Julie Clegg had never even heard of crowd-funding when she first started researching ways to raise money for a wheelchair van for her family in 2014. But a few months later, with the help of friends and family, she had crowd-funded over $66,000.
Clegg’s son Van, who was five at the time, has Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 2 and uses a power wheelchair. Before the wheelchair van, getting him in and out of their vehicle was hard and dangerous.
“I had to transfer him from his wheelchair into our vehicle and then guide the 300-pound chair up a ramp, and secure the wheelchair in the back of the car,” says Clegg. “He has no defences, no reflexes, so he has no way of protecting himself if I fall.”
And then one day, she fell. “It was very scary,” she recalls. “It was scary for him and for myself and I just knew that we couldn’t continue to do this.”
Once she decided to try crowd-funding, Clegg says things came together pretty easily. She found the crowd-funding platform YouCaring easy to use. She says it was a full-time job for about two months, but adds she believes it was easier than more traditional fundraising approaches, such as auctions, would have been. “I could do it all from sitting on my lounge chair versus pounding the pavement and knocking on people’s doors,” says Clegg.
She remembers one night during the campaign when she was sitting in the living room with her husband, Colin Bernard. Laptops on hand, they watched donations come in and read comments left by well-wishers. “We couldn’t believe what was happening. It was life-altering,” says Clegg. “It was very, very emotional and every time I think about it I do get emotional. We were just so blessed that we were able to experience that.”
Many of the donations to Clegg’s campaign came from personal connections, but many also came from strangers in Halifax and all over the world: the U.S., Ireland, Australia, and Malaysia.
“Although Van does have this degenerative debilitating disease, he’s cute and vivacious and full of life. I think with this campaign that
really came through,” says Clegg. “I think that’s what touched some people’s heartstrings, his vivaciousness, and that he needed help and that we needed help and people responded to that.”
Chris Steeves, a board member with the Nova Scotia chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, says the appeal of crowdfunding comes partly from the desire to give directly to a specific cause and to help someone with an immediate need. Being able to give in this way gives people a sense of instant gratification.
But it’s not only altruistic endeavours that benefit from crowdfunding. Ambitious entrepreneurs, musicians, artists and inventors are all getting in on the action. Sam Fraser, a local board game designer, ran a Kickstarter campaign that raised over $20,000 in just 30 days last summer.
Fraser has been working on his game, Rogues to Riches, for over 10 years in one form or another. From New Glasgow to Montreal and then to Halifax, his hobby stayed with him,. “I didn’t know what it was for a long, long time,” he says. “It was this thing that I’d been working on, off and on in my spare time.” Being accepted into a Centre for Entrepreneurship Education and Development (CEED) program in 2012 was the impetus to start treating his hobby as a business.
When he needed money, he decided to try crowd-funding. He’d been watching the popularity of game design grow on Kickstarter and it seemed the best fit. “Game players and game designers meet on Kickstarter and a lot of money changes hands and a lot of creativity is pushed and encouraged,” Fraser says.
Clegg and Fraser both ran successful campaigns with impressive results, but not everyone is so lucky. Although observers predict that people will pledge $4.35 billion on Kickstarter and Indiegogo in 2015, the success rate for individual campaigns is under 40 per cent for Kickstarter and reportedly lower for Indiegogo.
Andy Osburn, a Halifax advisor with the National Crowdfunding Association of Canada, emphasizes the importance of having a community behind you for a successful campaign. “The best examples of successful campaigns have been those that have a message that resonates with the community. They’ve already typically built relationships with the community, and donors actually come from those communities,” says Osburn.
That was Fraser’s experience. As an enthusiastic gamer, he is part of the Halifax gaming community. “By the time I had the launch there was probably hundreds of people who had heard about the game or had played it and who were supporting me,” he says. “A lot of them opened up their wallets and helped me out.”
Social media plays a big role in a successful campaign. Clegg credits it with spreading her campaign internationally, and though Fraser admits to not being “the best social media person,” he still used it considerably.
“It’s probably the one thing that has allowed crowd-funding to really prosper and promote and proliferate,” says Osburn. “The good campaigns, the successful campaigns, understand that social media is probably the best way to be able to disseminate their message.”
Crowd-funding is not without criticism, however. Though each platform has its own terms and conditions, there are no guarantees that a person running a campaign will use the money as promised.
“You believe you’re giving your money to a cause, but the accountability is not going to be quite the same as if you gave to an established charity with a mission,” says Steeves.
Osburn admits there is a certain amount of risk taken on by the donor, but says there are ways to limit it. He says most donations are relatively modest in size, and this in itself is a way for donors to mitigate their risk. “The actual amount that people are willing to donate and hence risk is relatively small,” says Osburn.
He also points out that potential donors can research the person or group running the campaign, and that the all-or-nothing crowdfunding model (where donations are not released to the fundraiser unless they reach their financial goal) also limits the risk.
Fraser has another take on this issue. “Rather than being accountable to say a banker, which has very little meaning to me, I’m accountable to 400 gamers, many of whom I consider friends or friends to be,” he says. “I don’t want to let them down.”
There’s also a higher level of accountability built into two Halifax-based crowd-funding platforms. Pursu.it, a platform for amateur athletes started by local athletes Julia Rivard and Leah Skerry in 2012, requires athletes to go through an application process. “There’s no way to absolutely guarantee it, but we have a good idea with most of the athletes what they’re planning on using their funds for,” says Andrew Russell, CEO of Pursu.it.
Then there’s ProjectDal, a new crowdfunding platform from Dalhousie University which allows faculty, staff, students and alumni to raise money for Dalhousie activities and projects.
With ProjectDal, donors are donating directly to the university and, unlike with most crowd-funding platforms, receive a charitable tax receipt. Kimberly McDonald Winsor, Director of Annual Giving at Dalhousie, says there are also ways built in to audit the money to see where it goes.
Fraser is open to doing another crowdfunding campaign in the future but for now is concentrating on getting his game finished. He says running the campaign was a good experience. “It’s going to allow me to get the game out and to the world beyond just Halifax and my local network,” he says. “I just can’t wait to see what’s going to happen.”