You’ve seen the headlines on wildly successful crowdfunding projects: the Pebble watches, the Reading Rainbows, even potato salad projects that take off and raise support beyond the creators’ wildest dreams. This success may look like a stroke of genius, a million dollar grassroots movement, or pure insane luck. But crowdfunding success doesn’t happen by accident (well, usually). Look past the headlines and quirky success stories, and you’ll see a few common threads strategically woven through successful campaigns.

You’ve already got the great idea. Now build your campaign around these 10 essential crowdfunding principles and take your startup project from the drawing board to the launch pad.

1. Preparation. It may seem like projects are thrown up on Kickstarter or Indiegogo on a whim and funded in a snap, but months of planning go into successful campaigns. Pick your platform, examine similar projects to learn from past success and failure, plan out each stage of your campaign, and choose the tools you’ll use to manage the process.

2. Realistic goals. What’s the bare minimum amount of money you need to make your idea a reality? Stick to that number. It might be tempting to inflate your final figure, but don't get greedy; you'll risk setting off warning bells for potential backers. Besides, if people really love your project, you'll raise more than your fundraising goal. In fact, 87% of campaigns that hit their goal also exceed it.

3. Design. Photos and video are eye magnets, and they’re the very first thing each new visitor will see. Make the most of that first impression with an elegant page design, a professional prototype, and a polished video. Welcome backers to your page and get them excited to be part of your project.

4. Incentives. Offer tempting rewards! And make sure the value of each reward matches its contribution level. (In other words, don't make a simple T-shirt a reward for your $50 backers.) Feel free to get creative, but make sure you’re offering real value. And remember to create opportunities at many different levels, from $1 to $500 and beyond.

5. Personal connections. Your main goal is to win over the people who matter most to your brand. (You’re probably not going to convince a vegan to back your gourmet beef jerky, no matter how hard you try or how great your product is.) So don’t try to be all things to all people. Figure out who your core audience is, and focus on making genuine connections with them. Tell your story, interact with your backers, and let your personality shine through. After all, people want to support other people, not faceless companies.

6. Transparency. By nature, crowdfunding backers are interested in the “how” of projects. So indulge that curiosity by pulling back the curtain and giving them a peek at the behind-the-scenes. Show your backers exactly where each dollar goes, share status updates, and invite them to launch parties.

7. Responsiveness. Be willing to listen to feedback from your backers and add new features, tweak the product design, or offer new rewards. Respond to every email, comment, and social media mention. This is your chance to plug into your audience and tailor your products specifically to your core customer base to create the best product possible. So take advantage of the opportunity and engage with each and every piece of feedback.

8. Collaboration. Crowdsourcing and collaboration are two sides of the same coin. You’re tapping the power of collaboration to fund your project, so why not extend that power to the project itself? Collaborate with your internal team to work efficiently, and team up with freelancers for help designing your logo, building your prototype, or writing your press release. And don’t forget to let backers contribute, too: ask them to help spread the word, or poll them on things like product color schemes and fun new stretch goals. You never know whose idea will help take your project to the next level.

9. Organization. Take advantage of project management tools (may we suggest Wrike?) to make sure every idea, every step in the process, and every deadline and milestone along the way is tracked. And it prevents you from losing your mind along the way.

10. Gratitude. Thank your backers constantly. They're supporting your idea with their hard-earned dollars and investing in your success. So make sure they know just what it means to you. Nothing is worse than someone who is ungrateful for those who help them succeed.

We’ve seen firsthand the power of collaboration and know exactly how much hard work it takes to make your dreams a reality. Make sure your campaign has these 10 elements, and you’re well on your way!

Is there something missing from this list? Feel free to share it in the comments.

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Image Credits: Photo by: A Horse With No Name Photography. Some rights reserved.