Crowdfunding has created exciting opportunities for artists and entrepreneurs, but what sort of opportunities does it offer to GLAM institutions? I believe crowdfunding provides a way for museums to engage with communities and interest groups and give those communities a sense of ownership of a project from the outset of the project. By analysing the appropriateness of four different crowdfunding platforms – Kickstarter, Boosted, SuchCrowd and Give-A-Little – in terms of their potential to provide this opportunity, I will build on this belief. Before I begin, I should acknowledge that I am currently doing an internship with Boosted and have worked on projects using SuchCrowd.
Kickstarter is the archetypal crowdfunding platform. Project owners set a financial goal, and a date by which they would like to meet that target. If ‘the crowd’ pledge enough money for the project to reach the goal by that date, then the project owner receives the money. If the project fails to reach the financial goal, the money is returned to ‘the crowd.’ Kickstarter also allows project owners to offer rewards for donations of a certain amount, to incentivise pledgers.
Boosted is a crowdfunding platform specifically for arts funding in New Zealand. Run by the Arts Foundation New Zealand, it has charitable status allowing it to offer a tax creditable receipt to donors. It operates in a similar fashion to Kickstarter, but it does not allow project owners to offer rewards; thus, supporters are donors rather than pledgers. The lack of rewards can be an advantage, as many first time crowdfunders fail to properly budget the full cost of their rewards. Many museums do, however, already have things they can offer as rewards, such as branded keychains, pens and other merchandise. These gifts are not unusual examples of Kickstarter gifts, however, they are also not particularly appealing or innovative. For larger pledges, museums could offer rewards which do not have a great financial cost, like back of house tours if these are not already publicly available.
The Kickstarter and Boosted models are centred around definites; a definite financial goal, by a definite date, for a definite purpose. This creates an all or nothing situation which may be problematic, particularly for larger institutions, as failure to achieve a widely publicised goal may result in a damaged reputation. That being said, trying to complete a $10,000 project on a $5,000 budget might break some institutions or lead to a sub-par project, which would also damage their reputation. Crowdfunding removes the financial risk, allowing institutions to guage interest for a project without committing to it. Institutions, therefore, need to understand how their audience perceives the institution, before committing to this model of crowdfunding.
Another advantage of Boosted over Kickstarter is that it is New Zealand-based. Being local uniquely positions Boosted to offer specialised knowledge on donor behaviour. Its focus on the arts means there is also a boutique understanding of how crowdfunding will affect an organisation. This focus may also mean that certain projects, particularly in museums, may not quite fit with Boosted’s mandate, although their interpretation of ‘arts’ is quite wide.
Boosted’s greatest benefit to GLAM institutions may be in public educational programs and their ability to provide locally relevant support to projects. This is particularly relevant for art galleries, especially artist-run spaces. I first encountered Boosted through a workshop on crowdfunding they ran at Enjoy Gallery, Wellington. Rather than using Boosted to fund exhibitions, galleries can use them as a tool to offer support to artists in their networks. Museums, could similarly use Boosted to support private researchers working with their collections, for example, Alistair Fraser used Boosted to fund his research on taonga pūoro in English and Irish museums.
SuchCrowd departs from the model of Boosted and Kickstarter. It is a ticket funding platform. Like the already mentioned platforms, it allows fundraisers to set a target date with a target goal. The difference is the nature of pledges. Pledges on SuchCrowd are ticket pre-orders, but for yet-to-be confirmed events. Pledges, therefore, are for a set amount - the price of a ticket - rather than for what the pledger would like to donate. This allows event managers to mitigate the risks associated with events.
Per their website, SuchCrowd has successfully crowdfunded 188 events, with a total of 1542 tickets sold. This is an average of 13 tickets per successful event. If an institution, particularly a small one, has an idea for an event with niche appeal, they can use the crowdfunding campaign to guage interest and sell tickets at the same time. This could be useful for rural museums, who may want to bring in someone with specialist skills to run an event, but do not have the money on hand to pay for this person’s travel.
Finally, there is Give-A-Little. Give-A-Little is a cause-based platform, and like Boosted, receives donations rather than pledges. The cause-based nature of Give-A-Little makes it more like traditional museum donations and patronage than the other platforms. Give-A-Little’s biggest strength is the variety of different models it offers. These different models offer different ways of fundraising. For example, the Cricket Museum is registered to Give-A-Little as an organisation, meaning that it has no fixed financial goal or set end date. Donors can donate to the Cricket Museum perpetually through Give-A-Little. Te Awahou Nieuwe Stroom has two Give-A-Littles, the Dutch Connection Museum Trust, registered as an organisation, and Piriharakeke Generation Inspiration Centre, registered as a cause with an open goal. Registering as a cause means that Piriharakeke has a closing date for donations, but the open goal means there is no set financial target.
The Give-A-Little ‘cause’ model is well-suited to GLAM institutions. As a ‘keep it all’ model, the project cannot fail, mitigating the risks for an institution’s reputation. With other platforms, the crowdfunding campaign is essential money for the project; without it, the project does not happen. Give-A-Little allows GLAM institutions to raise supplementary money, either as a general platform for donations, as in the Cricket Museum, or a way to improve a confirmed project, as in Piriharakeke.
This latter choice is especially good for GLAM projects developed in partnership with a community. It gives the community ownership of the project. The community are not merely consulted, but actively involved in every step of the project’s development including fundraising. They can participate in the campaign by donating or even just by sharing the campaign on Facebook.
Running crowdfunding campaigns alongside community partnerships benefits GLAM institutions in other ways. Essential to a good crowdfunding campaign is the campaigner’s ability to tap into their personal networks for funds. If GLAM institutions were trying to run crowdfunding campaigns for every exhibition their network would quickly tire of their requests for funds, and whatever initial success they had would quickly be lost. By using crowdfunding to supplement community partnerships, GLAM institutions bring in the community’s network as well. As an added benefit, new audience members interact with the institution, allowing it to grow its network.
The risk with Give-A-Little’s open campaigns is that institutions may fail to use the platform effectively. Merely making a Give-A-Little page is not enough. There must be constant engagement with this page, advertising it and reaching out to donors to build relationships. Failure to continuously engage will prohibit long term success, while potential opportunities of crowdfunding, such as network building, will be missed. Having a fixed end-date circumvents this problem, as there is generally a flurry of engagement and sharing of the campaign as the end-date approaches.
Crowdfunding does offer many opportunities for GLAM institutions; however, it is important to understand what platform is best for each project. There is no hard and fast rule on how to run crowdfunding campaigns, though strong community outreach is always important. While other platforms may be useful to GLAM institutions at times, I believe Give-A-Little has the most relevance, as it offers a high level of community engagement, without the risk of a failure that could damage an institution’s reputation.