Why Crowdfunding Isn't Really About Money

We are in the midst of a revolution where self-organized crowds have begun to displace entrenched powers as the primary driver of social change in the world. At the heart of this revolution is the capacity for people to easily find like-minded peers and collaborate using social media tools.

Crowdfunding has grown in popularity as a way for artists and entrepreneurs to directly engage their fans and invite them to help make their projects a success. The most visible element in this process is the money that changes hands. Yet, there are much more interesting (and potentially transformative) things going on that warrant special attention.

What is Crowdfunding?

Crowdfunding is a community-engagement process between an individual or organization seeking money to create something new and a crowd of supporters who want to participate in the effort in a meaningful way. It is primarily about open collaboration among the participants that takes the form of:

  1. An Invitation to Make A Successful Project; followed by
  2. A Campaign to Engage More People in the Effort; and culminating in
  3. A Celebration of What Everyone Has Created Together.

Let’s look at each of these in turn.

Invitation to Participate

Unlike donations given to a charity, the crowdfunder is invited to participate in the effort. They are asked to publicly show their support for an endeavor that will benefit the community. This makes the act of contributing more akin to political organizing to build a movement than simply giving to a cause.

Building A Community

Those who contribute to the campaign are treated as self-selected members of an important community — the true believers who have publicly expressed their support for the work. The number of people who contribute is in many ways a more significant measure than the amount of money raised because it indicates the power of community.

Reaping the Rewards

When a crowdfunding campaign is successful, there arises an opportunity to celebrate what everyone has created together. Initially, this takes the form of distributing promised rewards to those who contributed. As the creative process moves forward, and the promised deliverable gets developed, its community of supporters are reminded that they share ownership of the outcome because it was their social acknowledgement of its significance (through financial contributions) that made it possible to proceed.

Note how none of these steps is really about money. Yes, there must be money pledged by fans. And the amount of money raised needs to be sufficient for achieving the goals set out initially by the project’s host. But the central action centers around meaningful engagement that empowers the crowd to create something new. This is why crowdfunding has so much potential for “game changers” in the arena of social movements. It is a fundamentally empowering process that engages people in meaningful action.

Not bad for a process that also generates revenue for cool projects, eh?

Crowdfunding As Gateway to Engagement

Organizers in the social change arena can employ crowdfunding as an organizing tool because it aligns engagement with desirable outcomes. Many people have become dissatisfied with traditional organizations because of their unresponsiveness and one-way communications. The tools of social media enable the organic formation of peer-to-peer networks able to set agendas and aggregate resources to move toward their shared goals.

Crowdfunding itself is a “sticky” idea with mass appeal because it is proving to be an effective way to democratize finance by making the exchange of money more transparent as a way to empower social action. What started out as a cool way to support your local band in getting their first recording out to their fans has evolved into a recognizable platform for bypassing bureaucratic institutions and taking action straight to the crowd.

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Suresh Fernando and Joe Brewer are in the process of writing a Crowdfunding Manual for Social Change. This is an excerpt from the forthcoming eBook.

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Other entries in Crowdfunding Nation, Shareable's week-long series on crowdfunding:

Features:

How-tos:

Blog posts:

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