Recently, I happened upon the pitch above and was at first thrilled to see yet one more alternative approach to raising awareness and appreciation for nature: good production values and the style is quirky and fun. The Kickstarter pitch came midway through and then my thoughts started wandering.
I admire Kickstarter and its founders (listen to this interview to get a sense why) and believe they would agree with me that it is neither panacea nor a perfect mechanism for vetting worthy projects; a grumpy-sounding caveat emptor question came to me while watching the remainder of that video, a question about the responsibility of consumers of ideas being equally as important as the responsibility of the instigators and/or funders of such ideas.
Entrepreneurial conservation, Raxa Collective’s purpose, has a crowd-sourcing ethic at its core: our experience tells us that if we develop a conservation initiative that is well-executed and well-presented then like-minded people will support it through various types of commercial transactions (e.g. purchase unique hospitality services or high-quality craft items); and they will do so generously by consciously putting a value on the conservation component and pay that value because it is worthy.
When I was first exposed to this approach in the 1990s I thought it was crass, but as I examined it closely I saw growing evidence that it worked. And since then I have participated in plenty of successful projects (and failures too, of course) that in aggregate serve as sufficient proof of its efficacy. Ours is a consumer-driven model. There are also investor-driven models of the same and those have rapidly gained in visibility and participation. In the last three years or so I have been following the crowd-source finance phenomenon with more than passing interest.
Watching that video, a sudden clarity that the Kickstarter pitch in the middle of this video brought about led to queasiness as the implication underlying its message became clear: the folks on Madison Avenue are about as likely to help our children learn to appreciate nature as big oil will lead the way to environmental responsibility. If what I care about are results, then I should be tough even on eye-catching projects with snappy names like Project Wild Thing: I do not trust Madison Avenue, so why should I trust this project?
It reminded me of a discussion about Kickstarter I heard a few months back, focused on an important question:
Crowd funding began as a way to support the arts on the Internet. Artists could go online to pitch a new album, for example, in the hope that thousands would give small amounts. But now it’s expanded to entrepreneurs, and the rules aren’t quite as clear.
On Kickstarter, the largest crowd-funding site, a handful of entrepreneurs have raised millions of dollars more than they’d expected, by selling the concept of products they have yet to make. But financial backers have no clear way of getting a refund if the young businesses fail to deliver.
And plenty of other concerns have been floating around in recent months, much of it mere sniping about the claim one of Kickstarter’s founders made that it was outpacing the most established arts funding sources (advocates of the National Endowment for the Arts are a particularly territorial crowd due to their experience with religious fundamentalists wanting to de-fund arts philanthropy in the USA), but some of it legitimate. I plan to write more on this subject in the near future because of a crowd-sourcing initiative we will be launching in the new year. I will be looking for feedback.
For a beginner’s guide that is neither simplistic nor too complicated, I would recommend this webinar (the audio gets better as it progresses) as a way to get oriented to the key issues of crowd-funding.