It’s no secret that access to the internet has given individuals the ability to make a bigger impact on the world than ever before — often with very little effort. Want to break into the world of film? Experiment with YouTube and you’ll find a global audience. Want to get published? Start up a blog and tell the world what you think.
What if you want to do something even bigger? What if you want to raise money for a cause you believe in, without going door-to-door or cold calling potential donors?
Well, it turns out there’s a way to easily do that online, too. The key is a special type of online fundraising called “crowdfunding.”
So what is crowdfunding, anyway? Lately it’s gotten a lot of press as a method of funding independent art, publishing and tech projects — particularly through the popular Kickstarter platform. As crowdfunding rises in popularity, more and more people and organizations are turning to this innovative method to fundraise for charity.
Some are more organized (and ambitious) efforts than others. When bus monitor Karen Klein made national headlines after being verbally harassed to the point of tears by students in her care, Max Sidorov knew he had to do something to help make things right. His solution? To set up a charity campaign on the site IndieGoGo — and raise $5,000 to help Klein take a well-deserved vacation. The campaign went viral and ended up raising more than $700,000, which allowed the 68-year-old to retire and establish her own anti-bullying foundation.
Since then, Sidorov has gone on to fundraise for a number of various causes on IndieGoGo, including support for Sandy Hook victims, and anti-bullying projects…however, none have managed to find the same amount of support as his first project, most hitting around $1,000 in donations and one topping out at $25.
Sidorov’s failed campaigns don’t spell disaster for charitable crowdfunding, but they do stress the unpredictable nature of the medium. More organized charitable causes have met with more success, and more media-saavy organizers have been able to run multiple successful campaigns.
Take Matthew Inman. Already a popular internet cartoonist, his first foray into charitable crowdfunding was actually an angry response to a frivolous lawsuit. After complaining publicly about FunnyJunk.com, a site that repeatedly reposted his artwork without credit, attribution, or a link back to his site, he found himself staring down a letter from FunnyJunk’s lawyer demanding $20,000 in damages for his accusations that the site used copyright infringement as a business model.
That didn’t go over well with Inman. Instead of responding to the legal threat, he wrote an open letter inviting his readers to help him raise $20,000 to donate to two charities: the National Wildlife Federation and the American Cancer Society. He ended up raising $220,024. (By the way, as you can imagine, the lawsuit didn’t really go anywhere in the end.)
After seeing the success of his first campaign, Inman ended up teaming with a New York nonprofit to raise money for a cause near and dear to his heart: preserving the legacy of Nikola Tesla and establishing the first Tesla Museum at the site of the scientist’s historic laboratory. In the end, the museum fundraiser ended up earning $1,370,461 — with a matching grant of $850k from the state of New York. After years of fruitlessly searching for the funding to build the Tesla Science Center, crowdfunding was the secret ingredient that has finally made it a reality.
While Inman has led two of the most successful charity funding campaigns to date, others are also finding success with less ambitious projects, notably raising funds to cover medical costs for cancer patients and to help rescue animals. One campaign on GoFundMe.com has even managed to raise more than $171,500 to help one of the critically injured victims of the Aurora theater shooting last July.
While the concept of crowdfunding is largely still in its infancy, nonprofits, charities and ordinary people who’d like to make a difference in the world need to start taking notice of this powerful vehicle for social change. As more and more of public life makes its way online, crowdfunding — and not traditional fundraising campaigns — may increasingly be the way of the future.