-profit groups have at their disposal.)

Or, instead of crowd-funding, community groups can look for one or two individual or corporate donors to act as a traditional sponsor for all of their publishing costs. This type of funding can have the bonus effect of putting more dollars to work—a book can be sold for multiple times its production cost, adding more to the overall fundraising effort. The Hawaii Foodbank, for example, had a generous anonymous donor purchase 1,000 copies of The Hawai‘i Book of Rice from us at Watermark Publishing; the Foodbank was able to turn around and sell those books as part of their big annual Spring Food Drive effort at no cost to the organization, thereby earning even more than the anonymous donor’s original contribution. Traditional-style sponsors (like the patrons of old) don’t get any tangible benefits (no perks) from backing a project, but a sponsorship benefit might be as simple as a logo placement on all copies of the book or a “Presented by” credit as part of the book’s sub-title.

The choice to crowd-fund or seek a smaller number of donors boils down to what sort of group is looking to do the fundraising, and what sort of audience exists to support the group’s interest. If the book would have a broad appeal, crowd-funding becomes an option because of general interest in receiving the book (with the feel-good aspect of supporting a cause). If the book and the organization are of interest to a much smaller group, then single or corporate donors become a more logical choice.

As you can see, the ways for community groups and non-profits to fundraise to produce a book and then turn around to use the book as a fundraising tool itself are numerous.

*Depending on the crowd-funding platform, some campaigns do not return contributions from under-funded projects to the donors; trust-worthy platforms and campaigns will clearly spell this out on their project page and let donors know what happens if a project does not meet its funding goal.

This post does not imply an endorsement of Kickstarter, IndieGogo or any other specific crowd-funding platform. If utilizing one of these services, be sure to read their terms of service thoroughly. We suggest you also consult with a financial expert regarding your responsibilities. When considering a crowd-funding platform, explore your options; some are better suited to non-profits, and others have more restrictive rules regarding perks or what qualifies as a valid project.