Accountability on Kickstarter

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Yesterday, NPR's "All Things Considered" asked, "When a Kickstarter campaign fails, does anyone get their money back?" The story questioned what would happen if a Kickstarter project failed to follow through on its promises. The piece raised a number of questions about accountability on Kickstarter, and we want to talk directly about them today.

Since Kickstarter's launch in April of 2009, nearly 30,000 projects have been successfully funded by more than two million people. These projects include documentaries, albums, art, products, video games, plays, books, performances, food, and much more. The number of creative projects that have been funded and produced on Kickstarter in the past three years is enormous. Many could not exist otherwise.

But of course not every project goes perfectly. Delays do occur, especially with more complicated projects. Some creators get in over their heads dealing with processes that are new to them.

We take accountability very seriously at Kickstarter, and the questions raised by NPR are important ones. We've addressed a lot of these questions through the press and in various places on the site, and today we want to go over how accountability works on Kickstarter. We've also added the questions below to our FAQ. Thanks for reading.

Does Kickstarter screen projects before they launch?

Yes, but only a quick review to make sure they meet our Project Guidelines. Kickstarter does not investigate a creator's ability to complete their project. Backers ultimately decide the validity and worthiness of a project by whether they decide to fund it.

Who is responsible for completing a project as promised?

It's the project creator's responsibility to complete their project. Kickstarter is not involved in the development of the projects themselves.

What should creators do if they're having problems completing their project?

If problems come up, creators are expected to post a Project Update (which is emailed to all backers) explaining the situation. Sharing the story, speed bumps and all, is crucial. Most backers support projects because they want to see something happen and they'd like to be a part of it. Creators who are honest and transparent will usually find backers to be understanding.

It's not uncommon for things to take longer than expected. Sometimes the execution of the project proves more difficult than the creator had anticipated. If a creator is making a good faith effort to complete their project and is transparent about it, backers should do their best to be patient and understanding while demanding continued accountability from the creator.

If the problems are severe enough that the creator can't fulfill their project, creators need to find a resolution. Steps could include offering refunds, detailing exactly how funds were used, and other actions to satisfy backers. 

Is a creator legally obligated to fulfill the promises of their project?

Yes. Kickstarter's Terms of Use require creators to fulfill all rewards of their project or refund any backer whose reward they do not or cannot fulfill. (This is what creators see before they launch.) We crafted these terms to create a legal requirement for creators to follow through on their projects, and to give backers a recourse if they don't. We hope that backers will consider using this provision only in cases where they feel that a creator has not made a good faith effort to complete the project and fulfill.

Can Kickstarter refund the money if a project is unable to fulfill?

No. Kickstarter doesn't issue refunds, as transactions are between backers and the creator. In fact, Kickstarter never has the funds at all. When a project is successfully funded, money is transferred directly from backers' credit cards to the project creator's Amazon Payments account. It's up to the creator to issue a refund, which they can do through their Amazon Payments account. (Like PayPal, Amazon Payments allows refunds for 60 days from the date of charge. After 60 days, creators cannot reverse the same charge to backers' credit cards, so to issue refunds they'll need to initiate a new transaction to send money via Amazon Payments or PayPal, send backers a check, or use another method. Our support team has guided creators in how to issue refunds like these before.)

Why can't Kickstarter guarantee projects?

We started Kickstarter as a new way for creators and audiences to work together to make things. The traditional funding systems are risk-averse and profit-focused, and tons of great ideas never get a chance as a result. We thought Kickstarter could open the door to a much wider variety of ideas and allow everyone to decide what they wanted to see exist in the world. Kickstarter is full of ambitious, innovative, and imaginative ideas that aren't possible anywhere else. 

The pursuit of these projects with a guarantee doesn't work. A Kickstarter where every project is guaranteed would be the same safe bets and retreads we see everywhere else. The fact that Kickstarter allows creators to take risks and attempt to create something ambitious is a feature, not a bug.

What is Kickstarter doing about fulfillment?

As Kickstarter has grown, we've made changes to improve accountability and fulfillment. In August 2011 we began requiring creators to list an "Estimated Delivery Date" for all rewards. This was done to make creators think hard about when they could deliver, and to underline that Kickstarter is not a traditional shopping experience.

In May 2012 we added additional guidelines and requirements for Design and Technology projects. These include requiring creators to provide information about their background and experience, a manufacturing plan (for hardware projects), and a functional prototype. We made this change to ensure that creators have done their research before launching and backers have sufficient information when deciding whether to back these projects.

We've also allocated more staff to trust and safety. We look into projects reported by our community for guidelines violations and suspicious activity, and we take action when necessary. These efforts are focused on fraud and acceptable uses of Kickstarter, not a creator's ability to complete a project and fulfill. On Kickstarter, people ultimately decide the validity and worthiness of a project by whether they decide to fund it.

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