After journalist Noreen Malone’s controversial essay in The New Republic entitled “The False Promise of Kickstarter: Fund Me, I’m Useless” made its way through all the usual crowdfunding channels, a predictable kerfuffle ensued among crowdfunding enthusiasts that basically cast Malone as a bit of a nudge.
She is not the boss of how we spend our money, people insisted. No matter how foolish, misguided or “useless” the projects we choose to back might be, what’s it to her?
In the article Malone cites a few projects that, having no practical application on planet Earth nevertheless went on to reach their funding goals. By her own admission her examples were plucked straight from the lowest-hanging fruit of inutility, but still. The concepts and products are getting sillier, she complained, and they’re piling up.
Her concern is that as crowdfunding’s popularity continues to proliferate and projects pop up like over-bred moles in an arcade game, so too are the social pressures to pony up. We the friends, cousins, aunts, next-door neighbors and cubicle buddies cannot escape them. In short: Crowdfunding pleas for donations have become a burden, and they’re worthless, too.
This got me thinking. Sure, anytime society sanctions ways to make quick profits, it opens doors for the system gamers to take advantage of those not paying attention—just look at Bernie Madoff. But that’s why those of us who follow it closely really believe in the crowd mentality when gift giving.
Each person who clicks on to a crowdfunding campaign serves as a sort of check for everyone who’s come before and a balance for those who will come after. Among them at least some of the people will examine and dissect some detail or other of the project for accuracy, viability, veracity; some will critique and comment through public feedback, good and bad—and all totally visible for all the other prospective donors to see. When a campaign really picks up speed it’s because the crowd felt the momentum, found it righteous, and propelled it forward.
If Madoff’s wealth management company conducted its business online, how long do you think it would have survived before someone smelled a rat?
In the light of the controversy, I decided to circle back to some of my favorite projects that on the face of them should not have blown up into the stratosphere as they did. I wanted to see how the people were doing today. What I found was enlightening and confirms that, though I understand Malone’s concerns—I too scratched my head at my first invite to contribute to a Kickstarter project—I don’t think she’s scratched beneath the surface of the crowdfunding space. So, stroll with me down memory lane a bit.
1) Remember Karen Klein, the bullied bus monitor? A guy probably half her age, and a total stranger, launched an Indiegogo campaign so Klein could have a vacation. The project raised $698,873.00 beyond its desired $5,000 goal. (Am I the only one who instantly developed a crush on Max Sidorov? I think not.)
Klein could have hoarded the money, for which I’m sure she’s paying a chunk in taxes. Or, speaking of nudges, given the ensuing critical comments begrudging Klein her money, she could have gone sour on the crowd. Instead Klein turned over $100,000 to start an anti-bullying foundation. (Other online sources quote $75K. Hey, I never said the Internet was perfect.) Klein is not just taking a well-earned vacation; she’s also helping to rehabilitate bullies.
2) Then there’s Caine, the 9 year old from East L.A. who fashioned an elaborate arcade out of cardboard because he was bored and lonely. A stranger, who goes by Nirvan, was his first and only customer. Struck by Caine’s ingenious construction, Nirvan organized a surprise flashmob. Thousands of people from all over showed up to play. If you’re having a bad day click on this now to turn it around.
Buoyed, Nivan went further. With the original goal set at $25,000, he crowdfunded a project for Caine’s Arcade Scholarship Fund. It raised $221,066. A generous matching dollar-for-dollar seed-funding grant of $250,000 followed, which launched Caine’s Arcade Imagination Foundation to help more innovative kids around the country. Who knew cardboard could lift up a generation?
3) And how about Matthew Inman, the comic whose online material was stolen by sleazebags? He blogged about it and the guilty party’s attorney decided to get nasty, asking for $20,000 in damages and a cease and desist. Instead of being intimidated, Inman started a campaign to raise the money—but donate it to the American Cancer Society and the National Wildlife Federation. The campaign’s final take was $220,024.
On a roll, and using his voice to make the world a better place, Inman launched a second campaign to raise $850,000 to buy and restore Wardenclyffe Tower in New York to honor Nikola Tesla, and $1,370,461 later the Tesla Science Center is on its way to becoming a reality.
Yes, I cherrypicked my examples as much as Malone did; and no, not everyone has the ability or the will to achieve such heights for the greater good. But I for one feel heartened. Not only does crowdfunding make the connections possible, but now we all get to be superheroes just by clicking a button!
4) And speaking of superheroes, here’s one final example of things-we-don’t-need-but-wanna have: shiny, colorful capes that even Harry Potter would envy. Amazing Capes – Release Your Inner Superhero just raised $45,267 with a $15,000 goal. Roxanne, the campaign’s creator, has already committed to donate all future cape orders to “social organizations that are making a positive impact on our planet.” I can’t guarantee that buying one will thwart the naysayers’ barbs, but something tells me when you put one on you’ll feel happy, and that’s good enough for the crowd.
This post originally appeared on TheCrowdFundamentals Blog