Two news items broke across the ‘tubes in the past few weeks that graphically illustrate the idea of the flash crowdsourced fundraiser: the massive outpouring of donations for bullied bus monitor Karen Klein, and the somewhat smaller announcement that @Smokey_Robinson will be using his Twitter handle to instantly mobilize millions of followers (his and his celebrity friends’) to give in support of timely causes.
The idea – expressed by Smoky – and the reality – demonstrated by the vacation fund for Ms. Klein – are intoxicatingly powerful: Using crowdfunding sites and donation platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo, causes, both worthy and merely buzzworthy, can leverage massive scale and momentum through social networks such as Twitter to raise huge sums of money in very short times. Echoing the swell in grassroots political donations that took off in the last US presidential election, these efforts will enable and rely on a very large number of people each making relatively tiny donations – $1 here, $5 there.
Amplified by mainstream news, celebrities with huge follower counts, or just plain old social spread, these “cause swarms” have the potential to be incredibly powerful tools for good. Or evil of course, once the scammers start to perfect the new model.
Kickstarter is already proving that entire companies, with significant capital needs, can get off the ground by going around the traditional funding sources and appealing directly. to future fans and customers (Pebble watch, anyone?). In those cases, people give both for the explicit “get” – the watch, the exclusive offers, etc – and the emotional thrill of supporting a great idea or someone’s amazing passion. In charitable giving you have the added benefit of self-fulfillment, the “it just makes ME feel good” effect.
Combining all those feelings with the now-proven platforms that make crowdsourced giving possible, mixed in with the massive swarm-like effect of Internet memes and rabid celebrity followers, and you have one incredibly powerful model. Whether it’s used for good or evil in the long run – and whether the inevitable examples of evil end up souring people on the overall concept – it’s going to be an interesting trend to watch in the coming months and years.