Our Patreon Growth Experiment, Part Three

The 1-in-1000 rule for monthly giving

One of the most frustrating things about being an indie creator is building the momentum and fan base that is strong enough to generate financial and in-kind support.

Today I will be talking primarily about ongoing, monthly financial support, as this a challenge many of us creators face — how to fund our projects on a service such as Patreon. And for that, I want to talk about the 1-in-1000 rule.

As a general rule of thumb, Ive come to expect 0.1% of our fans or listeners to respond in the affirmative to a single ask for ongoing monthly support (versus a request for one-time support). Some projects may see two or four times that, but 1 in 1,000 is a realistic rule of thumb. Later, I discuss factors that can lower or increase the return from a request for support.

The short of it: if we want 3 new people to back our campaign on Patreon, we should be able to reach 3,000 listeners or followers with a compelling ask.

This is part of an ongoing series. You can find part one here:

Case in point: We were in the process of launching Season 2 of Alba Salix. On Patreon, we had given early access to episode 1. We were still one week out from the public launch and we wanted to let all our subscribers and listeners know that they could listen right now if they became a supporter on Patreon, at any level.

In the first two days, we had 4,200 downloads of our announcement.

In those same two days, we had 6 new contributors on Patreon.

That’s 0.142% of our listeners. Pretty dang close to 1 in 1,000.

This isn’t to say you will only ever have one-thousandth of your listeners support you on a service like Patreon. This is only to say that we recommend setting your expectations around the 0.1% mark.

I see a lot of indie creators struggling with raising funds early on in their journey when they may only have 500 followers, listeners or readers.

At 500 people, the 1-in-1000 rule would give us one-half of a supporter.

I can hear some readers objecting: We just launched our new show and we already have 10 supporters on Patreon!

For sure. Out of the gate, we often see a surge in support from friends, friends-of-friends and family. This is awesome, but it can set an unrealistic expectation of just how hard of a journey it is to crowdfund a creative project after that initial surge.

This first attempt to raise can make later fundraising seem lacklustre or perilous by comparison.

Please note that the 0.1% is not about the amount of money raised, but rather the percent of followers or listeners you should set as a baseline to step up for a monthly contribution in an ongoing campaign.

It’s really easy to look at all the successful Patreons, Indiegogo and Kickstarter campaigns and assume we will see a similar outpouring of support. It’s important to factor in just how many fans and followers each of these initiatives already has at launch, and the strength of the following each has built with their fans and followers.

What You Can Do to Get Past 1-in-1000

Not everyone wants to give monthly via Patreon. In fundraising circles it is a known fact that more people will make a one-time donations than will give with a monthly commitment, if given the option. This is why so many charities make it easy to give once, and then ask if you want to upgrade to a monthly commitment.

With that in mind, here are some of the things that can significantly boost your fundraising impact:

  • Make a one-time ask, with no ongoing commitment
  • Use a platform with a large fan base, such as Indiegogo, Kickstarter or Patreon
  • Make this ask for support special — a major milestone, new season, early access, etc.
  • Celebrity endorsement — where celebrity status is defined by your audience
  • Being seen as a supportive and trustworthy member of a strong community, such as one of the LGBTQ+ communities on Tumblr, an existing fanbase such as Star Wars, Star Trek, etc.
  • Creating a product that is so f’ing good that you have a greater number of super fans than the norm

Each of these can double (or more) your expected participation rates—with the caveat that I don’t think it’s realistic to expect to ever set a goal greater than 0.5 to 0.7% when it comes to monthly giving. With one-time giving, I often set a goal as high as 2% to 5%.

Factors that Hinder Participation

Here are some of the things that can significantly lower the percentage of people participating in your crowdfunding campaign:

  • Using a platform that is difficult to use such as PayPal, Google Pay, or another lesser-known platform
  • Perceived lack of credibility (who you are, how professional your ask is, typos and errors on your fundraising page, etc.)
  • Endless shouting at your fans
  • Repeated asks for support in a short timeframe (such as weekly or daily)
  • Angry messages on social or other channels about how stingy your followers are to expect you to do all this for free
  • Just another repeated ask that appears in every episode

Rule of Thumb and Per Ask

This is a short-hand or rule of thumb for how to set realistic expectations per each ask of your listeners for support.

This is not saying that the number of supporters you will have is 1/1000 of the number listeners you have. Rather, it’s a way of gauging and measuring the success of each call for support that you make.

It’s entirely possible that you will see a response to your request for support that is significantly higher than 1 in 1000. And if so, I hope you are keeping track of what you did in your ask and what you’ve been doing to build such a strong relationship with your fans or listeners.

It’s also possible you will see less.

My hope is that this will help new creators understand the work that is involved. But also that there is hope. As our reach and relationship with our audience grows so does our opportunity to crowdfund.

In Summary

The 1-in-1000 rule is designed to help set more realistic expectations for monthly commitment crowdfunding per ask. I know how hard it is to create and launch anything independent in this world and I hate seeing creators get frustrated early on with how challenging crowdfunding can be—mostly after that first spike of support from family and friends.

This is a marathon. Take a deep breath. Keep doing what you are doing. Build your base of superfans and the rest will come. It just takes a lot of commitment and work and time. And a little luck.

Keep Reading with part four:


Sean Howard is the co-creator with Eli McIlveen of Alba Salix, Royal Physician and the GM behind The End of Time and Other Bothers. He can be reached via Twitter or email.

Sean is a brand marketer, podcaster and co-founder of Fable and Folly. https://fableandfolly.com/