No Guarantees On Kickstarter – But Isn’t That The Point?

Earlier this week NPR’s All Things Considered aired a story called, “When a Kickstarter Campaign Fails, Does Anyone Get Their Money Back?” The dialogoue raised a few important questions about the crowdfunding platform, most notably about accountability. What happens when funded projects don’t come to fruition? Do backers get their money back?

In short, that question is dependent on the good will and honesty of creators, and “while company policy says creators have to give refunds on failed projects, the website doesn’t have a mechanism to do it.” The whole unsatisfied customer dilemma is a bridge Kickstarter’s founders have yet to cross. “If something did go awry,” Founder Yancey Strickler said, “I don’t think it would be my favorite day.”

After the story aired, Kickstarter founders Perry Chen, Yancey Strickler and Charles Adler published a blog post addressing some of these questions.

“We take accountability very seriously at Kickstarter, and the questions raised by NPR are important ones,” the post begins. The founders then walk readers through the steps of accountability policy at Kickstarter.

From the start of any campaign, Kickstarter puts judgement in the hands of backers, checking only that each project meets basic project guidelines. They do not investigate a creator’s ability to complete the project at hand because this determination of validity is ultimately up to the backers themselves.

When it comes to project completion, “it’s the project creator’s responsibility to complete their project.” Kickstarter does not play a hands-on role when it comes to development – after all, how could they? And when problems arise that appear “severe enough” that the project cannot be completed, again, it is still ultimately up to creators find a solution. Kickstarter’s suggested resolutions include “offering refunds, detailing exactly how funds were used, and other actions to satisfy backers.”

Finally, there’s the legal question. According to Kickstarter’s Terms of Use, creators are “required to fulfill all rewards of their project or refund any backer whose reward they do not or cannot fulfill.” Creators have to agree to these terms before listing their project, but there is no means of enforcement as of yet.

Kickstarter Terms

The founders say these terms were crafted “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.”

When it comes down to it, there is no guarantee on Kickstarter. “A Kickstarter where every project is guaranteed would be the same safe bets and retreads we see everywhere else,” the founders say. Pledging on Kickstarter is a bit of a gamble – but isn’t that the point?