What Could Crowdfunding Do for Madison?

Sites like Kickstarter make it easier to fund community projects

Ave you heard of Kickstarter, Indiegogo or Razoo? These websites allow folks who need funding for a project to set up a website, tell their story and take donations. It’s often called “crowdfunding.”

Local freelance journalist James Edward Mills is associated with Expedition Denali, a feature-length documentary-in-the-making about the first African American expedition to tackle North America’s highest peak. Forget the Hollywood studios, Expedition Denali raised over $110,000 from 742 backers in one month on Kickstarter.

Ellen Barnard, the northside entrepreneur behind the Food Enterprise and Economic Development (FEED) Kitchen, used Razoo to help raise money for Madison’s first multi-user food business incubator. FEED features state-approved commercial kitchens and will enable local food entrepreneurs like YumTum organic baby foods to scale up production and reach more markets.

Sites like Kickstarter and Razoo have the potential to redefine how we engage followers, fund public projects and build community. Here’s the story, in two acts.

Act One: Why Kickstarter is Kicking Tradition’s Butt

I used Kickstarter to fund the printing of my latest book, ReGENERATION. Two hundred twenty-four people forked over $17,690 in a month. It worked because Kickstarter elegantly combines four synergistic elements:

  • Compelling storytelling. Kickstarter strongly advises each project to have a video. The wickedly talented Rob Sax at Popamatic Studios produced ReGENERATION’s video. The results? Sixty-five percent of all visitors to the Kickstarter campaign watched the video, and the same percentage donated.
  • Omnipresence. Kickstarter told the book’s story 24/7/365 to anyone with an Internet connection. They also handled contributions, FAQ and more. I just sat and watched it happen.
  • Connection and intimacy. Kickstarter allowed fans to join me in pursuit of a common goal: to get my book into their hands. I called my backers “superheroes” and put them at the center of all the project updates. This level of mano-a-mano is impossible through a traditional book publisher.
  • Easy money. Anyone who wants to donate to a project can. And the creator gets most of it.

Act Two: Beyond Books: The Kickstarter Effect in Communities

Taken together, these four elements form what I call the Kickstarter Effect, and the applications for Madison are powerful.

Take the Warner Park pool as an example. Circle of Friends of Warner Park is currently raising money the old-fashioned way: hosting an annual event, Pounding the Pavement; using a group of volunteers to shake money out of local donors; and hosting the pool fund at the Madison Community Foundation. They’ve already raised $190,000 for the pool. (Nice work.) Another $25,000 donation is hanging in front of them, like a carrot on a stick, when they break ground.

Now imagine if they engaged the Kickstarter Effect. They could use video to tell their story; register their project with Indiegogo and set a deadline for the breaking ground goal; reach a much broader audience (including those who used to live here and want to see Madison flourish); interact directly with their online donors; and ask all their pavement pounders to spread the word.

Still doubtful?

  • Funding Charleston is raising millions for everything from expanding local businesses to rehoming chickens.
  • Kansas City raised enough money through the website Neighbor.ly to lay broadband fiber in neighbohoods that couldn’t get high-speed Internet access.

What could the Kickstarter Effect do for Madison?

A suggestion for the skeptical from your humble futurist: Don’t fight it. Figure it out.

Rebecca Ryan is an author and futurist who’s proud to circumvent tradition and experiment with new ways of working. Catch her in her own words every week at nextgenerationconsulting.com/blog.

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