I recently backed a project on Kickstarter for the first time. The project was for “A Show with Ze Frank.” It was successfully funded (raising $146,752, well exceeding the goal of $50,000) the new series from Mr. Frank is well underway.

I have loved his past work and was excited to see him back doing a regular series. Beyond just supporting the idea, I also received a package of the 10 most popular episodes of his last series, “the show with zefrank,” in m4v format, all songs from “the show” and my name and photo on a special web based thank you wall. So, it wasn’t just a donation to something I liked or wanted to see happen, but I actually received others benefits, similar to a purchase more than just a donation.

This got me to thinking about Kickstarter and crowd funding. I think it is awesome. People are tapping into their audience, the people who love their stuff – their community of people – and funding their ideas and offering value. Most of the stories about Kickstarter are centered around content and product creators, not individual websites or online communities. But, I think that this is something that an online community is uniquely suited to benefit from.

Some communities have done donations or had fundraising efforts for any number of things – new servers, new software, etc. I feel like this reward based crowd funding is more attractive and offers a much greater value proposition for the person who is pledging to give you money. Whether you want to call it crowd funding or donation with incentives, it doesn’t matter.

An established community already has a built in base of loyal members. For this reason, they may just want to set up their own crowd funding section and cut out the middleman. For others, Kickstarter, or similar services, may offer valuable exposure and an easier experience thanks to a system that is already in place, ready for you to use now, instead of you having to set something up yourself.

What do you need funding for? Well, that is up to you. It is easy to think of server upgrades, new designs, etc. But, how about new features and expansion? What about developing the new version of your community and paying programmers and web developers? You could also fund product ideas, a run of t-shirts and branded merchandise printed by a quality print shop or digital downloads, like music albums and books. To do it right, these things cost time and they cost money.

What can you offer people who pledge? Beyond a thank you, you could offer them branded merchandise with your community’s logo on it. You could offer them a special membership level with expanded permissions, rank images and recognition within the community. For products, you could offer them early, first in line access or, if they pay the right amount, the product itself. With the idea of funding the development of your community, you could create a private section where they can weigh in on feature ideas and help you decide what direction to take development.

The idea with crowd funding is generally that people are not just giving you money because they like you, they are giving you money because they are going to get something awesome, something that they want or need. If you apply that thinking to your community and where you’d like to take it in the future, I believe that you can be really successful.