Getting a kickstart

Ruth Resch of Ashland had written a book about getting her speech back after a massive stroke at age 42, but she faced a big obstacle: Her agent and prospective publishers demanded a book proposal, a complex task she didn't know much about and didn't have the energy for.

She needed a skilled writer-editor to prepare it for her, and that would cost her $1,900, but she was "scraping the bottom of the barrel."

Where to turn?

Like 17 other people or groups in Ashland, Resch tried And from 41 "backers" she raised $2,735 in pledges, greatly exceeding her goal by the deadline in January. "It was fabulous," says Resch, whose book, "Without Utterance: Tales from the Other Side of Language," is now being evaluated by three publishers.

"Kickstarter was so easy to use, and it's structured to keep communication going between you and the people contributing. My goal was not big, but it went way over the top, and I was extremely happy with the response," says Resch. "All the energy and enthusiasm people gave me, the huge support flowing around me, was amazing."

Another Ashland resident, who attempted to raise money, pastry chef Lori Forrest, got placed in the powerful Williams-Sonoma catalog and found herself getting huge orders, but she is severely limited by her small cooking space.

"I need funding to expand and create jobs," said Forrest, noting that the traditional method, going to banks for a business loan, was just not working. Kickstarter, she said, helps circumvent that logjam and lets people donate directly, whether it's a dollar or a thousand.

Her company, The French Connection, was unsuccessful in reaching it's funding goal. As of last Monday's deadline, she had acquired just 22 backers, who pledged a total of $625 toward the goal of $10,000.

Kickstarter projects must be creative endeavors — most often films, books, food, arts, video games — that inspire people to pull out their credit cards and pledge. Kickstarter doesn't allow fundraising for charity, tuition or to make life easier with "fund my life" ideas.

"Fundees" set their own money goal and pledging deadline — and it operates on an "all or nothing" basis, so if you don't reach your goal in time, you get no money.

Kickstarter and many other "crowd-funding" websites encourage project creators to offer rewards for various levels of giving, so for $50 Forrest offered Grand Marnier chocolates and caramel syrup, and for $1,000 she offered a monthly gift basket and local musicians' CDs.

Creators get to describe themselves and their vision — and exactly what they'll do with the funds — in a written statement and a video.

Forrest's description says the money "will allow us to rent a large space of our very own and equip it with specialty mixers, ovens, tempering equipment, tables, much of which will be leased. This will also allow us to hire and train staff, increase our insurance, licensing and permits, and to buy supplies to fill large standing orders we have yet to confirm."

With funding, she notes, she will be able to attend the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco and connect with buyers in the specialty-food world.

In addition to Forrest, projects seeking funding include "The Bar B Gurlz," a movie by Southern Oregon University film students about tough gal bikers; the "Wild Art Mongolia Expedition" (Americans go there and paint with Mongolians, and publish art and books); and "Southern Oregon vs. LNG," a movie about "property rights, salmon and ratepayers" in a tangle with liquid natural gas pipeline forces.

The biker flick has raised $110 toward an $8,500 goal, the art project has attracted $795 of a $5,000 goal, and the pipeline movie has generated $706 toward a goal of $2,500.

The key to a successful Kickstarter project is promotion, using the usual channels for fundraising, including email lists (yours and your friends'), Facebook (repeatedly), local social networks such as WebSpirit and Ashland Resource Center and, of course, word-of-mouth, says Ariella St. Clair, who got $4,560 on a goal of $4,000 for her annual Eclectic Music and More Series, held at Ashland's Unitarian Universalist Church.

"It was easy, but you have to promote it. If you just post it and don't have people to promote it, it won't work," she says, noting her 17th annual festival features Celtic, World, bluegrass and other genres.

Dancing People Company raised $3,800 on a goal of $3,000 to help pay for "Dance in the (Lithia) Park" and to build a portable stage.

"It's a pretty great system," says artistic director Robin Stiehm. "It works best by word-of-mouth. I tell people constantly to pledge. It's got to be a project the community is interested in, not just doing a show. About 70 percent of the backers were in the valley.

"If you just post it and do nothing else, people are not going to find you. The rewards you give make people feel they are basically buying something. Supporters start checking daily, and there's a growing sense of a team working together."

Other successfully funded local projects, totaling more than $100,000, include:

  • "Two in a Million," a film about two local musicians felled by a rare brain disease, $2,870
  • Music videos of "The Janks," $20,000
  • A new arrangement for a saxophone orchestra by an SOU professor, $810
  • An anatomy video by a high school student, $100
  • Bringing Iraqi students of Shakespeare to Ashland to perform, $34,000
  • Printing and distribution of a children's book, "Mr. Diddlewit," $5,295
  • Publishing of "The Gene Guillotine: an Early Onset Alzheimer's Memoir," $9,799

Current and completed local projects can be seen at and

Many other crowd-funding sites, including Razoo, IndieGoGo and ChipIn, are listed at Some are intended for nonprofits only, to allow funding on an ongoing basis.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at

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