Huffpost Canada Living ca
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Josh Bowman Headshot

Do We Need Charities When Fundraising Is So Easy?

Posted: Updated:

Anybody who works in the charitable sector knows that things ain't what they used to be.

While charitable giving is recovering well since the recession, we are learning tough lessons about what the modern donor needs before making a gift. Many donors today want to know how their gift truly makes a difference. They are interested in personal stories. They want to connect to the cause.

They want a two-way conversation, and to be more involved with their charities of choice. They may have decreased the number of charities they give to in order to have a larger impact on a small group of chosen causes. Direct mail, while still effective, is being combined with email, social media, and face-to-face fundraising to create nuanced and integrated multi-channel fundraising programs.

Charities today are actively looking for innovative ways to connect people to their causes. What is interesting is how much innovation is coming from outside the traditional charitable sector. We are learning that if a cause or a project matters to people, they want to be a part of it even if it is not connected to a known charity. What is surprising is what kinds of causes people want to support, and how they go about supporting those causes.

Some of the most recent successful campaigns have happened through crowdsourcing platforms such as Indiegogo and Kickstarter (among others). Crowdsourcing is the process of outsourcing labour or investment to an undefined public. Wikipedia is based on a principle of crowdsourcing. So are investment-based platforms, where a project is funded by the general online public.

Crowdsourcing can be remarkably successful:

Marketing guru and author Seth Godin recently made headlines through his Kickstarter campaign to fund his next book, The Icarus Deception: Why Make Art? He raised a total of $287,342 for his book, with a compelling message of how authors create art, and how there might be other methods of distributing books and connecting to readers.

Anita Sarkeesian raised $158,922 for a project to study gender tropes in video games. Unfortunately, through this process she received unprecedented threats of rape, death, and violence. Fortunately, she raised enough money to be able to focus on her project full-time, addressing the type of rhetoric and violent speech that was targeted at her.

While not a charitable cause by any stretch, the Pebble "e-paper watch" raised a stunning $10,266,846 for their watch project. Makes you think what that kind of money could do for your cause, doesn't it?

♦◊♦

Two recent projects have caught my attention as examples of how you can raise money on a grand scale, or promote a smaller project to a grassroots audience.

The first project is The Oatmeal's hilarious and passionate Indiegogo campaign to buy back Nikola Tesla's old laboratory, known as the Wardenclyffe Tower, and eventually turn it into a museum. The goal is $850,000, and the campaign has already raised over $380,000. In two days. The push is on to raise at least the full goal; additional money raised will go towards building the museum over the next few years.

The Oatmeal is no stranger to raising huge sums of money for charity in a comedic way. This past July, the site managed to raise $211,223 for the National Wildlife Federation and the American Cancer Society as a result of a dispute with Funnyjunk.com.

The Oatmeal is doing something remarkable: using the site's popularity, combined with (site owner and artist) Matthew Inman's abiding love of Nikola Tesla, they are getting thousands of people to financially support a cause that would be unthinkable through conventional means. Can you imagine raising almost a million dollars through a letter campaign for a Nikola Tesla Museum?

With the exception of very specific grant programs (which this project has actually acquired from the State of New York for $850,000, or half the required funding), you wouldn't think that there would be that much interest in building a museum for a respected but controversial scientist who has been dead for over 70 years. You would clearly be wrong. Never mind that this would be the second Nikola Tesla Museum; the first one has been quietly sitting in Belgrade since 1952. People want their American Tesla museum, and they want it now! (or over the next few years)

This project is terrifically well put together. The Indiegogo site is targeted brilliantly to The Oatmeal fans, who have already shown their willingness to support the site in July. The incentives for donors are significant, starting with a photo of Tesla, and ending with a hotel stay in New York to attend a Tesla conference.

This is crowdsourcing done right. A very specific purpose. A passionate commitment to the cause. An ambitious goal. A clear and compelling lists of incentives, a huge social media presence, and a lot of goodwill.

♦◊♦

On the other side, we have a small project that came to my attention from Clarity, a singer-songwriter in Australia. Clarity and her project manager Wendy Hanks are looking to create music for children (aged 6-12) to combat the hyper-sexualized imagery and music they are exposed to on a regular basis. Their thesis, based on 'Letting Children be Children' (Report of an Independent Review of the Sexualisation and Commercialisation of Children), is that there is a lack of access to age appropriate music for children aged 6-12, resulting in many younger children consuming music that is hyper-sexualized and not appropriate for their age level.

This project is interesting, because while the focus is on providing funding for the artist Clarity to record her album, the incentive behind the project is provide positive and age-appropriate music to a group of impressionable and often under-represented children.

Clarity's funding site reflects the grassroots nature of the project. The incentives are small, and there are only two giving levels. The video is simple, and the message is simple. While there are definitely areas I would recommend updating (higher incentivized giving levels, a cleaner and more direct message, and a sample of music in the video...also, a description of what the next steps would be if the goal is reached or exceeded), I find it inspiring that a young artist can take an issue she is passionate about and put together an appeal on her own initiative.

Imagine an artist like this starting up a site for a different cause: to save a local theatre, work with low income children, save a park or local museum...the possibilities are endless. Clarity's sincerity comes through, doing far more for her cause than a slick, but impersonal, donation ask could ever provide.

♦◊♦

I believe that there are millions of people online who are eager to make a positive difference in their world. I believe that charities who are in a position to help create that change must know how to connect with those people in a passionate way that matters. I believe charities must find champions outside of the organization who want to take more initiative. Maybe they will tell their friends about why this matters on Facebook and get a petition signed. Maybe they will start their own Kickstarter campaign to save an endangered species or even just get a few more books in a local school. Charities can't remain static; not with so many wonderful tools and people who are just waiting to help make a difference.

To support The Oatmeal's campaign to help build a Tesla museum, go here.

To support Clarity's "The Gap" project, go here.

To read Seth Godin's excellent post on his Kickstarter campaign, go here.

Originally posted at The Good Men Project.