"It will be a great day when schools get all the money they need and the Air Force will have to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber." -- bumper sticker
I received my notice the other day that the Kickstarter pledge I'd made to fund Smarthistory was being processed. The OER art history project had reached its funding goal (congratulations, Smarthistory!), and as is the case with all Kickstarter crowdfunding endeavors, I didn't actually have to make my payment until that had goal had been attained.
I've made pledges towards a number of Kickstarter projects lately, actually. An all-ages comic (with illustrations by the most awesome Dan DePaolo who drew the gargoyle logos here and on my personal website). The Smarthistory open source textbook. A revision of Huck Finn, this one replacing the N-word with "robot." A virtual letterpress app for iPad.
I don't say this to brag about my Kickstarter philanthropy. I mean, my pledges have been just a few bucks. But I like chipping in -- however much, however little -- to these projects. I like making a commitment, along with hundreds of others, to support these efforts and provide them with the funds to move forward.
The Benefits of Crowdfunding
As such, I think that crowdfunding is great for artists and entrepreneurs. Rather than turning to traditional funding sources -- banks, investors, foundations, and the like -- you can make your pitch to the general public. And if they think you're a worthwhile endeavor, if they're willing to back your project with money, then there you go -- you're funded.
Crowdfunding also gives you more control over your project that some traditional funding sources do. There's no need for lengthy business plans, no grant requirements, no financial obligation to your investors.
I also think that crowdfunding is great for the crowd. It taps those of us who are normally excluded from funding decisions (as we're not on grant review committees, we aren't in charge of procurement, or we're not angel investors or loan officers, for example). Here, we get to review potential investments and get to fund the projects we'd like to see happen. So the argument goes, many of these are projects that wouldn't otherwise receive funding.
So how can we take advantage of crowdfunding for educational efforts? DonorsChoose.org is one way -- it's an online charity that helps teachers find funding for classroom projects.
Crowdfunding (for) the Community
GigaOm's Mathew Ingram tweeted the other day that he wondered if crowdfunding via something like Kickstarter could free NPR from its reliance on government funding. (Arguably, radio-thon season at NPR already does a similar thing). But I get his point -- the growth of these crowdfunding platforms does seem to have created new opportunities for people to find funding outside traditional forums and, just as importantly, to then be able to sever some of the chains that those traditional sources have imposed. As we watch state and federal governments grapple with budget crises and as educational programs (I'll include NPR there) face the axe, can crowdfunding become a viable alternative? Or are we just relegating ourselves to a Web 2.0 version of the bake sale?