The latest waves seem to ignore the defining tenets of group financing over the centuries.
But it was only when I visited Lady Liberty for the first time recently that I discovered something else she represents: an early example of crowdfunding. A display in the museum on Liberty Island describes how, in 1885, Joseph Pulitzer ran an appeal to readers of his newspaper the New York World for funds to build the statue’s pedestal. Some 125,000 Americans answered the call, with most of them contributing $1 or less, and the statue got its base.
That is exactly the kind of endeavor crowdfunding should finance: a project for the benefit of a larger community that wouldn’t be possible without a group financial effort. But today, some crowdfunding is taking a narcissistic turn.
According to the Crowdfunding Industry Report, about $2.7 billion was raised by crowdfunding in 2012, and that amount was expected to rise sharply in 2013. Some crowdfunding websites have strict rules for what kinds of projects are eligible. Kickstarter, for example, allows only “creative projects,” and “does not allow charity, cause or ‘fund my life’ projects.” But other sites have fewer restrictions.
GoFundMe encourages its users “to raise money for themselves, a friend or loved one during life’s important moments.” And in November, the website Bucquistador was launched for individuals to fundraise for their “bucket lists” — the things they’d like to do before they die. As the website puts it: “Say you’d like to take a trip to Africa, and you think it’s going to cost $3,000. You can create a campaign for that goal.”
That sounds appealing on the surface. But it neglects some of the most basic tenets that have defined crowdfunding up to now.