Crowdfunding: let the people decide

by Jini Stolk

Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts launched a crowdfunding campaign this summer for a new city-wide ARTS APP –  an easy-to-use, on-the-go way of finding out who, what, where and when performances are happening. Good on them – I hope it works.

Their initiative uses the Toronto Fringe’s fabulous Fund What You Can (FWYC), a national platform for Indie Artists that allows artists and producers to create and manage their own crowdfunding campaigns. Kudos to The Fringe and to the Metcalf Foundation for providing start-up funding for a new idea that could make a big difference.

l love the emergence (with a bang) of crowd fundraising. I love Hot Doc’s crowd campaigns for new documentaries. I love Centre for Social Innovation’s Catalyst partnership with HiveWire, a platform supporting new projects for a better world.

When crowdfunding works it’s an entirely new way to reach out, well beyond the usual suspects, for support. The growing number of Toronto-based, home-grown initiatives means it’s going to be easy for the folks running these initiatives to monitor, compare, contrast and get together to discuss what’s working best, to ensure that their users have a great shot at the success they’re looking for.

For anyone thinking about getting started in this field, HiveWire, a CSI tenant, and one of the leaders in Canadian online fundraising, does periodic seminars ranging from Crowdfunding 101 to advanced workshops. Upcoming sessions are posted here and are held at the various CSI locations in The Annex, Spadina and Queen, and Regent Park. There’s also a Meetup Group .

There’s an art to doing crowd fundraising well.  Andrew Taylor just wrote about As it turns out, language matters a recent study of successful and unsuccessful Kickstarter campaign language that analyzed 45,000 Kickstarter campaigns and found that language choice accounted for up to a 58 percent variance around success. Campaigns that reached their targets used language that put value for the donor front and centre, and conveyed a sense of unique excitement, a rare and fleeting opportunity, and a chance to get in on the ground floor of a guaranteed success. People are people, online or in person.

How profound a change is crowdfunding bringing to our sector? An interesting discussion in the Nonprofit Quarterly raises the question of whether the democratization of nonprofit funding will produce better or worse results than funding decisions left to experts in venture capital or grantmaking organizations! I bet you’ve never pondered questions like: how will the decisions differ? what will be the social results of those differences?” A fascinating paper, entitled “Wisdom or Madness? Comparing Crowds with Expert Evaluation in Funding the Arts,” (by Ethan Mollick of the Wharton School and Ramana Nanda of Harvard University) found that the crowd is more willing to take a chance on innovative arts projects, “meaning that the crowd expands the number, and potentially the type, of projects that have a chance of success.”

Meanwhile IndieGogo, one of the leading crowdfunding platforms to kickstart new initiatives/projects recently raised $40MM to fund its continual growth, so crowdfunding looks like it’s here to stay.

Is the crowd always right? Consider that an online fundraising campaign on the GoFundMe crowdfunding site on behalf of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson collected $234,910 from nearly six thousand people, for the man who shot and killed African American teenager Michael Brown. Many of these donations were accompanied by racially derogatory comments aimed at Brown, his parents, and the population of Ferguson.

As Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

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