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Crowdfunding for a Cause: How Crowdfunding Can Fill the Missing Holes

posted May 22, 2013, 4:30 PM by   [ updated Jun 7, 2013, 8:53 AM ]
    Like many Americans, Richard Bliss and I followed in real time as events unfolded last weekend in Boston. The remaining bomber, a kid who was believed to have committed an incredible atrocity, was trapped in a boat in a Boston area neighborhood, and the tension was palpable as we all witnessed the police capture him in a professional, humane way that made us proud to be citizens of such a nation.

The situation cried out for personal action.

    Maybe it is the way we are now so connected that we feel a part of the events unfolding, like they are happening on our street. In 1813 one waited days, weeks or even months for news from Boston to reach California. By 1913, you could read about it the San Francisco Chronicle the next day. Today, you can follow events as they unfold in real time. We are there. We are emotionally invested. 

    The tragedy of the bombing and its aftermath left a great many victims in its wake. Our hearts cry out for the parents who lost their 8 year old boy, and we are enraged by the picture of the bomber as he walks away, leaving his deadly backpack on the ground next to the boy. We hear the tragedy and dignity in the voices of the Chinese parents who sent their only child to America to go to school, only to loose her life to some boys from Chechnya who also travelled halfway across the world and killed her. We are mindful of the fourteen victims that lost limbs to this violence, and the others who were injured in the blast, some seriously, and of the two police officers shot during the pursuit of the villains. 

    Americans are famously generous in responding to such tragedies, and America has responded. One Fund Boston was established within days to assist the victims of this tragedy and their families, and Americans, including Richard and I, have contributed. The fund has raised over $10 Million already - a glowing tribute to the generosity of Americans. 

    If non-profit charities like One Fund Boston and the American Red Cross are already raising millions of dollars to help the victims, what is the role of crowdfunding and social media? After all, it is the internet and social media that allowed us all to be a part of what was happening in Dave Henneberry's back yard, so it seems it should also be a part of the solution. But does it have a place?

That was the question Richard asked me on Saturday night. I want to do something Richard said. So, he did.

    Richard is in a unique position with respect to Social Media and Crowdfunding. Richard has been covering Crowdfunding on his podcast "Funding the Dream" since 2011. It now has 139 Episodes. Richard has also been helping people raise money to fund their dreams on Kickstarter and speaks on Kickstarter and Reward-Based Crowdfunding across the country. What Richard could do was start a crowdfunding campaign to help - but help who? -Dave Henneberry.

    Dave Henneberry stepped into the middle of history Saturday evening when he noticed something amiss and called the police, who found their suspect hiding in Mr. Henneberry's pride and joy - his boat. In the ensuing capture, the boat was damaged - history washed over Dave Henneberry's back yard and took his boat with it. 

    Non-profit corporations can help the victims, but they would have a hard time replacing a man's boat. Insurance contracts these days often have "terrorism" exclusions that excuse the insurance company from covering such risks. Government aide seems likely to be targetted where it is needed most - to the victims and their families, and to businesses at the blast site that were damaged in the explosion. But who will help Mr. Henneberry? The "crowd" can.

    The beautiful thing about crowdfunding is that it has not carved out for itself a piece of the pie - it has expanded the pie. In every industry it touches, crowdfunding is bringing new products to market, raising millions of dollars to fund the dreams of project creators, and yet it is not hurting traditional markets. More games, movies, records, gadgets, improvements and inventions are funded and made by using crowdfunding platforms and social media reach to find backers, and the tradional channels of production for those same projects remain as strong as ever. 

    The same will be true here. Raising money to replace a boat is a niche that crowdfunding may be able to fill, at least in part, without reducing the generosity of Americans toward the Non-Profits, NGO's and Government programs that will do the heavy lifting. It does not shrink the pie, it grows the pie and allows generous, connected people to fill in the cracks and do something tangible to help.

    The crowd, as it listened to social media that night, became Dave Henneberry's neighbors for an evening. Please give generously to One Fund Boston or the American Red Cross or one of the many other Non-Profit Crowdfunding organizations that are assisting the victims and their families. And then, help your neighbor, Dave, fix his boat

It's what neighbors do.