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Is crowdfunding for charity overly burdensome and demeaning?

For new ideas and products I think crowdfunding is phenomenal. The ability for anyone to come up with an idea, promote it and get the initial money they need to build it has made it possible for almost anyone to be an entrepreneur overnight.

The problem is, in crowdfunding for commercial purposes, people might already have a job or an income. They might be looking to take something they do as a hobby and make it their full-time job. If it fails, it’s not necessarily the end of the world.

But for charity - the work they do IS their full time job. If it fails it might mean projects don’t start, or staff have to be let go.

Here we are, the resourceful and benevolent agents of change; and they are the passive others in need of our charity. Afua Hirsch

Firstly, the demeaning bit. Crowdfunding feels a little like a TV game show. You have to perform for the audience who then vote on whether they like you or not. Those truly engaged and who enter in a spirit of understanding are few. For the majority it boils down to whether the audience “likes” the project enough; a) whether they can relate to it, b) whether they are moved enough by it, and/or (for the more cynical amongst us) c) whether they see a social/psychological gain from getting behind a budding movement or fad.

Secondly, the burden. To run a successful crowdfunding campaign a charity has to really energise their network, who in turn energise their network so that the charity can reach their funding target. Ideally they can prime key supporters to put in some money straight away, so that the campaign gets going. “No one likes to eat in an empty restaurant”, right? Charities are unlikely to get “passers-by” who happen to come across them and donate. Getting funding therefore requires the often already under-resourced charity, to spend large amounts of time and effort to promoting their fundraiser so as to “show” the donors how necessary their money is. Time they could probably better spend actually doing their work.

“Positive imagery does not have the same interest. A photo of [refugee] camp is more powerful than a township with solar panels on their roof.”

Crowdfunding has brought huge benefits by offering charities a stage they never had before.

But the way we have structured these platforms is problematic. We force charities to engage us (funders) on our terms, via an imbalanced system where we demand much and offer relatively little of ourselves in return.

Content is created purely for our pleasure, not necessarily for the benefit of the community served. And in doing so we risk driving smaller charities towards the same “poverty porn” situation that we criticise their larger international bretheren for using. Remember the Comic Relief video with Ed Sheeran?

No part of the crowdfunding experience contains the foundational ingredients needed to build mutually respectful, reciprocal and beneficial relationships. The kinds of ingredients that create the best-friend or partner that will remain with you for a lifetime.

If we really want to understand what charities do, we need to facilitate easier and fairer ways to allow them to communicate it to us.

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