In our work with congregations and nonprofits, one of our most often asked questions is how to use technology to improve giving. While employing technology effectively is often a necessary part of an institution’s giving portfolio, it is never the simple solution to a giving problem. Considering how employing technology shapes communities, practice, liturgy, and culture is a vital question. When it comes to many of these questions, one of the best voices I turn to is Adam Copeland, Director of Stewardship Leadership at the Center for Stewardship Leaders at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. In the article below and the full resource linked in this edition of Insights, Adam focuses in on crowdfunding for congregations. As the leading expert on the topic, his reflections are well worth your attention. - David P. King, Ph.D., Karen Lake Buttrey Director, Lake Institute on Faith & Giving
Every time I scroll through my Facebook feed I’ll find someone “crowdsourcing.” Often, they even use the word. “Crowdsourcing here…how do I keep pansies alive? What book should I read on vacation next week? What’s the use for this strange-looking tool I found at a yard sale?” In another age, these questions may have remained unasked and unanswered. Today, in a few clicks, we can send them out to vast networks, sit back, and wait for the crowd to respond.
Crowdsource funding—“crowdfunding” for short—has developed as an increasingly important way people ask others for funding support. Popularized around 2008 on platforms like Indiegogo, Kickstarter, and GoFundMe, crowdfunding today has blossomed into a multibillion dollar industry. While it began in the art community, in a few short years crowdfunding has expanded to nearly every sector of monetary exchange. And yes, even faith-related nonprofits and congregations crowdfund.
On the one hand, by using crowdfunding tools nonprofits have the ability to get their message out to an audience beyond their usual network. They can find new funders, inspire first-time donations, and invite more people into the joy of giving. On the other hand, the ease of crowdfunding and digital giving/asking means that anyone and their dog (quite literally) can post a campaign.
This ubiquity calls for thoughtfully considered, high quality, artfully communicated approaches to crowdfunding. Indeed, many nonprofits have run successful campaigns. Congregations have launched worship albums, new mission sites, supported homeless ministries, and funded portions of hundreds of mission trips. The tool works if and when we use it well.
Usually, we think of a church budget as a big, bulky mixture of various missional priorities. We might call funding the budget a “macro goal.” Crowdfunding thrives on “micro goals,” specific, often time-sensitive, visions of something new. As Perry Chen, a Kickstarter co-founder has explained, “Potential backers see a pitch and think, ‘That’s really cool. I want to see it exist in the world.’”
Crowdfunding is about bringing vision to life, or making dreams a reality. Campaign creators describe their vision—what they think the world needs—and they ask the crowd for help. Together, they create something that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. I’ve come to think of it this way: crowdfunding supporters don’t give away money; they midwife dreams.
Now, I want to be clear: crowdfunding takes work, organization, coordination, some technological savvy and, most of all, a good idea. For that reason, I’ve written a guide booklet, “Crowdfunding for Congregations and Faith-Related Non-profits” (download at http://adamjcopeland.com/crowdfunding).
Crowdfunding may not be right for your nonprofit or congregation, but I do think it has potential for some. Either way, I think faith communities have much to learn from the invitational language, compelling videos, and inspirational vision on display in many crowdfunding campaigns.
Adam Copeland serves as Director of Stewardship Leadership at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota where he teaches and directs the work of the Center for Stewardship Leaders