Kickstarter Lesson #113: Why Every Project Should Have a $1 Reward Level

9 September 2014 | 35 Comments

For a long time now, I’ve been a huge advocate that every Kickstarter campaign should use the following pricing structure:

$1 reward

$X reward (core product)

$X + Y reward (premium core product)

Unrelated picture, but I'm excited to finally see the pre-production copy of the Treasure Chest!
Unrelated picture, but I’m excited to finally see the pre-production copy of the Treasure Chest!

I’ve written a lot about why there shouldn’t be anything between the $1 reward and the core product and why the premium reward can elevate your project to the next level, but I realized that I’ve only devoted one paragraph on KS Lesson #8: Reward Levels to the $1 reward. That reward is so important, though, that it’s time it got its own entry.

Here’s why every project should have a $1 reward level:

  1. It is the ultimate foot-in-the-door price. One of your primary goals as a creator is to make the project as easy to back as possible. A lot of people are going to be on the fence the first time they see your project, so a $1 pledge is the ultimate way to get their “foot in the door” of the project. Not $5. Not $2. $1. This reward level isn’t about the money.
  2. Upgrade potential. Your chances of getting a $1 backer to later upgrade their pledge to the core product are much higher than converting non-backers to become backers.
  3. It creates a way to engage backers who don’t want the core product. Not all of your friends, family, fans, or former backers are going to want your latest Kickstarter product. Having a $1 level is a way of encouraging them to get involved anyway. When anyone backs your project, everyone who follows that person on Kickstarter gets a notification about it, so it creates a ripple effect. I’ve experienced this with every project–some previous backers don’t want the new thing, but they want to continue to be involved anyway. A $1 pledge serves as an invitation to them.
  4. Project updates. The only way to get project updates in your inbox is to back a project–clicking the “remind me” button isn’t enough. This is crucial for creators, as project updates are one of the key ways we have to keep backers informed, get them excited about the project, and build trust with them. Note: Backers do not get the 48-hour reminder e-mail from Kickstarter, so make sure to send your own 60-hour reminder e-mail to each group of backers (especially $1 backers) to make sure they know this is their last chance to change/upgrade their pledge.
  5. Build community. You can’t comment on a Kickstarter campaign if you’re not a backer, so a $1 pledge helps people get involved in a project in a quick and easy way. I’ve noticed a lot of backers who back at the $1 level just so they can ask a question in the comments, and they often upgrade to the core reward immediately afterwards, especially if you reply quickly and kindly.
  6. It’s great for group or bulk backers. If you have any type of group or bulk reward level, you basically have more backers than you think. One person backs a 10-game reward, and the other nine people are left out. A $1 reward level is a way to invite those those people into the campaign in a way that isn’t cost-prohibitive. And yes, anyone can cancel their pledge during the campaign, so they could pledge more just to follow along, but ideally you want to create a way for those “hidden” backers to be involved with the project during and after the campaign.
  7. It can be used for retailers. I discussed this on recent entry about retailers. On Tuscany, I sent an e-mail to all the retailers on my list outlining their various pledge options, none of which were actual reward levels. I asked them to back at the $1 level instead and manually change the pledge amount to reflect their full reward. For retailers who weren’t on that mailing list, I specifically mentioned them in the $1 reward so they could see it right away when looking at the Kickstarter page instead of having to hunt all over for the retail option.
  8. It’s not hard to ask for $1. It’s hard to ask for money, but $1 is such a small amount that it’s not very intimidating to ask for. Chris mentions the “back it for a buck” strategy in the comments below, and Richard Bliss has talked about it with Roger Hicks on this podcast.
  9. It’s good for the follower notification. If a backer clicks the “remind me” button instead of backing, only they know that they’re interested in the project. If they, however, back for $1, all of their followers get a notification, which means that a lot more people know about the project than otherwise would.
  10. You can send group messengers to backers of specific rewards. If a backer chooses to pledge a few dollars for no reward, you can’t send them a group message like you can with $1 and other reward levels.

Now, people who don’t have $1 rewards usually say one of two things: One, that it takes up precious reward level real estate. It’s true that the top of the reward level sidebar is prime real estate, but I think the pros of the $1 level greatly outweigh the cons of losing 3-4 lines of space. Two, anyone can manually back a project for any amount (including $1)–you don’t need a reward level for that. This is also true, but it’s WAY easier to click a button than to manually enter a pledge amount. The $1 reward level is all about reducing barriers to entry.

Here’s how you should structure your $1 reward level:

  1. Keep it short. As noted above, the reward sidebar is prime real estate. The $1 reward level should be 3-4 lines at most.
  2. Make it fun. We’re known for our “backer toasts” in which we tip our cap (and our beer) to every backer who pledges or adds on $1. On Isaac Childres’ Forge War campaign, he offered to slay a fictitious rat in your name at the $1 level. On Eduardo Baraf’s Lift Off campaign, he offered to save an alien meeple in your honor on video at the $1 level. These are all great ways that creators are identifying with backers as people, not numbers.


That’s it! Can you think of any reason I’m missing here? Here’s another post about this topic on a different blog here.

Also watch (for tabletop game creators): Print-and-Play Reward Levels

Here’s a great statistical analysis about the $1 reward level by John Coveyou on the Got Genius Games blog.

Leave a Comment

35 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #113: Why Every Project Should Have a $1 Reward Level

  1. Hey Jamey, I’ve seen many projects have social goals that say “if this gets 1000 shares on [insert social media platform here] you unlock X” or stretch goals that say “if we reach X number of backers you unlock Y”, and I know the social goals can be misleading and unhelpful as it’s arguably better to ask backers to talk with one friend who shares an interest and is likely to back the project, than it is to spam their entire followers list… I also know that it’s easier to get $1 backers than it is to get ~$50 backers… Both of which means these approaches have pros (outreach and awareness) AND cons…

    My questions are, as I have never seen this, but what is your opinion on having a stretch goal worded in the following way, or, have you seen this done? And if so, did it work out? Were backers happy with it, or put off by it? – “If this project reaches (or finishes with) X number of $1 pledges then everyone who backs at the core, or higher, level unlocks Y reward” – it seems to me like a way for backers to help creators spread the project (since $1 is easier to ask for than any higher amount), and also potentially get rewarded for it, whilst also helping the creator to fund an additional reward without lowering their (hopefully, already low enough) margins… I say “hopefully low enough” because I subscribe to the idea that creators should not use Kickstarter to “get rich quick”, but rather to fund a dream project and spread their passion, so profit margins should not be too high, IMO (though still high enough to budget for the unexpected costs)

    Alternatively (or additionally), what about a $1 level that is worded as a “pay what you want” reward to receive Print and Play files (for board games)? Most who choose this level will pledge $1, but I’ve seen this kind of “pay what you want” option on other sites and the sellers have mentioned people are MORE generous when given this option…

  2. Hi Jamey and thanks for your great blog!
    Would you mind if I « steal » your backer toast reward for my upcoming project?
    Thanks again

      1. We used it for our Ghost-Themed board game kickstarter last year. We toasted all our backers while walking through a ‘horror walk’. Seemed like a good idea initially but it was terrifying! I blame Jamey for taking years off my life ;)

  3. Sure, I cover that topic on these two entries:

    I always offer a lite PnP for free during my campaigns so people can look through the files and get a feel for the game. I don’t want them replacing the finished product, so I don’t include all components (like, I’ll include 12 cards instead of all 24 cards), but I give enough for people to test it out if they want.

  4. My bad, for the bad explanation, sorry.

    I deeply agree that a (plain, fun, inclusive) $1 pledge increases the core game sellings (I just fell today pledging for a whole game after some nice mail updates that came after a $1 donation!).

    What I tried to say is if, in your opinion, including a PnP version gift on the $1 pledge would hurt the core sellings (not just the $1 pledge as it), because I’m afraid so…

  5. A.L.: Thanks for your comment. I agree that PnPs shouldn’t be paygated (though that’s a different topic).

    I can’t really say it more thoroughly than I did in the above post, but I’m 100% sure that the $1 pledge increases the chances that people will support the core reward, not decreases it.

  6. I must agree that $1 are useful and should be fun, but I have doubts about the “freebies” they sometimes includes, in particular about the Print and Play versions.

    As a backer, I do not particullary pledge for such things but to show support and keep in touch, but I will admit that it is nice to get the game anyhow, no matter the little money you spent on the campaign (and, as I realise right now, it will probably helps avoid possible last minute $1 pledges cancellations).

    Anyhow I got serious doubts about that strategy, as I am afraid that it would hurt the core game sellings. I know that it’s not always a viable reward (that suits mostly for card games as the one I am currently designing), but I’m kinda lost in this matter so, got any experience or insight about this matter?

    Thank you in advance.

  7. Jamey,
    I wanted to Pledge $0.00 to your comment section and leave some “constructive feedback” about this blog post.

    I had someone leave “constructive criticism” on the final day of my failed campaign. I blame the $1 pledged level. Those who were Vested spent money and ALL REALLY helped and were supportive.

    I am not strategic enough to “use” $1 pledges for contact info.

  8. Hey Jamey,

    I’m currently reading your (exceptionally useful) book on Crowdfunding. The part on micro-funding got me thinking about $1 pledges…

    We are about to launch a couple of Kickstarters (although I want to challenge the platform to use after reading more about the other options, thanks : )

    We as a group have agreed on the the seemingly ‘obligatory’ $1 donation for a ‘thank you/updates’.

    I see the business/fan-base/marketing sense behind this but I personally dislike that pledge level, as I cant help but wonder if it maybe leaves the backer with a sour taste after the fact? I really want to offer /something/.

    Luckily we will be delivering an A2 double-sided poster/world-map as a moderate Reward level, so what I was thinking was that I could convert/re-orient the poster into digital wallpaper – one version as-is, and one version with THE NAMES OF EACH BACKER on the screen. That way even the $1 backers could proudly point to their name… or have some pretty wallpaper… their choice. We might even be able to watermark it as /personalized/ wallpaper (tbc!)

    What do you think? I have not seen this offered before but it sounds cool/fun/cheap.

    After the fact it occurred to me that because we need to email the backer something (links to digital files) this could have a double-whammy of letting us capture their email address? Having not run an end-to-end KS before (I ran one and pulled it previously, but never got to the finish line) I have no idea what backer details we might end up with and what options for approaching them to enroll on a customer mailing list. Can you shed a little light?

    Any advice appreciated.

    Patrick ‘JiaoshouX’

    1. Thanks for your question! As I talk about in this post, I think the $1 pledge can go well beyond an obligatory “thank you”–it can have a fun, thematic tie-in to the project itself.

      So I think it’s good that you’re thinking outside the box here. However, I’m not sure that everyone at the $1 level will want their name on the computer screens of strangers around the world. Sure, they’re opting into it by pledging at that level, but there might be some $1 backers who just want to follow the project.

      You’ll get all backer e-mails on the backer survey (see post about backer surveys).

  9. Sorry I am just now catching up on the blog, Jamey. I’ve been a devoted reader for a long time but I am studying for my PMP credential at the same time our development group is transitioning to Agile… I hardly ever have much brain space left over these days.

    Anyway, just like right now, life sometimes happen. A project I love and fully support will get my backing. But then if an unexpected expense crops up, an emergency happens, or I discover that my husband also backed the game, I might need to back out. Instead of leaving the fold, I’ll drop down to a dollar to say, “I’m still here, I still love you guys, but I don’t need the real reward.”

    Someone accused me of making a bunch of $1 pledges to round out my KS profile. While that wasn’t (and still isn’t) true, I will confess that one day I realized I had every slice of my KS “pie” except one — fashion, a category that I care little about. So I DID back one project there for $1 to get that last slice. And then the next day, karma bit me, with three fashion projects that I really DID want, and I ended up backing one for over $100. LOL

    Campaigns without a $1 level now seem either naive or cold-hearted, or both, and I rarely back them.

    1. Julia: Thanks for sharing a little bit of your remaining brain space here! I hope the Agile training is going well.

      I’m sorry to hear that anyone would challenge you on your motivations behind the $1 pledge. $1 is engagement. It’s involvement. It’s support. It’s a foot in the door to a whole new range of projects. I don’t think there’s any wrong motivation for backing a project except backing for $1 just to troll the comments for a few days and then leave. Any other motivation is great in my mind! :)

  10. “Not $5. Not $2. $1. This reward level isn’t about the money.”

    So much truth in this. I really question some project owners who put a $5 “Just Supporting” pledge as trying to milk some free money out of fence sitters rather than trying to build up their backers. Even $2 comes off as a little greedy

  11. I think most backers know that for any project the first reward is almost never the one that includes the product. The people who are worried about losing that reward real estate probably do not need to be.

  12. I completely agree with all items in this post. In particular, I think the group / retailer pledge solution is novel. I ended up doing a bunch of kludgy stuff mid-campaign to accommodate those requests. I like the idea of using the $1 for this.

    I’d also note that I’m very happy Jamey convinced me to pull my $15 sticker pack out of the campaign.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts on this, Eduardo. I’d be interested to hear about why you felt like removing the sticker pack was the right choice. (I stand by my advice, obviously, and I’m curious about why that felt like the right decision in hindsight.)

  13. For our upcoming campaign for *Lanterns: The Harvest Festival*, a game about placing floating Chinese lanterns in a lake and dedicating them for honor, we will be floating one real lantern for each $1 pledge and dedicating it in the honor of the backer.

  14. Another Stegmaier Student here, getting through your lessons and I’ve already planned our $1 (or £1 for us) pledge level. We’ll be toasting the names of backers while being shot with arrows, 1 arrow per backer. We’re British medieval re-enactors so we’ve done this before but on a smaller scale. Oh and it’s thematic to the game too :)

  15. I agree 100%. We, your faithful Stegmaier Students, are trying this very approach to get new backers today. It makes it very easy to say, “back for a buck to see how the project goes.” We don’t feel awkward, because we’re not asking for money.

    We are coincidentally promoting this morning an exclusive look at our “Making Plushies” video and some new wallpapers based on nothing but getting to 200 backers using the “Back for a Buck” as our invite. I like the creative ideas listed in item 2 above as well. We’ll think on how to incorporate those into our campaign.

    Here’s our promo for anyone who wants to see how we formatted it OR provide feedback. Jamey, I’d certainly appreciate your opinion on it as well, because we plan to do similar ones in the future:

    As always, thanks Jamey,
    -Chris Harden with TROBO

    1. Chris: Thanks for sharing this strategy. I’ve read about the “back it for a buck” strategy elsewhere–I’ll try to find that article and link to it here. I like your idea a lot! It’s very clever.

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