Can I Borrow A Dollar? Online Fundraising for the Arts

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If you’ve texted Haiti to 99909…

…then you are familiar with the profound impact that micro donations, solicited through social media and mobile channels, have on raising both awareness and money for causes. Texting is hardly cutting-edge technology anymore, but the extent to which it’s been adopted as a mechanism to support cause-related marketing has reached new heights and, perhaps, critical mass. Moving forward, I expect to see a glut of micro-donation based fundraising conducted via mobile, both for philanthropic as well as political causes.

Starving Artists Starve No More

Micro-donations from digital channels is hardly new. pioneered micro-lending.  Barack Obama famously funded his campaign (ostensibly at least) through micro-donations, as well.

Aside from simply assisting nonprofits and political causes, the advent of online micro-funding platforms is also being used to support the independent art and entertainment community, turning art into a crowd sourced endeavor and providing a conduit for fans to engage and support the nascent artist community. In particular, two services that have caught my eye recently are Kickstarter and Pledge Music.

Kickstarter takes a broad approach to the arts, describing itself as a “new way to fund creative ideas and ambitious endeavors,” while Pledge Music focuses on the music industry as a “music site that collaborates modern online marketing and old school music biz know how.” The site helps artists create a customized fundraising campaign that leverages their fans across the social ecosystem.

Both services allow casual fans (now essentially pseudo-VCs) unprecedented access and equity by becoming benefactors for artists and their creativity, raising the odds for artists who might not be afforded high-powered publicists or radio promotions budgets in the high six figures.

In addition, both services have a viable presence on the “big” social networks (Facebook, Twitter), which could have tremendous implications for the future of music discovery (but that’s a totally different post). The CEO of EMI Publishing, Roger Faxon, was recently quoted in a The Economist podcast as saying,

There’s this sort of view of the world that the Internet is this huge democracy, and everybody gets to vote. Most people don’t want to vote. But there are people that are compelled to vote, they are the tastemakers, they want to be on the inside and understand the music, and be a part of its propagation.

As a music diehard, I think it’s quite powerful to be able tell my grandchildren that I helped the likes of a Drake or a Junot Diaz achieve their first milestone because I believed in them. I want to be a piece of that story, even if I never meet them in person.

It’s this same desire that drives the popularity of shows like “American Idol.”  And, in spirit, it’s not all that far removed from the way classical music functioned for the better part of the modern era.  The difference is that instead of one wealthy benefactor, there are many average fans.