Station Ovation: Mountain Lake's Kickstarter Success

Compiled by Brionne Griffin, PBS Digital Marketing Associate

After wrapping up their second successful Kickstarter campaign and raising a combined total of $50,000, Mountain Lake PBS is clearly doing something right. What's their secret? To find out, we talked to Dan Swinton, Director of  Production & Content at Mountain Lake PBS.

What made you decide to use Kickstarter to raise funding?

MLPBS secured a grant with a matching funds requirement for the project. We felt a Kickstarter campaign might be a good way to raise at least a portion of the matching funds because our project was about folk music, which is characterized by its active grassroots fan base and community spirit. We wanted to see if this community spirit translated to social media and wondered if fans of folk music knew about the project in advance, then they might want to directly support the film.

What makes a successful Kickstarter campaign?

We believe we have a very unique project that celebrates everything people love about our region and PBS. The program celebrates history, music and culture, and highlights the passionate people working together to preserve and reinvigorate a traditional art form – specifically Adirondack folk. The program features fantastic local musicians, as well as celebrities like Pete Seeger, Kevin and Michael Bacon, Peter Yarrow, and Noel Paul Stookey. 

While the program celebrates a local art form, we also looked for ways to demonstrate that the program had universal appeal, which allowed us to throw a wider net online, rather than relying solely on people living close to our station. We were extremely active in promoting the campaign, and used our project partners to help us publicize it. The musicians alerted their mailing lists. We assigned interns to research and contact folk music societies, foundations, social media groups and fan pages that might be interested in spreading the word. We utilized traditional media sources and did press releases, write-ups in several newspapers, and radio interviews.

Will you use Kickstarter again in the future?

Yes. This is actually our second successful campaign. Our first was for a documentary still in production called “The Hard Places,” that raised close to $35,000 on Kickstarter. We felt if we could raise that amount, we could also raise $15,000 for this campaign. 

I believe if public media embraces Kickstarter, it can be a huge asset. You have the ability to connect directly with your most passionate supporters, beyond the reach of your signal strength, and engage them in promoting your productions. AND it’s basically what PBS has been doing for decades, just in reverse.

You don’t air the completed program and ask them to support it in hindsight – you basically produce a pledge video (something we all know about), and invite your supporters in at the onset, asking them to be a part of something. It’s a great engagement tool and fundraising platform.

What advice can you share with other stations looking to use Kickstarter for the first time?  

Be smart, set realistic goals, realize that you have to commit the time and staff to it – it’s not “set it and forget it.” And it doesn't hurt to have a home stretch ‘angel’ funder in your back pocket who can support you if you look like you’re going to come up a little short. You don’t want to have to put in your own money or worse, leave good money on the table by falling short. We did this and it gave us the security we needed to commit the resources to the campaign. Then, when we made our goal, our ‘angel funder’ still gave us the money. Not bad! 

Kickstarter is one more tool in a diverse set of fundraising assets at our disposal. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.