Backers Decide: Should Creators Message Backers Who Cancel?

22 April 2015 | 36 Comments

A few weeks ago I got into a lively debate on the Kickstarter Best Practices Facebook group. There were a few creators in the discussion who contact backers after they cancel their pledges to learn more about the cancellation. I, on the other hand, don’t like the idea at all.

Cementing my opinion on this is my belief that creators are much better off not focusing on cancellations at all unless there’s a huge number of cancellations all at once. All of the data shows that the vast majority of cancelled backers do so simply because they changed their mind or they wanted to spend their money elsewhere. It’s only in very rare circumstances that something specific to the project has turned off a significant portion of backers.

But I’m going to put my bias aside for a moment to argue for both sides of the “should you message backers who cancel” argument, and then I’d love for you to weigh in on the poll.

Why Creators Should Message Backers Who Cancel

  1. You might learn something that will improve your project.
  2. You might inspire that backer to re-pledge later.
  3. Any excuse to reach out personally to a backer is good enough.

Why Creators Shouldn’t Message Backers Who Cancel

  1. It’s only in very rare circumstances that you’ll learn anything other than the known fact that people have limited budgets and they wanted to spend their money on something else.
  2. You’re much better off spending your time and energy on engaging the backers you have and those you might have rather than those you lost.
  3. Personal contact with backers is great, but it’s much better to establish that contact when the backer first decides to support the project rather than when they leave.
  4. It feels a little like an invasion of privacy, like calling a girl after she broke up with you to find out why she broke up with you. If she wanted to tell you why, she would have done so during the break up.
  5. Perhaps most importantly, I think that one of the best things about Kickstarter is that backers have the freedom to cancel without any repercussions during the project. It creates a very low barrier of entry, and I think it’s good for ALL creators and backers that we keep the barrier as low as possible. If backers worry in the slightest that they’re going to have to explain themselves to creators if they choose to cancel, over time they’re going to be less likely to pledge in the first place. Don’t foster an environment that hurts your fellow creators.

***

The following poll is geared towards backers, not creators (so if you’re a creator who backs crowdfunding projects, answer this as a backer). I’d also love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

36 Comments on “Backers Decide: Should Creators Message Backers Who Cancel?

  1. I would only message a backer who cancelled if I knew them well enough personally that I felt comfortable with it, or if they left a comment or message indicating some extreme displeasure or confusion.

  2. I’ve never been contacted when I cancel a pledge, though I do normally just reduce my pledge to $1 if such a level is available.

    It would be nice if KS would give backers a comments dialog when cancelling (not sure if they do) to provide comments to the creator as to why … let it be the backer’s decision to say something, and if they don’t then they should be left alone.

    IMO. :)

    1. Kevin: I think Kickstarter might ask backers a question when they cancel, but creators never see that answer. It’s very rare that it’s something specific to the project (and in the cases when it is, it’s hugely obvious that the creator has done something very offputting).

      1. I always leave a response if I cancel, but I always thought the creator would see it. Onwards I wont bother seeing as it is of no use to them anyway.

        That said, I usually change it to a $1 pledge instead.

  3. I like the dialog / why idea by Kevin. That would solve this.

    I reached out to all cancel backers on Lift Off!, this time with The Siblings Trouble, I have not. I’m thinking about whether it makes sense to reach out much later, say right before the last 48hrs. Still thinking that through.

    I will say, my impression from many is that backers jumping around and canceling pledges is going way up as the number of products each week is skyrocketing.

  4. I have been contacted before, and it doesn’t bother me at all, although it does make you have that twinge of guilt regardless of the reasons why you decided to not back the project. If memory serves correctly the only times I’ve been contacted though was with projects that I had shown some outside excitement about through social media. So I always saw the questions as sincere and not just a “Hey, why are you not backing this anymore?” kind of question.

    I’m a backer who backs games upon immediate sight if they appeal to me, but sometimes the shine diminishes over time and I decide that the project isn’t for me. So I’ve got my fair share of cancelled backings.

  5. While I’ve never had any creator contact me after I cancelled a pledge (Actually I’m not sure I recall cancelling a pledge at all so far), I’m fairly sure if it were to happen I’d never back anything by that creator ever again.

    If there’s something I want the creator to know about why I cancelled a pledge, or why I’m thinking of cancelling a pledge, I can contact them to let them know (I doubt that would happen, mind) – A creator contacting me after I cancel to figure out why I cancelled feels like an invasion of privacy. If why I’m cancelling is there business, I’ll seek them out to tell them why, otherwise it’s for personal reasons – be it suddenly getting a bad vibe about the project for whatever reason, being low on funds, or anything else that might cause me to cancel backing a project. Any more than my walking into a store, browsing it, and leaving without buying anything is any business of the store owners.

  6. I don’t like it, once I was asked and it felt like I needed to justify my decision not supporting the campaign, I feel like it intrudes upon personal space.

    Ignoring the request makes you feel awful, and the answer somethings is just – the project didn’t excite me, or that, I don’t have enough funds at the moment, or the ROI is low, in my opinion. (For example, when the project is good but shipping is a b***h :)

  7. I think if there was a way to quickly give feedback (perhaps anonymously unless in extreme circumstances) to the creator in a streamlined fashion, it would do away with the need to message backers directly. A lot of the times the issue is just financial and is mostly out of the creator’s control. As Jamey mentioned, if there’s a large exodus, then that is something of concern, but otherwise it’s just normal.

  8. My experience having run two KS projects in the past is different than the vast majority as our crafted pieces attracted a small, niche group of Backers. Thus, I had an immediate relationship with each Backer from Day 1, so if someone cancelled their pledge, we would have already corresponded several times about the project in advance of the launch and during the campaign.

    Now, if I ran a KS with hundreds of Backers, I can certainly see Jamey’s argument with greater clarity…focus on the positive.

    Cheers,
    Joe

  9. We all have limited time and we have to pick our battles.

    As a KS creator I have seen a cancellation rate between 4% and 9%. It is surprising at first and a bit upsetting overall, but normal if you analyze data instead of emotions. Just think how many times a day do you change your mind. Even better, look at your last shopping list and see how many of the products you bought have met your expectations after learning more about them. KS offer you the option to “buy”, then learn more, then drop out if it’s not what you’re looking for.

    With 1000+ backers, like Jamey said very well, you can no longer afford to spend time on each person leaving the project and you shouldn’t. You can simply ask those who stay why do they stay – this is far less invasive – and you can find out how to keep those who are still on board instead of trying to figure out why others left.

  10. As a backer it’s similar to getting a message about another project, which is to say I don’t mind it as long as it’s respectful about it. If a creator were to send a prositive response, something in the vein of “I appreciate you taking the time to notice my project in the first place” I don’t see anything wrong or creepy about that.

    Of course badgering someone about why they chose to cancel is not productive and off putting. It’s like if I get an email from a prospective employer who’s letting me know that they are hiring someone else. I shouldn’t respond with, “Why? What did I do wrong?” But a simple “I appreciate your time and thanks for giving me a chance” doesn’t seem too creepy.

    As a creator it’s not very effective and as a backer the idea of “invasion of privacy” is null and void as soon as I decided to pledge. I’m actively interacting with the creator when I pledge and the same when I back out. Since I initiated the relationship I think an email is fine, as long as you’re not rude about it.

  11. I agree with all of the points as to why project creators shouldn’t message backers who cancel, especially #5. When I had a spa business, many times there would be a few clients who we wouldn’t see in a while, or never returned for some unknown reason. Everyone has their reasons, and it’s usually a financial reason, which for many, can be a touchy subject. Some of our therapists recommended that we contact those who hadn’t returned in a while, or call them personally as to hopefully prompt them to return. We ultimately decided not to call those clients, as we felt it could create an uncomfortable feeling, or sound pushy, and nobody likes that. You never want to have that reputation as the business who makes people feel bad, or guilty, or pressured in any sort of way.

    Besides, like you said, there is usually not going to be very many who opt out, unless there is something major that turned a significant number of backers off. And if that is the case, it should be obvious as to what that is.

  12. I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll share it again. Kickstarter prompts with a message when someone cancels “If you don’t mind, please tell us why” — but for some reason doesn’t share that with the actual project creator.

    I think sharing that little tidbit of information with the project creator would go a long way at solving a lot of the pros and cons listed above.

  13. With respect to the poll, I answered “ambivalent” because I didn’t like the other two choices… in truth, how I feel about it completely depends on the nature of the contact from the creator. I actually like to see a simple message (which I’ve received a couple of times) from the creator which simply states something like: “we’re sorry to see you go, yadda yadda yadda. If circumstances change, please now that we’d always love to have you back.” This kind of note makes me feel like I made a difference and that the backer cares one way or another that I was supporting him. A message like this will make me want to come back and perhaps try to come back when/if the circumstances behind my reason for the cancellation ever change… and more importantly, even if the underlying reason was simply that the project was not a good fit, at the very least I’ll go away with good feelings and be more likely to support a subsequent project from that creator.
    However, if a creator contacts me and wants to know why I cancelled… well, again, depending on the wording of the rest of the message, I may or may not want to bother to take the time to respond. But as you say, 9 times out of 10, its probably nothing that the creator can do anything about or needs to know about ie… the project is a bad fit, or its simply budgetary reasons. Either way, just asking won’t really generate any bad feelings or invade my privacy, especially if the question is prefaced nicely in the first place.
    On the other hand, not receiving any message from the creator kind of makes me feel like he just didn’t care whether I backed him or not. Generally I’m not looking for a message so I don’t really even notice if I don’t get one, but if I do notice it, I just think…” well, I guess he’s too busy to care that I left” and actually feel less inclined to want to back him in the future.

  14. At the 30 hours to go mark I sent a message to almost every backer who’d cancelled more than a week ago. It said something along the lines of

    “I’m dropping you a message because you showed an interest in Wizard’s Academy, which ends in a few hours. I don’t know why you left the campaign, but a lot has changed, especially in the last few days so I wanted to let you know about that in case it makes a difference.

    If it doesn’t that’s no problem. There’s no pressure here and if your reasons haven’t changed that’s 100% fine by me. I just didn’t want you to miss out on something that you’d have enjoyed if the situation has changed for the better.

    In a nutshell
    > We’re funded prior to the 48 hour rush and have plenty of momentum for stretch goals
    > There have been no more paid add ons
    > There have been a bunch of three add ons, including three spells, two scenarios and an extra character mini and card, added to every pledge level

    More details here: (link)

    Whatever you decide to do I hope that this is helpful and that whether you back or not that sooner or later you get a chance to enjoy the game :)”

    There were a whole host of re-pledges immediately following it and every single person who replied to the message did so in a positive way. There were people who’d backed out because they thought it wouldn’t fund or because they’d anticipated lots of paid add ons aiming to nickle and dime them or they saw that the backer game didn’t add anything substantial for the first few days and thought it might not ever. A lot of them were pleased to hear that those things hadn’t come to pass and were delighted to get a chance to rejoin the campaign.

    I didn’t ask why people left, because I don’t think it’d be okay to hound people about it for a lot of the reasons you suggest, but I thought that letting people who’d shown an interest in the past that things had changed would be doing them a service and I think in some cases it was.

    I did have some people volunteer the information and in some cases I could work with them to solve individual problems. When that happened people seemed really pleased and when it wasn’t possible nobody seemed annoyed to have talked about it.

    It’s possible that some people found being contacted in this way really offensive and will never deal with me again, but if they did then they didn’t say anything about it. I think I have to evaluate the wisdom of the decision based on those that gave a response one way or the other and generally it was a positive experience.

    I think that the problem with a lot of post cancellation messages is that the creator writes them from a perspective of “What can I get out of this person” and therefore focuses on extracting information and pressuring for repledges rather than “What can I do for this person.” with a focus on supplying information and solving problems.

    1. Greg: That’s awesome! I really appreciate you sharing this, and I’m glad it worked out for you. The last paragraph sums it up really well. I think most of the messages creators send backers post-cancellation are self-serving–we feel a little bit of rejection when a backer cancels, and we want to know why for our own benefit. But if you’re looking outside of yourself and trying to add value to someone else (as your messages did), some good can come of it. Well said!

  15. i don’t like to get messages when i cancel a campaign. Mostly it is cash saving. i pledge too much on KS ;-) At least for my girlfriend *smiles*. But sometimes i just want to catch an early bird if it looks as an interesting project on a first glimpse. If after some more time, checking and reading updates or watching gamplay videos etc i don’t like it i open up my early bird spot for other happy people to save some cash.
    But most of all: There is a field when you cancel a pledge. If someone has something to say he would write it into that field in 80% of the cases. If not he does not want to tell you. So why should you contact him. He has already made a decision in my opinion.
    But as always just my 2 cents about this.

    1. Malte: I agree with you (as a backer), but I should clarify that creators never see the information backers enter in that cancellation field. Only Kickstarter see that information.

  16. ok that is completly new to me. I always thought that is what the project creator gets as information. But then – i can at least understand why “you” do it as a creator. And i know now, that i won’t ever fill that out again. :-)

    1. I think this brings up another very important con. Backers don’t know that the feedback they give to Kickstarter when they cancel doesn’t go to the creator. So if they give a reason to Kickstarter and then the creator messages them soon after asking the same question, well, that’s even more off-putting than you would normally think.

      To follow Jamey’s analogy, it’s like a girl breaking up with a guy by clearly explaining the problems, then getting a call from him the next day asking her to repeat those reasons. It gives a distinct impression that the dude isn’t actually listening to the reasons but is instead just taking every opportunity to pressure the girl into getting back together, which is a little creepy.

      That said, I admittedly did message cancellations during my Forge War project. It went something like:

      “Thanks for considering purchasing Forge War. It looks like you cancelled your pledge, and I absolutely do not want to be a bother to you at all, but if you can think of any way in which I could improve the game or the overall Kickstarter project, feel free to let me know. Thanks again!”

      Even though I specifically didn’t ask why they cancelled, I still got a lot of people who felt obligated to let me know (which really wasn’t the intent) and a couple of them were annoyed for the reason explained above.

      Overwhelmingly the response was financial reasons. In fact, no one actually gave me any suggestions for improving the campaign, so the effort wasn’t really a success in that regard. I did get quite a few re-pledges, though, and most of them told me that it was because the message I sent out. They saw I was passionate about the project.

      Overall I’m not sure if I’ll do it again. If I do, I would definitely try to make the message as soft and helpful as possible.

      1. Isaac: Thanks for sharing your experiences with the cancellation message. You make a great point (and I like the analogy!) that it might seem annoying because of its apparent redundancy–I would guess that most backers don’t realize that creators don’t get the cancellation information from Kickstarter.

  17. Since most backers don’t know that and presumably some percentage of them are writing with the intention that creators will read it (whether in the hopes of changing the project or because they want to be helpful or want to have their POV heard) then perhaps that fact would be another useful thing to include in any message to cancelled backers?

  18. I can see why the poll would drive you in that direction, but I’m not sure I’m persuaded.

    The way I see it, the poll is evidence that the majority of backer cancellation messages that people have received have made them unhappy. There’s more than one way to interpret that fact. One is that cancellation messages are universally bad. However another would be that the majority of creators are doing them badly (so the average experience is bad).

    Since I’ve had a positive experience of doing it, at the moment I’m inclined to think that it’s the latter. That drives me towards trying to do it well, rather than giving up on the idea of doing it altogether. However that could be a result of availability bias making me over-interpret the evidence with which I’m more familiar (from my own project) over that which is less familiar (anonymous poll). It could also be a self serving bias problem, leading me to take an interpretation that implies “I did something well” over “A statistically unlikely thing happened”. There’s also a word for the bias that makes psychologists think that they’re immune to biases they’ve studied where in fact they are not, but I forget its name, I’m sure it isn’t important ;)

    The thing is, if I don’t try to do it again (given the right circumstances) I’ll never know – but if I do then I’m likely to find out one way or the other.

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  21. Depends what’s in the message. The assumption here is that you want to know why people dropped out, but then everyone seems to be in agreement that most of the time, it’s because of money.

    So a message that basically said “Just to let you know, the game will be available at X after the Kickstarter” or “there will be a post-backer programme where you can get the game and stretch goals here for a month” or something like that, would be useful.

  22. You know, I’ve been watching this article for a while. And I don’t want to say too much, as this topic is really dear to me. So here’s what I’ll say…

    I’ve made some of my best Kickstarter friends, several of which may end up life-long, by messaging our backers who have cancelled. Many of whom were never able to re-pledge. That didn’t matter in the least.

    Text just can’t express my heartfelt passion for this topic. But suffice it to say, that messaging your backers that cancelled shouldn’t be about money; it doesn’t produce it. If it’s about good people and heartfelt concern for those who came upon sudden struggle… there’s no better part of Kickstarter. Hands down.

    Best to all,

    John

    1. John: Thanks for your comment here. I certainly think it’s great that you made such good connections with backers who have cancelled. I can see your point about the humanity of shared struggle. But I think the point stands that the vast majority of people who cancel merely want to spend their money elsewhere. So while you might connect with a few people here and there, if you’re sending messages to everyone who cancels, don’t you think it’s possible that those e-mail–regardless of how they’re written–could be perceived as a bit of an imposition? Why can’t we just let people cancel in peace?

      I’ve made connections like the ones you’ve described, but they’ve always come when the person reaches out to me after they cancel–they initiate contact because they decide that’s important information for them to share. It didn’t require any prompting from me.

  23. Backers who back a project and then straight away cancel their pledge [redacted] shouldn’t be messaged but be reported. There is no reason like lack of funds that would cause you to pledge then instantly back out, this is a problem for Kickstarter campaigns and should be monitored.

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