Fulfillment is the act of completing your project and sending rewards to backers. It usually starts at the end of a successful Kickstarter campaign, but planning begins much sooner and requires careful budgeting and solid communication. It’s also a proven way to foster trust between you and your backers for years to come.
Do your research
Think about what you’re making, how you’ll produce it, and how you’ll eventually get it into the hands of your backers before you launch your project.
For example, here are some questions you should ask if you’re publishing a comic book:
What kind of paper or coverstock will I use?
How many copies should I print?
Will I print in color or black and white?
Which printer will I hire, and what is their minimum order?
Once you’ve compiled a list like this, contact vendors to determine how much it might cost to create your product, the amount of time it’ll take to produce your rewards, and how much it will cost to ship it to you. We recommend overestimating the approximate weight and size of your rewards to account for any possible changes during production.
Not sure which questions to ask? Talk to creators in your category or research similar projects to familiarize yourself with the process.
Consider your fulfillment options
Pre-launch is a good time to start thinking about whether you’ll want to fulfill your project yourself or if you’ll want to work with a fulfillment partner to help you out.
You can do it yourself. There are tools and software you can use to handle shipping yourself. Here are two things to keep in mind:
Make sure you have the space, time, and ability to do that on your own. That means: storage for incoming packages or pallets of products, shipping materials, and transportation to/from a shipping center like a post office.
If you’re shipping by hand, consider using flat-rate packaging. It's a great way to ensure your shipping costs are accurate and predictable. Keep in mind: your rewards will have to fit into pre-printed post packaging and, in the U.S. weigh 4 lbs or less.
You can partner with a fulfillment vendor. If you’re working with over 500 packages, consider working with a fulfillment partner. There are businesses that specialize in things like mass mailing, warehousing, packaging—you name it.
With the help of many Kickstarter creators, we’ve compiled this list of fulfillment resources for everything from packaging and shipping to manufacturing, games distribution, and vinyl pressing. (Don’t worry, you don’t need to decide for sure until after your project funds.)
Plan your project around fulfillment
Once you’ve done your research, it’s time to start drafting your project, planning your rewards, and deciding on your funding goal.
When it comes to rewards, our advice is to focus on the thing you’re making. If you’re making a comic book, offer your comic book. (Though tempting, making T-shirts about your comic book can complicate your fulfillment by adding another layer of logistics.)
We recommend offering up to five reward tiers for your first Kickstarter project. For example, if you’re offering plushies or enamel pins of your comic book characters, limit your design/color options to five. This is to keep the complexity of your fulfillment to a minimum—that way, you can focus your energy on making your creative work instead of figuring out overly complicated logistics. And remember, always factor the cost of shipping into the price for each reward.
In addition to keeping rewards simple, we recommend deciding up front where in the world you want to ship. Worldwide shipping is a complex thing for first-time creators to do, so you may want to limit shipping to your home country, and/or select one or two additional countries where you know your backers might come from. Digital rewards—like PDFs of your comic, digital sketches, and social media shoutouts—are a great option if you want to reach backers across the world.
Shipping costs and funding goal
Factor production, manufacturing, and shipping into your overall funding goal. You can take the pricing quotes you received from vendors before launch to find this number or do a test run: Create prototypes of your rewards and ship them out as if you were shipping to backers. A test run will help you figure out how to package your products safely, how much shipping actually costs, and the amount of work involved per package.
Keep in mind:
There is often a separate cost to ship rewards from your manufacturer to your fulfillment center (even if that’s just your garage) before shipping rewards to backers. Talk to your manufacturer to get an estimate.
Your inventory will need to clear your country’s customs upon import if you’re manufacturing overseas. Take into account that many countries also charge import duties. Talk to your manufacturer about their normal customs protocols—you may even want to partner with a customs broker.
Incorporate all of these costs into your overall funding goal.
Risks and challenges
Explain your fulfillment plan in the risks and challenges section of your project. Tell backers how you plan to overcome any setbacks, from production delays to outside approvals you might need to move forward. We encourage you to present your project clearly and honestly, as transparency can build trust with you backers and set expectations.
In their Public Radio: A Single Station FM Radio project, the Centerline Engineering team offers a great example of how to use the risk and challenges section:
Manufacturing a consumer product is complicated. With that in mind, we've done a ton of the heavy lifting in advance of this campaign in order to minimize risk: We've vetted and visited all of our component suppliers, obsessively reengineered the Public Radio's entire assembly to be durable and nearly foolproof, and crunched and re-crunched the numbers to make sure we won't dip into the red. [...]
During our original campaign, we were committed to sharing all of the steps along the way with our backers, and gave them a financial breakdown at the end of manufacturing. This time around will be no different: you can count on being kept in the loop on every part of the process.
Finalize your fulfillment plan
If your project funds successfully, you’ll need to gather information about your backers and confirm your plans when your campaign ends. Send your backer reward surveys and begin collecting shipping addresses—you can wait to do this until you’re closer to shipping rewards. Export this information through the backer report.
Your backer report access will expire one year after your project’s last estimated delivery date, but you’ll be able to request access from us directly.
Once you know who and where your backer audience is, along with how much you’re producing, decide if you’ll be fulfilling on your own or with a partner and get started on reward production. Here’s a pro tip: Create 3% more inventory as an overage, just in case packages get lost.
Stay in touch with your collaborators, manufacturers, and partners as you move toward fulfillment, and build time for your questions and their responses into your schedule. Allow 1–3 business days for domestic communications, and at least 7 business days for international to account for time differences and occasional language barriers.
Ready, set, ship
You’ve exported your backer information. Your rewards are ready. Now, it’s time to ship your packages. Keep track of your progress by using the fulfillment dashboard, and keep your backers updated with project updates.
If you feel overwhelmed
Shipping delays? Manufacturing mix-up? Send your backer community a project update at the first sign of a roadblock. Open, honest communication is always preferable to radio silence—and can build long-term trust between you and your backers.
Visit our Help Center to find more information or reach out to a support specialist.
Additional resources for fulfillment
Freight forwarder vs. customs broker: what's the difference? (via Shipping Solutions)