Emily Postmodern: Is Crowdfunding Tacky?

These days, it seems like everytime I check Facebook or my email someone I know is doing something generous and also asking me to donate money to their project.  Kickstarter, indiegogo, GoFundMe and many others allow people to ask basically anyone they’ve ever met to contribute to project expenses, from raising money for a charitable organization’s annual fitness event, developing an art program for a needy school, to helping a friend with unexpected medical expenses. After a while, it can really start to feel like there are so many worthy causes, but you can’t realistically donate to everything.

If you’re the one with the cause, you might feel uncomfortable asking friends and family to donate. Plus, what makes something “worthy?” Is there a better way you can ask that doesn’t aggravate people?  People have asked me to help fund art, healthcare, charitable events, and even their own weddings and vacations. Where is the line?  There is nothing uncouth about fundraising for charitable projects or independent business ventures (although these personal costs like weddings and vacations are a subject for another day), but if the idea makes you a little uncomfortable follow these guidelines when you set up your campaign.

Don’t let it be the only thing people are hearing from you, especially if they aren’t people you keep up with on the regular. The nature of online platforms allows you to disseminate your cause far and wide as well as track your earnings in real time (often with fun charts and graphs!). If your first adventure in crowdsourcing is a success it can be tempting to repeat the process, but if that is the only way you use your networks people might start to ignore your calls for donations.  If you are sending out a mass email to every individual whose personal email you have in your contacts list make sure to BCCthe message, especially if they are professional contacts.

Explain how you plan to use the money.  Being honest about your expected expenses, whether it is a personal passion project or a fund to help negate unexpected financial hardship after illness. If you are crowdfunding a professional endeavor be it  a documentary or invention,  showing the inner workings of your project—the cost of hiring an assistant and paying them a fair wage or the actual price of the resources that will go into your made-in-America-negative-carbon-footprint rain jacket for runners— makes your investors feel like they have inside knowledge of the project.   This is especially true if you find yourself asking people to help donate to you after you have had an unexpected hardship. People like to know what their money is doing, even if it is just to buy the stamps and stationery you plan to use to write all your contributors a thank you note!  

If you organize a thank you structure be sure to follow through. Don’t promise to hand knit a tea cozy for everyone who funds your program to teach knitting to toddlers unless you know you will be able to commit. Keep your donors updated about your progress towards your goal with email and other social media updates, but don’t overwhelm the circuits constantly posting updates along with more requests for donations. If you have the time and the technical know how make your posts only visible to your contributors.  

When you’re on the receiving end of these requests, you have to decide what you feel comfortable with on your own. Is it okay to not be bothered by someone’s calls to donate to the Think Pink! Breast Cancer Awareness Cha-Cha-athon but feel slightly put out when someone organizes a fundraiser for their rent while they are unable to work during their own battle with breast cancer?  That’s up to you, but know that the person who took the time to set up their personal fundraiser after dealing  with loss or sickness probably had to swallow a lot of their own pride to admit to the internet that they need help (even if it is just to make your first potato salad).  The amount of people who need to set up funds to pay for medical expenses speaks to a larger health care problem and troubling income gap in the United States, so maybe we should focus our energies on crowdsourcing solutions on that? And honestly if you think it is tacky, nobody’s twisting your arm.

Basically if you want to ask people to contribute to your cause be considerate of the internet noise, don’t badger or harass them, be clear about your costs, and follow through with your stated goals and thank you gifts. In other words, put yourself in the place of the person receiving your request and think about what would make you donate!