Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Kickstarter Fulfillment 101: Pledge Management

Kickstarter fulfillment is an under discussed, behind-the-scenes process that can make or break a campaign as easily (or more so) than a failed launch. In a series of posts, I'm going to dig into the nuts and bolts behind shipping, distribution, pledge management, and the customer service baggage that comes with a Kickstarter. 

This first post on pledge management services is based on my own experiences Kickstarting The Drain and discussions with other indie RPG creators. I generally advocate for a financially risk-averse approach because that's my personal priority, but I will try to indicate options for those prioritizing accessibility, time investment, and other concerns.

Even if you're not planning to run a Kickstarter any time soon, you might be intrigued to learn what goes on behind the scenes of your favorite RPG campaigns after they fund.

My Fulfillment Experience

Back in February 2021, I kickstarted a 3rd party Mothership zine called The Drain. The campaign went far better than I'd hoped, closing out with over 1400 backers. I launched with a completed, edited manuscript and art + layout in process. I gave my backers a fulfillment estimate for June 2021, but internally I expected to fulfill in April-May. I ended up encountering a few setbacks and delays and used my entire grace period—beginning digital and physical fulfillment on the main zine in mid-June, with a few outstanding digital stretch goals still in the works.

I used a combination of international distributors for physical fulfillment to get regional shipping prices as low as possible: The Melsonian Arts Council for the UK, Monkey's Paw Games for Canada, and Exalted Funeral for the US and rest of the world. I did not charge shipping fees up front, instead opting to load all my backers into a pledge management service (via a company aptly named "PledgeManager", more on them later) and collected separate shipping fees shortly before fulfillment.

Some Pertinent Facts and Figures:

  • If I had charged backers my initial shipping estimates up front (posted to my campaign page), I would have lost about $1500. Slight cost increases across the board, unexpected fees, and UK to European shipping going to hell because of Brexit adds up over 1100 physical orders.
  • I made about $1000 through PledgeManager between ~50 pre-orders, sundry add-ons and pledge upgrades in the 4 months it was live.
  • With about 3 weeks lead up time to the first wave of fulfillment, I managed to collect shipping from about 87% of physical backers. As of writing, I'm gearing up for a third fulfillment wave with about 95% of total orders completed. The remaining 5% won't receive their zines until I can track them down to pay for shipping.

To Pledge Manager or Not To Pledge Manager

Deciding how to collect shipping fees from your backers is a major decision point for an RPG Kickstarter. Assuming you're crafting or ordering a print run for your Kickstarter (print on demand solutions like DriveThruRPG are not covered by this post), you have two main options:
  1. Collect shipping fees during your Kickstarter, either bundled into the cost of a pledge or as a separate shipping charge.
  2. Collect shipping fees after your Kickstarter, either via a pledge management service like Backerkit or your own/a partner's website.
The major factor in deciding between both options is time to fulfillment, and for that you need a realistic internal deadline. I could write a blog post on just this subject, so we'll stick to a shorthand: diligently calculate each step of your design and production process, add an extra month for wiggle room, then double the whole thing. If you've run a Kickstarter before and feel confident in your time management skills, you can get away with a 50% extension instead.

If your final number lands you past 3 months, it's time to strongly consider using a pledge manager. Anything beyond that puts you at increasing risk of postage cost increases, customs procedure changes, and general project setbacks that in turn further endanger you to all three. 

How can you expect to fulfill a Kickstarter project within 3 months? Realistically, it's only possible if you begin your campaign with a 100% completed PDF, successful proof printing, and you're just waiting to push the button for the final print run. This model might not be feasible for most, but the alternatives (paying for a pledge manager or eating shipping price variance) come with their own baggage.

Direct Kickstarter Fulfillment

Kickstarter includes a handful of limited tools to fulfill projects without involving exterior services. It’s the simplest and most immediate approach, but the least flexible and most susceptible to risk. Fulfilling with Kickstarter's tools looks something like this:
  1. Add shipping costs by country directly into each physical pledge tier and add-on. Be sure to accommodate for Kickstarter's cut, payment processing, handling and other fees (I'll get into this more later).
  2. Backers pay shipping by selecting their country via a dropdown menu when going to pledge. Note that shipping fees and add-ons collected through Kickstarter both contribute to your funding total (relevant for calculating stretch goals) AND are subject to Kickstater's store and payment processing fees.
  3. After your campaign ends, send out backer surveys via the Kickstarter backend to collect shipping addresses and any other information you need to fulfill your rewards. Note that you only get ONE survey per reward tier! If you forget to include a critical question in a survey down the line, you'll need to use 3rd party methods.
  4. Export your backer report and begin fulfillment yourself, or forward it and collected fees onto distributors for fulfillment (I'll also be discussing this more later). 


  • Simple and straightforward setup. No 3rd party programs to learn and agreements to make, painless cost calculations. The best option for those most concerned with accessibility or with limited time on their hands.
  • Easiest on the backer. They pay a one-time fee collected up front, then they get their books. This also means more straightforward customer service for you to manage. Backers who don't have to deal with the added hassle of a pledge manager may be more likely repeat customers.


  • High risk. Without avenues to collect additional shipping revenue, you're at the whims of shifting postage prices. The further out your fulfillment time, the greater the risk. I'd discourage you from using this method for campaigns with long term fulfillment plans (6+ months) and/or complicated (international) distribution deals.
  • Inflexible. Once your campaign ends, that's it: No pre-orders, no further add-ons, limited survey tools.

Pledge Manager Assisted Fulfillment

A look at the PledgeManager backend. Those "sales" are 90% shipping costs.

Pledge management services offer extensive organizational and payment collection tools at a financial and administrative cost. Here's an overview of the steps involved in using a service like PledgeManager or Backerkit:
  1. On your campaign page, prominently notify backers that and how you plan to collect shipping after the campaign. Post pricing estimates for all included regions that accurately reflect current, total shipping + handling costs.
  2. During your campaign, set up your pledge management page. Depending upon which service you use, this process might involve coordinating with a representative who sets a page up for you or your own organizational efforts. This process is similar in scope and complexity to Kickstarter campaign setup, so budget sufficient time.
  3. After your campaign ends, prep your backers to load into the pledge manager. Walk them through each step to avoid confusion.
  4. Optionally, launch your pledge manager shortly after your campaign ends to open pre-orders to non-backers.
  5. When you're nearly ready to begin fulfillment, begin collecting shipping through your pledge manager and optionally open add-ons.
  6. Export your backer report from the pledge manager and begin fulfillment yourself or with a distributor. Note that with this method, not all backers will have paid for shipping by the time you're ready to fulfill.
  7. Continue to track down straggler backers with reminders to pay for shipping, sending periodical waves of fulfillment as backers complete orders.


  • Low risk. Collecting shipping once you're completely ready for fulfillment means you avoid sudden postage cost and import policy changes.
  • Flexible. Pledge managers extend the life of your Kickstarter with pre-orders, post-campaign add-ons, and communication tools. They permit dramatic adjustments in fulfillment plans which would be catastrophic for Kickstarter-only fulfillment plans.


  • Increased administrative workload. All pledge manager services involve learning an entirely new backend with high setup time and effort.
  • Service fees. All pledge managers cost money, with exact fee schemes varying from service to service. Most include an upfront fee dependent upon your backer numbers or fundraising total, plus a flat cut on all sales (including shipping) made inside their service.
  • Increased customer service requirements and backer confusion. Like you, your customers will have to interface with two services instead of one. Confusion, possibilities for errors, and need for communication compounds. Expect to double your ongoing customer service load, which will last for months after you fulfill.

Pledge Management Options

My experiences with services outside of PledgeManager are quite limited, but I'll attempt to give a brief overview of the options out there.


  • Costs: $0.25 per backer loaded in (or $150 if under 600 backers), 5% + payment processing fees for charges inside the site (uses Stripe by default).
  • Summary: Low initial setup time and learning curve, high continued maintenance effort + restricted backend control. Good for those new to Kickstarter, worse for experienced project managers.
  • Owned and operated by the people at noted Kickstarter stats tracker website Kicktraq.
  • Rather than requiring you to set up your own page like most other services, a PledgeManager representative handles most of the setup for you. The tradeoff is, to make nearly any future change you'll need to go through your representative. They're generally responsive and helpful, but without direct access to much of the backend there's always some input lag on critical changes, risk of mistakes outside of your control, and increased long term time investment via constant emailing.


  • Costs: 2% of Kickstarter fundraising total, 3.5% + payment processing fees for charges inside the site (Stripe).
  • Summary: Moderate initial setup and learning curve, moderate continued maintenance with direct backend control. Relatively inexpensive (depending upon fundraising to shipping cost ratio, worse for expensive products with cheap shipping). Good for experienced project managers or those willing to learn an additional backend.
  • The most popular pledge management service. In addition to giving you confidence about their legitimacy, their name recognition means backers are less likely to be confused when they see BackerKit emails.
  • BackerKit offers marketing services (I know nothing about these, but they're there).
  • Note that BackerKit's pricing lowered significantly (from $200 and 2% funds raised and 5% + payment processing in-site) since I made my decisions on The Drain. I would have saved about $200 using them over PledgeManager with the new pricing scheme, versus losing $150 had I gone with BackerKit's old scheme.

Other Services

  • Crowd Ox (currently in the process of merging with BackerKit).
  • Gamefound (board game focused, also a crowdfunding site, free pledge manager load-in with 5% charge for fees in-site).
  • Gumroad (an ongoing storefront you can also use for fulfillment, more info via this great blog post by Technical Grimoire).

Some RPG projects are hopping to Gamefound

Personal Recommendations

For my future projects, I am likely to give BackerKit a shot over PledgeManager or any other service should I require a pledge manager. The significant cost savings, direct access to backend, and potential marketing services put it over the line for me. PledgeManager's low learning curve was a boon when I was still grappling with Kickstarter's ins and outs, but the constant need to go through my representative has worn on me.

I would recommend PledgeManager only for first time Kickstarter users who both need a pledge management service and prioritize accessibility above other concerns.

Further Adventures in Fulfillment Land

Thus concludes my first blog post on Kickstarter fulfillment. I originally intended to keep this topic to a single post, but you can see by the length of this one (1/3 the total) why I decided to break it up.

For the next post in this series, I'll be doing a deep dive on shipping cost calculation. Riveting stuff—but more complex and important than you'd think! For the last post, I'll be talking about distribution and distributors. I might dip my toes into the frigid waters of do-it-yourself shipping and stray into the unruly realms of post-Kickstarter retail, but no promises! Expect both of those posts out in August barring the usual catastrophes.

I'll link to all related posts right here once they're out! For now, consider poking around this blog for my other Kickstarter Blueprint posts, like this one on creating your campaign page and this one on posting those dreaded campaign updates.

As a personal aside, I apologize for leaving this blog neglected for so long. I've been deep, deep down inside a publishing/Kickstarter hole for quite a while and haven't had many chances to come up for air. I expect this niche topic to see little traction, but my sincere hope is that these posts alleviate the stress of an intrepid new publisher and helps guide them to success in some small way. They're also handy for me to reference months or years later when my brain has filled with entirely different junk.

P.S. It's almost Zine Quest development season again. Are you wading in? I can barely bring myself to consider it. The ghost of ZQ past says start preparing now, or regret it... forever!... ever... ever...


  1. Fantastic in-depth article. Thank you for this!!

  2. This article provided me with valuable information that I can apply in my daily life. Thank you for sharing these practical tips!