Thursday, 29 March 2012

Fundit's First Birthday

Last week saw Ireland's first crowd-funding platform Fundit celebrate its first birthday. And in twelve short months Fundit has seen over €300,000 pledged by thousands of people to support almost 150 creative projects all over Ireland for some really cool rewards (based on the most recent figure I could see on their blog - these figures could actually be a little higher now). Of those 150 or so projects, I've been involved in two of them and have funded (or attempted to fund) a further three. Being part of some projects and a funder of others hasn't made me an expert on this at all - I doubt anyone could claim to be an expert at something still very young; the American model, Kickstarter, is only 3 or so years old, so this type of online crowd-funding for creative projects really is in its infancy - but it has given me some food for thought on it all. With Fundit now one year old, I think now is a great time to take stock on the initiative and see what's worked in order to continue growing the initiative's success, so I thought I'd share my take on things.

In spring of last year I was involved in two projects that were on the Fundit site around the same time: the Irish Architecture Foundation wanted to raise €15,000 for the 2011 edition of the Open House Dublin book and Dublin Dance Festival wanted to raise a minimum of €1,050 to allow three (or more, if fundraising went well) Festival artists free access to all performances to be exposed to the best of international contemporary dance at no cost to themselves. Two quite different projects and very different targets, but the experience of each was actually quite similar (just with a little added stress for the IAF's larger target, as you might imagine). A couple of things really surprised me about both. The first is the size of each organisation's network compared with the final number of funders. The IAF - at the time - had around 2,000 - 3,000 people connected to Open House Dublin via social media, about 6,000 people receiving their newsletter and had recorded 25,000 attendances at the 2010 OHD festival. So bringing in a couple hundred funders should be easy, right? Wrong - all those thousands of people attending the event and receiving regular contact from the organisation and in the end it was a little over 400 people who funded the OHD book. It was similar for DDF - at the time the Festival had over 2,000 'likers' on Facebook alone but only about 40 people funded the Access All Areas project. Don't get me wrong - those are each small numbers, but very significant ones, as that's all it took to get each project over the line. But it's worth bearing this in mind if you were to start a project of your own that 1,000 twitter followers may not equal 1,000 funders.

Another thing that struck me, not only about the projects I was part of but also about projects I funded was the amount of funding that came in at different times while the project was running. When deciding on the length of time the OHD book was on the site, I think the IAF opted for a fairly long stretch - six weeks - hoping that more time on the site might mean more funders. Speaking with Alex Synge, creator of the Keep Sketch project (the rewards of which are pictured below), he set up his project to run for about eight weeks for a similar reason, to ensure people were given plenty time to develop interest in the project and take the plunge to fund it. Both of these projects, and DDF's Access All Areas too, experienced a burst of funding at the start and a bigger burst of funding at the end (Alex says that the funding for Keep Sketch more than doubled in the final five or so days) and a slightly scary lull in between. The lull during the OHD project was particularly scary - In the first week or two the IAF had raised about 30% - 40% of its target and barely raised any more until the final week of the project, when a massive surge of interest pushed the project past its target by 17%. I think the reason for this is that typical Irish attitude where we say to ourselves all too often, 'ah yeah, I'll get around to that', but rarely 'get round' to whatever it is until there's a real sense of urgency. Because of this, if I were to create a project on Fundit in the future, I'd give real consideration to a short timespan and try to harness that sense of urgency so many of us seem to need...

I said above that now is a good time to take stock of what's happened so far on Fundit and where things might lead. With this in mind, I think it would be great if Fundit itself were to survey their project creators and - perhaps more importantly - survey their funders. They've had over 10,500 people fund projects so far (again, that's the most recent count I've come across - it could in fact be higher) and the average person funds a project by €40 - €50. I would be really curious to know how likely it is that someone funds more than one project on the site, and if so, on average how many projects have individual people funded so far? Also, I can say with some certainty that a very large proportion of the funders of the OHD book came from the IAF's own network, but in general what proportion of funders will come from a project creator's own network, what proportion comes from Fundit's network and what proportion comes from somewhere else entirely, such as another project on the site, a newspaper article, or word of mouth? If you guys have any thoughts on this, by all means share them in the comments below, and if you haven't already you can watch the promotional video I made last year for the OHD book below :)