The $1,000 Experiment: Kickstarter Your Ministry To Success And Failure - Part 1

Kickstarter (like Google for searching) has become synonymous with crowdfunding.

Even though there are dozens upon dozens of crowdfunding platforms, it's a verb. 

Can your church use Kickstarter? Can your small ministry of 12 use Indiegogo? Can your nonprofit use crowdfunding? 

Yes and no.

The good news is... yes!

You can, and you should!


If you're looking for how to raise $1,000 for your short film, read how here:

If you're contemplating (scratch that, if you are even thinking of crowdfunding your film) Seed&Spark for your film/web series/documentary/training video, you won't want to use the other guys after this primer:

WHY: This is important. Without why, we tuck tail and run. 

You believe the laborer is worth his wages, you believe all resources come from God, and you know that in everything you do, you are going to point people to the hope and true freedom we have in Christ. 

WHAT: You could do a lot with a successful round of crowdfunding. For example, you could:

  1. That high school you meet in - give all of the teachers a gift card
  2. Invest in video equipment to share the message of hope beyond your four walls
  3. Sponsor hundreds of children through faith-based organizations like Compassion
  4. The classic church-funding initiative: a new building

Oh I don't know about that...

We do things differently around here...

Get over yourselves. It's not about you!

Us and Them.jpg

Crush those fear-based responses!

Bury your lip service and get your bums into high gear!

Stop settling for mediocrity; you are ambassadors for Christ! Do you think that means you can just kick back and drink Mojitos on the sidlines? 


You can use crowdfunding to create any project that will be shared with others. That's the whole point of crowdfunding.

And you're in the business of crowds, broken and messy as they come - lucky you!

Can you use crowdfunding to raise funds for a cause or your charity?

No - not on Kickstarter. 

Here's their official statement. 

But you can raise funds on Indiegogo for your nonprofit by asking for contributions.

And just like in the real world, those contributions are eligible to be tax-deductions for your donors.

Same goes for Tilt, yet another crowdfunding platform which this guy used in his first Church Films campaign. 

We raised $1,010 to shoot this short film to encourage brothers and sisters who are wrestling with a porn addiction that God still loves them, no matter what, and the work He started in them He will carry out to its completion.

You could raise funds for your church or ministry (I'll use both interchangeably) through Tilt. Free.

Did you catch that?


So what are you waiting for?

Here are the lessons - good and bad - that you can take away from my successes and failures with this last Church Films Kickstarter campaign. 

You can raise funds. You can crowdfund a simple product. You can do either to further the mission of sharing the Gospel.

There's a bonus worksheet to walk you through the 12 preliminary steps you need at the end of this blog post if you're looking to launch a product.

1. The Idea

Here are some of the easy items you could crowdfund through your church or ministry:

  • Online class on starting a church plant
  • A book
  • A DVD series
  • A Christmas album
  • Building expansion 
  • Build 5 homes in Nicaragua

Get inventive. 

And start blogging - teach valuable content. It's good for the web, your people, and the mission of pointing people to Christ. 

The nonprofits (and churches) that do not prioritize charitable giving in their mission will have to find something else to draw in the revenues. 

The churches that only give away 12% of their tithes and offerings - yeah, I'm talking to them. You'll have to get creative. 

What about UBIT?

I'll get to that. If you know what that is, hang tight, and if you don't, don't worry about that right now. I'll circle back to it, but for now, a church owes income tax on income if it is:

  • from trade or business
  • regularly conducted that is
  • not substantially related to their exempt purpose

For example, if your bookstore sells sermons on DVDs, you're okay. If you start selling used Honda parts in the bookstore, you'll pay tax on the Honda parts. I'll circle back to this because it's a full discussion by itself.

If you're not a ministry or a church leader, you should take a second and read up on the differences between nonprofits (charities, churches, etc.) and for-profit businesses.

The reality is BOTH are businesses. A nonprofit is a C-corp with tax breaks and other benefits and restrictions. A church is like the supernova of nonprofit statues. This too is a discussion for another day.

In either case, you - the starter, leader, creative or filmmaker - have to use marketing, and you need a plan. 

It is a tool, just like your website, your camera, your weekly bulletin or your stubbornness that says "I won't quit."  

After wrapping up production and a Kickstarter on short videos (in the late summer and early fall of 2015) for recovery ministries, we had a successful Kickstarter campaign, but the videos were invalidated. 

Meaning, we had about a dozen to two dozen backers and a fully-funded campaign of $4,000. 

That was nowhere near the amount of ministries I had hoped for. 

So I quickly set out to find something else to try. 

This is a startup. 

I'm learning as I go along. I plan, but I will always be learning. I just have a hard head and a lot of hope in my Savior.

Seth Godin preaches the need to ship.

Just ship!

So, I decided to ship. Again. With something different.

What can you ship? Write it down right now.


My buddy DA mentioned a pastor who got his congregation to quit complaining through a self-guided, 21-day challenge. It only involved silicone bracelets and a little honesty.

So I bugged DA and we started with these bracelets.

I'm wearing one right now. It just says BE ENCOURAGING.

We came up with a battle plan to get folks to encourage one person in a unique way every day for three weeks.

This is Church Films after all. We love bringing glory to God and encouraging others. That's our WHY

The idea was and still is to get the free .pdf into the the hands of people to get them to step out of their comfort zones and encourage people.

Gate guards. Cashiers. Verizon Wireless customer service reps. Bank tellers. Acquaintances. Estranged friends and family - all people we should be encouraging and building up like the Good Book says to.

You carry the message of HOPE that we have in Jesus.

Why wouldn't you be the most encouraging person that your Uncle knows, that the insurance rep talks to, or that the homeless guy on the street randomly meets?

Want the free, 21-day "Encourage My Life" challenge? Download the .pdf here.

It was simple. The idea - take the challenge and a bracelet. Or a watch. Or a sock - or anything that you can comfortably keep on your wrist at all times.

Wear it everyday, face-down to start the day, and flip it over when you complete that day's challenge.

You have to restart from day 1 if you fail at any point in the challenge.

Easy enough, right?

So I hustled a 30-page .pdf to go along with this challenge, one page per day to guide people in this exercise. 

What free .pdf can you develop as a byproduct of your ministry, right now? WRITE IT DOWN.

Meanwhile DA talked it over with a domestic manufacturer who could make silicone bracelets here in the US. 

That list of US suppliers is about nil.

As long as my Father in Heaven and I are creating a stir with Church Films, we'll do as much as physical production as possible here in the states. 

It's not about nationalism. It's about basic human rights and the loss of jobs that outsourcing has created. 

Now, I get international help with digital goods. Your ministry can too at Upwork and Fiverr. 

The guys and gals on Upwork and Fiverr *should* be independent freelancers - and not slaves in some rundown factory.

Could that kind of abuse happen, even in a "bulletproof" system like Upwork? Yes. And that kind of treatment of human life was never a part of the original design because what God created He called good. He values all human life.

So if you develop a book, a shirt, or an ornament (for example) with your ministry funds, find a way to support domestic jobs and production.

Will that require homework? Yes.

This blog requires homework. It's work - and this is part of why 59% of American churches have less than 100 members. We get lazy (as people), quit when it's tough, and become chumps. 

I called for hours and got people on the phone who would admit their silicone was not molded in the US

Their debossing (lettering) was done in the US. 

And they would use the marketing ploy of being made in the US.

Uh... nope.

Dig. Dig until hurts. Do the work. Find the vendors you want to work with.

I quickly overhauled the website so that the landing page would reflect this new effort. 

I got too particular about it and burned through about 15 manhours (my own) just on a landing page.

People care more about how your ministry's product will serve them than how the doormat looks.

Remember that when your time is limited. I didn't.

The term they use in the business world is MVP. 

That's not a football term. It's the minimum viable productThe idea being you just need to ship the bare-bones minimum prototype to a hungry crowd, get feedback, then refine the product and scale.

Do ministries do this? You bet.

What product does a church deliver every Sunday, regardless of rain, hail, or shine?

A sermon.

A sermon can become a podcast.

If you put several together, then you have a digital album of sermons.

For bigger churches that video their sermons, they are DVDs in the book store.

Sermons are a "free sample" - a living, breathing "webinar" - of a senior pastor's latest book.

It's all a part of a ministry's products, and each sermon is an MVP for the most ardent followers of a ministry.

Why? Because every Sunday, every church that has an internet connection, a social media presence and maybe a newsletter is looking to see if they can scale their latest sermon. 

Reread the parable of the talents. This honors our Lord when we take the resources that He's given us and multiply them for our fellow man, that they might know our Father and that He would be glorified.

Good on the churches that take the initiative to create byproducts.

Think about it. What did you do when you last had a homerun in your ministry?


As you look to grow your ministry, what is your next MVP? Comment below.

That's what we wanted to do - i.e. get an MVP going. The bracelets were just that.

Only, we had one glaring problem, as I'm sure you're bound to run into with your MVP.

The encouragement bracelets are not proprietary.

So we needed to come up with something more. I'll get to that.


2. Giveaway

This is a great way to grow your email list.

If you're a church or a ministry, I know you have an email list. The question is, is your list just a bunch of names and email addresses on someone's gmail?

If so, you need to get a real provider to make sure you are compliant with spam laws. 

Yep. Spam laws.

Back in the late 90's - in the dot com bubble - people thought they could blast any ol' large list of emails with ads. 

And they did.

But it was reigned in. Do you remember those days? If you're under 30, the answer is likely no. 

So to this day, there are strong requirements for email newsletters. 

Yes, if you're a church ministry that is about 12 strong, I'm sure no one is going to raise Cain if you're sending out your weekly newsletter of encouragement to the same 12 people through your AOL email address.

But if you're acting on behalf of the whole church, you need to go the newsletter route.

a. Sign up for a newsletter service.

I use Mail Chimp. You should too.

Especially if your church uses Squarespace for its website (many are doing this). Mail Chimp works near seamlessly with Squarespace.

They're free up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails a month. I.e. you could send emails to 2,000 subs six times a month and not pay a dime to Mail Chimp.

No, I'm not a Mail Chimp affiliate. 

Your newsletters, going into this 21st century, are going to be your BEST way to connect with your flock. 

Not your "cute" Facebook photos, not your jaded "new sermon series" announcements on Instagram, and certainly not your church Twitter account that has the occasional "heart."

Good ole fashioned email is what works. My newsletter is still in its infancy, but I've had as low as a 3.67% click-through rate (CTR) and as high as a 20.2% CTR in the last two months. 

You will (practically speaking) never get that high of a CTR on social media. Period.

People use email. It's like your answering machine. You check it. And more people use it than they do social media. It's not going anywhere any time soon.

So fire up a newsletter service.

Go use Mail Chimp. Use AWeber. Use Infusionsoft. There are dozens of options to choose from. 

For example, here are the providers that integrate with the appsumo social plugins that you can see directly to the left of your screen right now (if you're on a desktop) or below you (if you're on a mobile device):

b. Find a giveaway host. 

What the deuce do I give away?!

I'll get to that. 

Let's talk about a host. I used Viral Sweep. You can see the remnants of it here

If you're hosting your church website on Wordpress, there are plugins that will do this. 

In the terms and conditions of your giveaway, be sure you spell out the details.

How many winners?

How will the winners be selected? Viral Sweep, for example, can randomly select one for you. 

They will add your entries to your newsletter for you. Any good giveaway will do this. It just needs to be spelled out. 

c. Find a relevant prize.

If you're a church, you have some creative bones around you. Poll them. Look at what other people are giving away, and go back to your MVP.

Here are some ideas:

  • Music CDs
  • Digital Music albums
  • DVD series
  • A comprehensive commentary collection
  • A pile of books from leaders in the faith
  • Intensive church planting counseling sessions through Skype
  • Any combination of the above

Add a dollar value to them. 

For example:

Win our discipleship bundle giveaway with books from Bob Goff, Mark Gungor, and Tim Tebow plus an intensive 12-module discipleship series from Jim Bob and Papa Smurf - a $500 value.

Get creative.

Take a look at what people are doing on Reddit. You don't need an account to take a look.

Just make sure what you are offering is relevant to the people you want to reach.


For example, if you live in Las Vegas, and your ministry is to reach the single moms of North Las Vegas with a weekly brunch, fill up your giveaway with a gift card to a local spa, gift cards to Babies R' Us, and a faith-based parenting DVD series.  

That's ONE way you could find people for your newsletter.

Don't offer a free iPad. 

  1. It's jaded.
  2. You will get entries, but they will not be targeted entries. 

Make a bundle that is targeted to the people you are called to serve. 

Do you want 200 people that are curious about this Jesus guy or do you want 200 freeloaders looking for an iPad?

Be wise as serpents and gentle as doves...

d. Allow multiple entries.

Once you have your raffle prize locked, you have to address how people can double-down.

I.e. How can they earn more entries?

This is good for them, and it's good for you. You want people to share your giveaway. Despite your best efforts, you can't be everywhere. But you can get users to share the giveaway. 

The reality is you're probably a part of the 98% of churches that haven't crossed the 1,000 mark. So you're lean. Manpower is scarce.

Celebrate that.

Throwing money at a problem is never wise. Trusting in the Lord and creativity are better. 

Approach your giveaway from the winner's perspective.

No one wants to share a raffle that decreases their odds of winning with each added person to the pool. 

So get a giveaway that has built-in incentives to share. That's what I like about Viral Sweep - and no, I'm not a Viral Sweep affiliate.

With each Twitter share, a user gains an entry. 

If they go back to your ministry's website, they gain an entry (this should be a landing page - a welcome mat for whatever it is you're promoting). 

If they follow your ministry's Twitter account, they gain an entry.

Facebook? Not so much. They clamped down on giveaways. A user can still share the giveaway on Facebook, but it does nothing for them. 

viral sweep incentives.png

e. Grow your newsletter.

The biggest benefit of a giveaway is to grow your newsletter.

Here is why you want to do that.

Your original mission is to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ in your 10 square miles because you believe He is the way, the hope, the truth, and the life. 

That's your what and your why.

If you're seeing the same 50 people filling the seats every Sunday, guess what? It's time to go back to the mission and vision of your ministry because you're asleep at the wheel!

I heard a pastor recently say "we're going to do the same things in 2016, only we're going to do them better!" 

Snoozeville. Uninspiring. 

That same church has seen the same 12 core families for 30 years.

Wake up!

If you're a ministry, you need to treat your mission like the level-5 leaders (a la Jim Collins' book) do, and you need to lead!

Did shepherds stay in the same field forever? NO! They took their sheep to new places, and they fought the bears and the lions there. 

So here's what you're going to do: spend 2-3 minutes going over your mission every day and stop burying your talent in the dirt.

But we don't want a big church.

You don't have to have a stadium like Joel Osteen. 

But you need to put your faith in God and bring back the talent He gave you tenfold. 

Video and online outreach are only going to grow as extensions of the physical church campus. 

We will never lose the real, live gatherings of followers of Christ because God wired us to enjoy real, live gatherings.  

But my nephews are 8 and 12. They will play video games all day long every day from sunrise to sunset if they have the occasional snack and a toilet. 

And it's not enough to just play video games. They have to be Skyping or watching Dragon Ball Z on their tablets at the same time. 

Paul became all things to all people so that the Gospel might be shared.

We must embrace video and the online community to reach the people who are there. 

The newsletter is still the best place to engage people. 

A giveaway is like taking a set of jumper cables to your newsletter. 

Next Friday, I'll publish part 2 on promoting your giveaway and how to build that newsletter. I'm learning too, every day, and I will always be learning, and I hope you do too.

In the meantime, I want you to 

  • fight fear and passivity
  • crush doubt
  • pray
  • ship something in the next 90 days or less (before April)

If you say "this year," well guess what, you probably won't ship. Start with 90 days.

Do the work every day. I didn't put this blog post together on Jan 1st. I started it last week.

To help you do this, I am putting together a Google spreadsheet for you to ship something with your ministry. 

It will take you through 

  1. A timeline
  2. Costs of your items
  3. Vendors
  4. Basic expense tracker

And two more bonuses. 

Take the Gospel outside your four walls. 

The early church had death threats, shipwrecks, beatings, and all kinds of disruption. We have GOT TO GET RID OF OUR COMPLACENCY and understand that God doesn't do ministry alone. 


Comment below - what is your MVP you want to make with your ministry?

Jake the film guy

I want to encourage others and bring honor to the Almighty in everything that I do with film and video. My goal is to take the first 11 minutes of my tv pilot and seek out decision-makers who can further the conversation about developing it into a show. If my team and I can do that, then we can teach 100,000 other microbudget filmmakers how to do the same thing so that we might tell stories of hope to millions. In the meantime, I'm a son of the King, a family man, a lifelong student of film, and the author of two microbudget filmmaking books.