What Is Kickstarter and What Do People Use It For?

All about the creative crowdfunding platform that's taken the web by storm

Kickstarter is a funding platform directed toward helping creative projects get off the ground. It's entirely driven by crowdfunding, so donations from the general public fuel these dynamic new ideas. Here's a look at what's involved with creating and backing a Kickstarter project.

While nonprofits can start a Kickstarter project, projects can't raise funds for charity or promise to donate to a cause.

Cut out paper people pushing, rolling coins, depicting Kickstarter crowdfunding

How Kickstarter Works

Kickstarter is driven by creators and backers. Creators present creative project ideas, and backers fund them.

Creators set up a page to display their project's details and prototypes using text, video, and photos. Project creators set a funding goal and a deadline and create reward levels for backers who pledge specific amounts. The more a backer pledges, the bigger the reward.

Once enough backers have funded the project, the creator can develop and produce their vision. Depending on the project's complexity, backers may have to wait months to see the finished product.

Creators can't promise backers any stake in the business, including revenue sharing or equity.

Starting a Kickstarter Project

Although Kickstarter is a great platform for exposure, not everyone gets their projects approved. Every creator must first review Kickstarter's Project Guidelines before submitting a project. Kickstarter accepts about 75 percent of submitted projects, while the remaining 25 percent are turned away, usually due to non-compliance with the guidelines.

Some of Kickstarter's key general rules for creators say they must:

  • Create something that can be shared with others.
  • Be honest and clearly present their project.
  • Not try to fundraise for charity.
  • Not offer equity.
  • Not involve prohibited items, including contests, political fundraising, drugs, weapons, and more.

While many projects fall into the tech category, Kickstarter is a place for creators of all kinds, including filmmakers, artists, musicians, designers, writers, illustrators, explorers, curators, performers, and other creative individuals with great ideas.

Kickstarter's All or Nothing Rule

A creator can collect their funds only if they reach their funding goal by the deadline. If they don't reach the goal in time, no money changes hands.

Kickstarter put this rule in place to minimize risk. If a project can't generate enough funds and is stuck trying to deliver to current backers when creators didn't raise enough money, it can be tough on everyone. Creators can always try again at a later time.

All Backers Have the Opportunity to Receive Rewards

Kickstarter requires creators to offer some kind of reward to their backers, no matter how simple or elaborate. When people fund a project, they can choose one of the predetermined awards the creators present. Usually, there's also a way to contribute a small amount without an award, an option that's labeled "Back it because you believe in it."

Kickstarter campaign with rewards listed

Awards can include shout-outs on the project's website, putting the backer's name somewhere in the finished project, invitations to a party or performance, a copy or signed version of the final product, T-shirts, a meeting with a celebrity backer, or anything else the creator can dream up.

Once a project has successfully reached its goal funding amount, creators may reach out for more information before sending out rewards to their backers.

All Kickstarter pages have an "Estimated Delivery Date" section to specify when backers will receive their rewards. It may take several months before anything is delivered, especially if the reward is the product itself.

Backing a Project

Pledging money to a project is easy. Select the green "Back this Project" button on any project page you choose. Select a donation amount and a reward. Amazon's checkout system processes all your information.

Kickstarter project page showing a green Back This Project tab

Credit cards aren't charged until after the project's deadline passes. If the project doesn’t reach its funding goal, your credit card is never charged. Whatever the outcome, Kickstarter sends all backers an informational email right after the project end date.

Browsing Projects

Browsing through projects is easy. Scroll through the Kickstarter home page to see featured projects, what's recommended, fresh favorites, and more. Use the search button at the top to search for something specific by name or keyword.

If there's a particular type of project you're looking for, browse categories including arts, comics & illustration, design & tech, film, food & craft, games, music, and publishing.

Kickstarter home page with category tabs at the top

Patreon is a similar site geared specifically for people who create art, music, writing, or other types of creative services. If Kickstarter doesn't seem to offer you the creative category you need, check out Patreon.