Meet the Project: Once I Was

Each month we will feature one of our fiscally sponsored projects who have been successful at using our program to advance their art/cause/career. October’s featured artist is Once I Was.staceytappanheadshot

Once I Was is the title of a semi-staged theatrical concert comprised of songs by Ricky Ian Gordon and sung by soprano Stacey Tappan. Stacey, pictured at right, is an accomplished professional opera singer who has performed around the world - in cities like Paris, Edinburgh & Bangkok. The Chicago Sun-Times has called her “a powerhouse voice.” This fall, she will be performing in Lucia di Lammermoor at Arizona Opera, but she has made the time to answer our questions about crowdfunding. In May, Stacey completed a successful Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for the recording of the Once I Was songbook.

There’s a lot of crowdfunding platforms out there. How did you arrive at your decision to go with Indiegogo?

Since I knew I wanted to use a crowdfunding website in conjunction with Fractured Atlas fiscal sponsorship, I had a choice between RocketHub and Indiegogo. I looked not only at what each offered but also at the style and language they used to present projects. I had to take into account that some of my supporters were older classical music fans who might be uncomfortable or confused making donations via a website. For my album of straightforward and emotional songs, I preferred Indiegogo’s clean simplicity and customizability.

Do you have any suggestions for setting a reasonable financial goal and establishing a suitable deadline for a crowdfunding campaign?

After I priced everything, I set a goal of $5000, the absolute minimum I needed to get the album made and pay the associated costs. I think setting it at the minimum was a wise idea, because people seemed to enjoy being able to easily push me over the top. I looked at similar albums that had met their goals and saw that $5000 was on the low end, so I felt good about my chances of exceeding it.

I’m glad I did my recording before I started fundraising, because I knew already what the recording costs would be, and it gave me a better idea of how long editing would take. But it also solidified my commitment to getting the funding I needed and gave me great motivation - it was going to have to be paid for one way or another!

For a deadline, I compared what Indiegogo said was the average donation ($75) to the amount I needed and the number of people I had on my contact list, and guessed that $1000 per week would be achievable. Now that I have seen how crowdfunding works, I might choose a shorter timeframe to add urgency and keep me from losing steam, but probably not less than three weeks. I reached my goal in three and a half weeks, and I needed all that time to make sure I reached everyone I could and let them all know about it.

I’d suggest, when choosing a deadline, to take into consideration who your potential supporters are and how you’re reaching them - more tech-savvy people may be faster to see the campaign and contribute online, whereas others might be better contacted by phone and would prefer to mail in a check. I wanted to give the latter group, who turned out to be some of my biggest donors, time to hear about the campaign and mail something in.

What were your three most helpful tools for promoting your campaign?

Facebook, definitely. I have a good presence there among colleagues and friends, and the interface makes it easy for people to show their pride in supporting the campaign. Posting pictures and videos there is very effective in spreading the word.

Email was how I reached the most people, and where most of my donors came from. I sent out multiple emails throughout the campaign, not only to contact new people, but to remind those that had not donated about the campaign and keep them updated on its progress. Every mailing I sent encouraged people to act and brought in new donations.

Finally, I taught myself to use iMovie to create videos from footage I took at the recording session, and those videos were very helpful, not only in promoting and maintaining interest in the campaign, but also by giving my supporters (and potential supporters) a better idea of exactly what they were helping to create.

In your opinion, what is the biggest misconception about crowdfunding?

That it’s easy - you just post, sit back and watch the money come in. I worked on the campaign almost every single day. I sent at least an email a week, plus milestone updates, to my contact list, and I posted on Facebook daily - it is easy to miss a single post on the site, so you have to be persistent. All through the campaign I was thinking up and finding new addresses to contact, calling people, and posting new photographs and videos to keep activity going on the site. And even after the campaign is over, sending out perks and keeping track of who got what takes time and effort, too.

Is there anything you would try to do better/differently if you tried crowdfunding again?

I set incremental goals (every $500, every $1000, one-quarter, one-half and so on) and when I reached those goals I updated the website with thanks and special bonus videos to keep up the momentum. I didn’t realize how successful the campaign would be, and I ran out of extra material. Next time I would plan out the extra material more carefully, so that I’d have a lot to offer all through the campaign, especially after we’d reached our goal and in the last few days.

I didn’t have all my supporters’ contact information in one place when I started, and as I thought of new people to contact, I’d send out new mailings to them. This made it hard to track what I’d sent to who. Also, I had problems with Apple’s Address Book leaving out or failing to update addresses. I had to check all my mailings by hand to make sure no one was left out, and it made a time-consuming job take even longer. Plus Gmail would limit each email to 100 recipients, so I’d have to check and send several batches of the same email. Next time I’d research and find a more reliable way to organize contact information and do mass mailings.

I was disorganized in the way I responded to my supporters - sometimes I would miss an email when I was sending out personal thanks. Checking my sent mail against Fractured Atlas’ excellent online records helped solve this problem, but if I could find a way to automate it, it would ensure that no one ever fell through the cracks and that everyone was properly thanked.

An assistant who dealt with mailings and responses, kept the address list and donor list updated, and posted progress reports would be a great thing to have next time, so that I’d have time for other work besides the campaign.

What are some of the challenges to crowdfunding that are specific to an individual artist?

You’re doing it all yourself, and it’s a lot to keep track of! I’m fortunate that through my career I’ve built up a large variety of people to draw from as supporters, but even so, going through files, email, and my professional and personal history to track down addresses, and brainstorming new people to email, took a lot of time. The responsibility for all the promotion was on my shoulders, and while that helped me to be more outgoing and persistent than I would be normally, that also required a lot of energy, creativity and time.

Check out Stacey Tappan at Once I Was has been fiscally sponsored by Fractured Atlas since March 2012. While Stacey performs around the country and globe, here home base is in Chicago, IL.

We need your help! Think you’ve got some great tips and tricks that you want to share with our members? We’re looking to interview one of our fiscally sponsored projects for our December newsletter that has been very successful with fundraising during the holidays. If you’re interested in being featured in our newsletter, please send an email to with “December Newsletter” in the subject line.

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