Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Crowdfunding: how we budgeted our Kickstarter Campaign

The Budget

Estimating the Anacostia Unplugged budget was no picnic. Determining our film needs (vs. wants…), calculating the extra fees and taxes, developing a fiscal sponsorship relationship with our partner non-profit Groundwork Anacostia, and predicting the reward and shipping costs took endless hours of research and calculation. My hope is that this entry will help explain to donors where the budget of nearly $50,000 came from. I would also like to support other innovators attempting to start their own Kickstarter Campaigns; I know I relied heavily on similar blog articles for information, and I will also share those here.

Crew- 35%

Creating an extensive online documentary series like Anacostia Unplugged takes a lot of time and effort. I’ve been funding this out of my own pocket for nearly two years now, and it has not been easy nor is it a long-term solution. So to make this work, I do need to get paid so I don’t have to keep starting and stopping, and can continue to give Anacostia Unplugged the attention and time it needs to thrive. Keep in mind that Anacostia Unplugged was never intended to be for profit, so I will not be making money off of the videos because that defeats the purpose of having them free and accessible online, as I believe they should be. That said, because Anacostia Unplugged consists of a small production team, the cost is reasonable. The following partial salaries were accounted for: the producer, director & primary filmmaker and editor (me), composer, and an assistant editor. If you keep reading, you'll see that my salary has also become part of the built in contingency fee. We also had initially budgeted in payments for musicians contributing their music, and young actors to help re-enact historical moments that will be featured in the first episode, but decided to remove those costs.

Equipment- 7%

The first thing we did is create a list of needed equipment, and a list of wanted equipment. For example, I’ve been using Final Cut Pro X on a Macbook ’08. While I love this Macbook, it has prevented me from being efficient and productive. As a result, I have had to rely on other systems throughout DC, and switching between computers has damaged some of my footage and just been an overall headache. So a computer that can handle higher levels of processing went on the needs list. A wireless external Sennheiser mic went on the want list. While this would be helpful, it is not essential, so we had to let that go (along with everything else on our want list). Other items that went on the need list: GoProHero3 (getting B-roll along the river), GoPro mount, extra batteries, external hard drives, a functional tripod (ours has seen better days), lenses for our Canon G20 DSLR cam-recorder, and website service fees. All very reasonable, and we can keep the equipment at a low cost because we have a strong equipment network we can tap into when other needs arise, (thank you Earth Conservation Corps). I’ve also already purchased anything else that was essential, like our one new cam-recorder, a Canon G20 DSLR.  

Location and Service Expenses- 5%

The big fee here was predicting the National Park Service Permits to film on NPS grounds. Initially, we also included transportation costs, but later removed that cost.

Kickstarter/Fundraising- 0%

This comes to 0% because we removed this fee from our Kickstarter Budget. What would have been included are the fees for purchasing business cards, t-shirts (mostly for volunteers), hiring a website designer, the logo design, tabling events (there is usually an associated fee), and crafts and food for our upcoming Special Event.

Post-Production- <1%

The copyright fees for the documentary series will ensure that it remains free and accessible online, and that no one can charge someone to watch an episode. I estimated this cost with the US Library of Congress.  

Contingency- 4.5%

Initially we built in a 10% contingency fee to cover the extra costs that come up that you do not expect (but will almost always arise). The magic 10% is what was recommended by a variety of online resources detailing how to build a film budget. To be clear, you take 10% of your needed budget, and do not include the extra taxes and fees. To keep the budget under $50,000, we had to reluctantly reduce our contingency fee to 4.5%. If needed, I will take from my built in salary the extra costs that come up. I am dedicated to making Anacostia Unplugged successful, so I accepted that my salary will also act as the contingency.

Kickstarter Rewards- 7%

At first I was at a complete loss with how to budget in Kickstarter Rewards, and how to decide what rewards to offer. I spent a lot of time browsing around other Kickstarter Projects to see what they offered at different pledge levels for inspiration. And then I stumbled across this blog entry, and found a formula to help estimate costs:    

Joey Daoud created a formula based off the total project cost and statistics he ran from other funded projects to estimate the number of backers needed at each reward level. Once you know the number of backers needed at each reward level, you can estimate the number of predicted rewards you will be purchasing, and their shipping costs. I took Joey’s formula with a grain of salt, but it seemed logical enough and gave me some numbers to work with. The one adjustment I made is that instead of budgeting in rewards for every backer, I made the prediction that on average 70% of backers will be getting a reward, opposed to 100%.

Once I predicted the number of estimated rewards needed at each pledge level, I was able to estimate total costs and the associated shipping costs. For example, with the formula we predicted that in total approximately 898 people would be getting a post card. We then estimated with vistaprint.com how much it would cost to purchase and ship 898 post cards. For the remainder of the rewards, we decided to select items that would fit in USPS flat rate envelopes and the smallest flat rate box, to reduce shipping fees. We used the USPS flat rate prices since there was no way to predict where we will be shipping all of the rewards, even if I assume most of them will be staying in DC, I had to somehow account for the price it would take to ship an award to a Anacostia Unplugged fan in CA. I then picked up all the different sized boxes and envelopes at the local USPS office, and pieced everything together to make sure costs were accurate. For example, originally the reusable bags were going to be water bottles, but once I realized that the water bottles didn’t fit into the envelope, I decided that shipping was going to be way too expensive and switched to reusable bags. In terms of international shipping costs, I read an article that recommended having international backers add $10 to their total cost to help account for shipping, so that’s what I did. 


Unfortunately, as a whole taxes and fees account for 45% of this budget. Below you will find out why:

1. Fiscal Sponsorship- 8%

Figuring this out was quite the adventure and took months of research and preparation. Once I decided to use Kickstarter to fund Anacostia Unplugged, one of my friends asked whether companies and large donors would get taxed off their donations since the money would be funneled directly to me opposed to a non-profit. I talked with Kickstarter, Amazon (who used to manage the accounting with Kickstarter), pro bono lawyers, and then STRIPE (who took over for Amazon by the time I launched my Kickstarter), etc., and eventually figured out that a non-profit could collect the initial funds from Kickstarter as my fiscal sponsor so that all donors receive their tax benefits. I talked with a few of our partner non-profits, and Groundwork Anacostia kindly agreed to become our fiscal sponsor. We have been filming members of their Green Team for over a year, and they are very involved in the community, so it seemed like a good fit.

Groundwork Anacostia and I have been working closely for a few months to determine how a fiscal sponsorship relationship would work in this scenario. The following agreement was reached: “As the official fiscal sponsor of Anacostia Unplugged, we receive and administer all funds that Anacostia Unplugged will use to carry out the documentary series, and will send all required acknowledgements to donors of tax-deductible contributions. The Board of Directors of Groundwork Anacostia has the final authority concerning fund solicitation and use of the funds received for Anacostia Unplugged.” I will maintain artistic ownership of Anacostia Unplugged, and will credited for the series. This kind of relationship can get tricky in the eyes of the IRS, which is why all of the stipulations above were agreed upon. The 8% fee will help cover administrative costs for having them handle the money.

A lot of people have asked me why I haven’t become a non-profit or a business, and the short answer to that question is that as of now, Anacostia Unplugged is a short-term film series not a long-term project, so as of this very moment, it would not be worth the time and money to start up a non-profit or a business. Therefore in my opinion, crowd sourcing was the most appropriate and logical first step to obtaining the necessary funds.

I’d also highly recommend reading this article to obtain a better grasp of the different ways fiscal sponsorship agreements can function: http://grants.firesafecouncil.org/Fiscal_Sponsorship_Six_Ways_To_Do_It_Right.pdf

2. Income Taxes- 29%

Unfortunately, the IRS has not caught up with crowd sourcing initiatives, and all funds raised are taxed, opposed to being able to specify what is equipment vs. salary. So when Groundwork Anacostia funnels that money back to me, it will be seen as my total income and I will be taxed accordingly from DC and the federal. While this number is extremely daunting, it is accounted for (opposed to getting a big surprise later) and this is the way the system works for better or worse. I would also be taxed regardless of the fiscal sponsorship relationship, so in this case, at least donors get some benefits even if I cannot.

I’d also recommend reading this article on Kickstarter and taxes: http://nofilmschool.com/2014/04/crowdfunding-taxes-kick-starters-hidden-bite-stop-the-bleeding

3. Kickstarter Fees- 5%

Kickstarter keeps 5% of the total funds raised.

4. STRIPE Fees-3%

STRIPE is the firm that manages the money, and holds it throughout the Kickstarter Campaign. They are the ones who will ultimately redistribute the money back to the donor if the project is unsuccessful, or move it to Groundwork Anacostia (in this case) if the end funds are met. STRIPE keeps approximately 3.2% of each donation made.

I hope this entry helps shed light about the amount of time, thought, and energy that went into creating our budget. I very much want everything to be transparent because if you are going to donate your money, you should know exactly where it is going. So now you know! Please feel free to reach out with any questions at: anacostiaunplugged@gmail.com.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Why Kickstarter?

For months I struggled with how to get Anacostia Unplugged up and running. I talked with filmmakers, documentarians, my mentors from the George Washington University, and environmentalists. We first started looking at grant applications. And then I realized that there are slim pickings for someone who is no longer a student, not already a famous filmmaker, or not a non-profit. I also had a difficult time finding grants for projects inside the United States, and the grants I did find were extremely specific to other topics that had nothing to do with Anacostia Unplugged. So that took me out of the running for 99.9% of the grants I came across. I was also pressed for time: my budget was dwindling and I couldn’t afford to keep putting all my money and time into Anacostia Unplugged. So I needed another solution. And soon.

During my first few months of living at home in Arlington, MA upon graduating from the George Washington University, I spent my time babysitting and dog walking until I could figure out a way to get back to DC. One of the families I babysat for put me in contact with our neighbor, documentarian Eric Stange. He invited me to coffee, took a look at one of the first drafts of my trailer, and gave me the motivation to keep moving forward. Eric recommended I try Kickstarter. I was stubbornly reluctant, but eventually I started doing my research. I soon realized that if done right, Kickstarter works. It’s become the new fundraising phenomena for independent filmmakers and other artists and innovators. And yes, those who also want to throw giant sandwich parties. I was ultimately won over by Kickstarter’s all or nothing mentality, opposed to funding sites like Indiegogo, which let you keep whatever you raise. I did not want to put myself in a situation where I raised some money, but not enough to keep moving forward. I didn’t think it would be fair to my donors or myself. I can also understand where an all or nothing mentality will make your project a dud or a success, and rarely in between, which is what the statistics tell us.   

Finally, I found a way to return to DC: I got a job to become the Jelleff Fellow at the Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy to help build and implement their environmental education program. While balancing multiple jobs and reconnecting with the non-profits and individuals involved with the series, I started preparing our Kickstarter Campaign. I gradually started to realize the amount of time, energy, and creativity that goes into launching a Crowd Sourcing Campaign. For example, you are going to need to brand yourself, develop social media, a website, etc. Just coming up with the title Anacostia Unplugged was a tedious task. I am sincerely grateful to my friends and family for dealing with me as I sent them endless texts a day with different names.  And then there was the budget. I’ve dedicated another blog entry to the budget because there is so much to say there.

Ultimately, Kickstarter was the best solution for an independent young filmmaker like myself. Especially because by backing Anacostia Unplugged, you are supporting its mission to show viewers how going outside is saving lives, preserving the environment, and empowering communities along the Anacostia River. I know that there is an audience for Anacostia Unplugged, and a desire to share these stories. We can give the individuals and non-profits I have been listening to a voice to reach more people faster, and I will stand by that no matter what happens.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015


For immediate release: Tuesday, June 02, 2015
Contact: Alisha Camacho, anacostiaunplugged@gmail.com
WASHINGTON – Independent filmmaker and environmental educator, Alisha Camacho, is launching a groundbreaking documentary series Anacostia Unplugged, that sheds new light on how going outside is saving lives, preserving the environment, and empowering communities along the Anacostia Watershed. Camacho has turned to Kickstarter.com to fund the documentary and raise awareness about the Anacostia Watershed Community’s reconnection with the outdoors. After two years of research and filming, this young filmmaker is determined to raise the funds to make this documentary series possible.
“Our community is far too removed from the outdoors and that nature deficit is proven to cause a variety of psychological, cognitive, physical, and for some, spiritual problems,” said Alisha Camacho.  “Anacostia Unplugged offers a compelling and important perspective from people in the community and the series raises awareness about the need to reconnect with our natural surroundings.”
Camacho has turned to Kickstarter.com, a funding site embraced by the independent filmmaking community, to cover production and post-production costs, such as editing, graphic design, and legal fees, among others associated with making the series. Camacho has 32 days until June 30 to raise the $49,569 estimated necessary to fund the series. Already, she has received support from the Anacostia Community and been praised by the Groundwork Anacostia who has agreed to be Camacho’s fiscal sponsor. Documentarians and environmental non-profits organizations like the Earth Conservation Corps have mentored Camacho since she decided to take this chance and encouraged her to share these stories.
One of the documentary’s goals is to share and empower the voices Camacho has been listening to for the past two years.  
“The story of a community littered with fast-food restaurants on every corner, along one of the most historically polluted rivers in the United States taking a stand and starting to reclaim their river and park space is one that needs to be told,” added Camacho.  “Watching the Anacostia Community open up gardens enabling local residents to buy fresh produce with food stamps to combat some of the communities most daunting obstacles such as obesity and violence offers a compelling and important perspective.”
The asking price, according to Camacho, “is the minimum price necessary to make this documentary series possible- we have extensively researched the costs that go into a documentary funded on Kickstarter, and this is what it takes to fund Anacostia Unplugged through completion.”   
Alisha Camacho’s Anacostia Unplugged Kickstarter project runs through June 30th, 2015 11:59pm EST. If the funds are not met, then all pledges are cancelled. Those interested in supporting the project, should visit: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1372009881/anacostia-unplugged to learn more. Camacho will also be hosting an informational event in Washington, DC at the Earth Conservation Pumphouse on June 13th from 1-4pm.
For more information about this project, or to schedule an interview with Alisha Camacho, feel free to contact her at anacostiaunplugged@gmail.com.

Kickstarter link:


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

"Keep Running, We're Going to Get You"

The aftermath of an Anacostia Watershed Society volunteer event along the Watts Branch Tributary System.  

I was en route to an Anacostia Watershed Society (AWS) volunteer event near the Deanwood Metro Stop to interview volunteers for my research paper. The metro was undergoing repairs (surprise) so I was running late. As I raced down one of the side streets leading to the Watts Branch Tributary, I passed a bunch of young men standing behind a fence. I heard their voices yell after me to keep running because they were going to get me. So I walked slower because I knew (mostly from the tone in their voices) that they were just kids being kids trying to get a reaction out of me, a white girl racing through their neighborhood.
When I got to the event I observed that no one from the surrounding community was participating, and I wanted to know why. The heaping piles of trash also concerned me. Especially when I realized that without the litter trap, the trash would have washed into the Anacostia River. I was, however, impressed with the work ethic of the volunteers who sacrificed their Saturday morning to tirelessly separate trash into piles of bottles, cans, Styrofoam, etc. AWS Water Quality Specialist Masaya Maeda led the event, and his contagious passion to clean the river, and knowledge of the litter trap, spread to all of us. 
On my walk back to the metro, I came across some wonderful gentleman sitting on their porch. I asked if I could talk with them, and they seemed eager to have someone listen to their stories about how the area used to be (before it was polluted), and their ideas about how to change this. I wished they had been at the event because their childhood stories of playing along the tributaries would have added an important historical and cultural perspective. They told me had they known of the event, they would have participated.

As I continued to walk to the metro, I saw the same young men I had run by that morning now staring at me dumbfounded. For me, this experience was a reminder that breaking stereotypes works both ways, and I think sometimes we forget how far a simple conversation can go. Simple conversations have led me to make Anacostia Unplugged because I don’t think I should be the only one listening to these stories.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Children of the Blue Hills

View of the Boston Skyline from the Blue Hills Summer Camp.

I was standing on top of the Lemon Squeeze, monitoring my campers as they leapt from rock to rock, finding new places to explore. The Lemon Squeeze was the name used to describe the large boulders projecting out of the ground in the Blue Hills Reservation South of Boston. My fellow Mass Audubon Environmental Educators and I frequently paused our hikes at this jungle gym of rocks and secret tunnels to allow our campers to play. During staff training earlier that summer, our camp director led us on a hike to the Lemon Squeeze for our lunch break. This is where she told us that free play would be one of the most valuable components of our environmental education summer camp, and to make sure we allocated time for our campers to explore and play in one of the most important classrooms: the natural world. I remember thinking it was odd that we were being told to incorporate free play into our curriculums. I just assumed that was a given, and was expecting her to stress the importance of structured activities and lesson plans.
When I received my first set of campers, I began to understand my director’s warnings, and was shocked with how confused and almost unnatural these children acted outside. Little Aidan, who was 6 years old, was one of the clumsiest children I have ever known, and continuously tripped over himself and the rocks as we hiked through the Blue Hills. When I asked my campers, who were 4.5-6 years old, to make an animal home, or a teepee, using the rocks, twigs, and leaves available to us, I received a lot of blank looks and sometimes tears of confusion. Even during free play, a lot of the children didn’t know what to do and quickly became overwhelmed with having the freedom to make their own choices outside. Children this age are notorious for having extremely creative and curious minds… what was happening?
As the summer progressed, I watched my campers make remarkable changes physically, psychologically, and cognitively. Aidan stayed with us most of the summer, and by the end, he was the camper at the front of the line, leading the other kids down the rocky paths. I would later learn that the uneven, natural surfaces outside helps youth develop physical coordination skills, in a way that a level playing field cannot. It was also fun for me to observe the campers who initially held a stick as if it were part of the game hot potato, unsure of what to do, have an abrupt light bulb moment and start inventing elaborate, thoughtful games in the trees and rocks. Some of our campers also had moderate to severe ADHD/ADD, and I got to witness the pure joy they would experience from being outside, free from any judgments or boundaries. There was no doubt in my mind that for whatever reason, being outside was extremely therapeutic and necessary to help foster a healthy childhood development. I know I’m happier when I’m outside, and I also know I become more focused, confident, and less anxious, so why wouldn’t others experience a similar response? 
While volunteering at the Blue Hills Trailside Museum Gift Shop a few months later, I was browsing through the items on display, and a book stood out to me. It was called, Last Child in the Woods: saving our children from nature-deficit disorder. As I started reading what author Richard Louv had to say about how the nature-deficit is affecting our children, a surge of energy rushed through me like water breaking through a dam. What he had written down on paper was what I had subconsciously believed and known to be true: the growing detachment to the outdoors has direct psychological, physical, and cognitive consequences. Once you understand how spending more time outside positively affects you, you realize it is common sense, but we have become so far removed from our natural world that we don’t always see or understand the ext
ent to which we depend on it. We need our natural resources, but we also need to be outside for our own physical, cognitive, psychological, and for many, spiritual, well-being.
For me, understanding the extent to which we need to be immersed in our natural world became clear during my first summer at the Blue Hills Reservation. The memory of the children, and how happy they were outside, is what continues to motivate me to spread awareness of the nature-detachment so we can reverse it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

When A New Seed Was Planted

            It was October 2013, my final semester at the George Washington University, and my research was beginning to gain momentum. I learned about the gardening program at the Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus (THEARC) through City Blossoms, an organization I had worked with while interning with the Environmental and the Great Outdoors Division at DC Parks and Recreation. The garden manager for THEARC, Ms. Kate, invited me to visit and garden with the two young men she supervised, Marley and Marcus.
While riding the green line to the Southern Avenue Metro Station, I kept glancing over my post-it notes where I had drawn a map showing me how to get to the garden from the station. It was almost as if I was waiting for the pen ink to jump off the paper and make a run for it. As I stared through the train’s glass window, I observed each passing unfamiliar metro station while repeating the interview questions in my mind. I was also aware that I was the only white person on the train. This wasn’t a new experience, but I was still getting used to becoming a minority in less than 30 minutes. Working outside of the District’s NW quadrant had already triggered my identity crisis about what it means to be a white middle class American, and moments like this train ride prompted a snowball effect of questions. For example, I wondered how the two young men I was about to interview would perceive me, and whether they would be willing to be interviewed in front of the cam-recorder my geography advisor had suggested I use to document information for my paper. I wasn’t comfortable interviewing anyone with a camera yet- I felt impersonal and rude. Especially because I was concerned that there would be an inherent distrust towards me that I felt was justified. I made a promise to myself before I ever picked up the camera that the most important aspect of any conversation or interview would be for the interviewee to feel comfortable at all times, camera or no camera; response or no response.
           Large metallic letters stood out from a distance, welcoming visitors to THEARC. The tall and wide windows at the entrance allowed the morning rays to shine through and dance on the freshly polished floor. Home to eleven of the District's nonprofit agencies, and serving children and adults East of the River, THEARC radiates a contagious energy of strength and hope, which reassured me that I had found the right place. Once I signed in with security at the front desk, I found Ms. Kate, Marley and Marcus in the garden down the slope from the large parking lot in front of the building. Together, we spent the next few hours digging up old grass and preparing new garden beds. As we worked, Marley and Marcus shared their lives with me. They told me personal stories of how they grew up, what it’s like to be a father, to belong in a gang, and their experiences working in the garden. Some of their stories made me laugh, and some of them made me thankful that the Boston Red Sox’s hat I was wearing helped conceal the tears forming in my eyes.
Prior to each interview, I explained that while the objective was for me to learn how gardening had affected their lives, it was ultimately their story and an opportunity to express their opinions. I was surprised with how open and honest Marley and Marcus were during their interviews. They told me that they had some things they wanted to say. I ended up walking away carrying the voices of two young men who provided evidence for why we need to reconnect ourselves to the outdoors, and an example of what happens when the right investment is made socially, environmentally, and economically.
            The videos enabled me to share Marley and Marcus’s stories with my friends and family. When I saw the profound affect Marley and Marcus’s voices had on everyone who watched the videos, I realized that I couldn’t just write a paper. I needed to find a way to help spread the information I had been collecting that would reach a broader community, faster. I also believed that filming Marley and Marcus gave them a voice and enabled them to speak for themselves, which is why I inserted two short videos of their interviews here. I do not need to speak for them, nor should I. But I do believe that these voices, among many of others along the Anacostia Watershed, need to be heard, and my hope is that the documentary series will help foster the environmental and social conversation we can no longer afford to avoid.