Debra Askanase wrote a thought-provoking piece on Idealware called Tribe Leaders and Social Network Fundraising Thoughts – and, well, it got me thinking!

Debra discusses the various tools available but focuses in on “tribes” – a concept most attributed to Seth Godin – emphasizing that crowdfunding (“using the collective funds of a group of people to raise money for a venture, organizaiton, or cause”) is most successful when you have already discovered/identified and connected with the natural leaders within your community and supported them to campaign or fundraise on your behalf.  This is not something I disagree with completely, but when it comes to crowdfunding, I think it’s a “chicken or the egg” discussion.

The Chicken

We have many different platforms where individuals can create campaigns or fundraising appeals that benefit themselves, registered organizations/charities, or groups and clubs. And people are doing it – raising money, promoting campaigns, leveraging the power of online social networks to spread and distribute their message, appeal and influence.

The Egg

We also have organizations spending time finding the latest new tools and ensuring their organization is listed in the bucket of possible organizations to benefit.  Ensuring that regardless of which platform an inspired individual or group prefers to use, they will be able to find and select that organization to benefit.

The Debate

So, which comes first? Which is the one to follow? It’s the inevitable, enduring debate that they are so tied together we can argue til we are blue in the face without getting very far.

If your organization isn’t listed, then of course no one is going to be fundraising for you. But just because you’re listed on every possible platform, doesn’t mean you’ll get a single penny.

My response is always the “middle road” of sorts:

  1. find the platforms that are most aligned with your work and activities and the places your community uses most
  2. ensure that your organization is listed on those platforms for anyone that wants to find you
  3. create a space on your website for people looking to create personal projects or campaigns in your benefit: give them the materials, logos, content/copy and all the appropriate links and instructions on how to select your organization and create a campaign on their preferred platform
  4. remind your community that you’re there and highlight the stories of those that do use crowdfunding to benefit you (no better way to talk about yourself than by telling the story of those who did something for you!)

What do you think? Is it really a chicken or the egg debate? How has your organization tackled the issue?  If you have ever created a fundraising campaign yourself to benefit an organization, how did you choose who to benefit? Would love to hear your thoughts!

The Chicken or the Egg of Crowdfunding
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  • Thoughts on @askdebra’s @idealware post re Crowdfunding – is it a Chicken-or-the-egg debate? What do you think?

  • Amy, great post! The chicken-and-egg approach is a fun way to reframe what is often seen as a catch-22 (if we don’t have a chicken, how do we get any eggs? If we don’t have any eggs…?). Your four steps provide a really helpful guideline for moving past that catch-22 stage. #3, what you could call a “free agent fundraiser” page, is especially useful and often overlooked. Will be watching for comments here – looking forward to learning more –

    • Thanks, Christine!

      I like the chicken and egg debate much better for framing and discussing than the catch-22; not because I don’t think it is fitting, but because I think the catch-22 idea can totally disempower people from figuring out how to make something work.

      I definitely agree with you that a free agent fundraiser (or, I think I’d recommend a free agent supporter, so it’s fundraising and everything else) page is a great way to start and bring both the chickens and the eggs together in one basket! (see what I did there, yeah…)

      Looking forward to more comments and hopefully some experiences/stories here.

  • I think your advice is spot on – although I wonder whether we’re more helpful when we don’t leave the choice up to the personal fundraiser. I don’t even like evaluating which tool to choose, and it’s my job. Sometimes, in an effort to create a sense of choice for the potential donor/fundraiser, we may just add to their confusion & give them a reason to opt out.

    I think, personally, I’ve opted out of the egg, too. It took some learning, and I used to try diligently to keep us on most platforms. Every time I saw a new one arise, I’d wince, because I’d have to reformat our data to comply with the new platform.

    Now, though, almost universally, I opt out of genericizing fundraising platforms. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like I’m commoditizing the great work of our partner each time I add her to one of these platforms. I feel like she becomes one of a million instead of one in a million. They almost ubiquitously charge a fee and, with rare exception, rely on the organization to drive traffic to a particular project or page.

    If I’m going to have to do the marketing, and pay a fee, I’d rather use the time to build a platform of my own. Maybe it’s as simple as a Chipin or Paypal widget on a WordPress page, but it’s an experience I can customize fully and one that isn’t surrounded by thousands of other opportunities – that may not frame our work in the way we’d prefer. So often the photography or storytelling by many nonprofits & projects on these sites is so need-based, and ours tries to be potential-based – I don’t want there to be any confusion of our message by entering her in an online catalog of global “needs.” Ick.

    Our economic system is rooted in this propensity to scale & create convenience & supposed “economies of scale”. Bigger=Better, right? and many platforms are built on this notion. I wholeheartedly believe that there are many situations in which boutique or custom solutions for a particular project or community are radically more effective.

    I hope we’re careful not to build core platforms that effectively create McDonald’s, Wendy’s & Burger King flavors of causes online to make it “easy” for our users and “efficient” for our organizations. Double Ick.

    Maybe, just maybe, change is about love & art. And efficiency & ease just aren’t the right metrics.

    • Thanks, Stacey – as always you’ve shared your passion and dedication in your response and are always true to the mission.

      I definitely agree with you about selecting places online to list your organization that match the values and purpose you’re working towards – and not just selling yourself everywhere you possibly can. This is why in my steps above I said to only take the time to list your organization on the networks or platforms your community was already using/gathering (so they had the opportunity/access to send funds your way). But I think the framing of “fundraise for us in your own way because you want to be part of this” vs “fundraise for us because we need the money” is something that only the organization can help provide to the participants and community members and that framing is not just a one-time thing.

      I’d love to hear if you have had experience with people finding your Causes or other platform listing and creating a fundraising effort that benefits you – how they did it, how you found them, how you connected/supported them.

      Thanks again for sharing here – I really appreciate it!

  • Great way to frame the discussion as this or that — but isn’t a combination needed?

    You need to balance organizational strategy with reaching and embracing “free agent fundraisers” — that’s the name of the chapter in The Networked Nonprofit about this very issue.

    • Thanks for commenting, Beth! I completely agree – that’s why the four steps I recommend include doing both in a balanced way. It doesn’t make sense to use up your capacity just finding places to list your organization; but you can pay attention to where your community is going online and be sure to your organization listed there; and you don’t want to just list your organization and hope people will find ways to support you but instead should create a place on your website and regular storytelling to help those “free agents” get started.

      The chicken or the egg metaphor is to point out that we can’t really say which was first, or at least at this point it doesn’t matter, because we have and need both.

  • Just found this via a tweet from Rachel Beer that lists some of the various platforms:



  • I totally agree with you – I think it comes down to the whole debate of chicken and the egg, but don’t you think the kind of cause would also influence that?

    • Thanks for joining in, Ehon! I definitely think the kind of cause (the sector, the mission, the community, etc.) influences everything. I wouldn’t say that it means it is “either/or” but that it is still a mix of both – the kind of cause determining which platforms and which opportunities are most appropriate.

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