Thursday, May 24, 2018
Opinion

Crowdfunding takes a selfish turn

The Statue of Liberty stands as a symbol of what's best about our country and the freedom it has offered so many. 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 effort. But today, some crowdfunding is taking a narcissistic turn.

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, Bucquistador was launched for individuals to fundraise for their "bucket lists." 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.

Throughout history there have been important endeavors that needed support. The arts, for example, have often relied on patronage. Sometimes, the support has come from individual benefactors, such as the Medicis, who helped spur the Italian Renaissance with their support for artists, including Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. And sometimes it comes from collections of people or organized nonprofit groups. Modern organizations such as Kickstarter, Crowdrise and Fundable have broadened the availability of patronage for aspiring artists, for charities or for business start-ups.

The problem with some sites, though, is that they are used, in effect, to create gift registries even when there's no special occasion for the gift.

There is great variation in the ways crowdfunding companies reap their profits. While most take a percentage of the funds raised (often in the range of 4 percent to 5 percent), some sites won't collect on pledges unless the fundraising target is met, which means the sites — and those hoping to raise money - get nothing unless the goal is met. Others disperse any funds raised to the fundraiser, whether or not the goal is reached, which means the company gets its 4% no matter what — and that donors are on the hook whether or not enough funds are raised to complete a project.

A website's potential for financial gain may provide it with an incentive to allow a broad range of fundraising. But that doesn't mean the rest of us have to buy in.

I say, let's continue to crowdfund. But instead of giving that $25 to someone who wants to go bungee jumping, donate instead to the young woman who is working on a documentary about autism, or the couple hoping to bring a locally sourced food truck to their city.

Lady Liberty, I'm betting, would agree.

Lara Krupicka is a journalist and the author of the ebook Family Bucket Lists. She wrote this for the Los Angeles Times.

Comments

NFL kneels before the altar of profits

The owners of the 32 National Football League teams sent a wrongheaded and, frankly, un-American message to their players Wednesday: Expressing your opinion during the national anthem is no longer permitted."A club will be fined by the League if its ...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Editorial: Trump right to cancel North Korea talks on nuclear weapons

Editorial: Trump right to cancel North Korea talks on nuclear weapons

Regardless of the reason, the cancellation of the U.S.-North Korea summit to address Pyonyang’s nuclear program is hardly the worst possible outcome of this high-stakes diplomatic gamble. President Donald Trump was unprepared, North Korea’s Kim Jong ...
Published: 05/24/18
Editorial: Banks still need watching after easing Dodd-Frank rules

Editorial: Banks still need watching after easing Dodd-Frank rules

Legislation that waters down the 2010 Dodd-Frank law and was sent to President Donald Trump this week is a mixed bag at best. Some provisions recognize that Congress may have gone too far in some areas in the wake of the Great Recession to place new ...
Published: 05/23/18
Updated: 05/24/18

Another voice: The chutzpah of these men

A new phase of the #MeToo movement may be upon us. Call it the "not so fast" era: Powerful men who plotted career comebacks mere months after being taken down by accusations of sexual misconduct now face even more alarming claims.Mario Batali, the ce...
Published: 05/22/18
Updated: 05/23/18
Editorial: Candor key step to restoring trust at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Heart Institute

Editorial: Candor key step to restoring trust at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Heart Institute

Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital has begun the important work of rebuilding trust with its patients and the community following revelations of medical errors and other problems at its Heart Institute. CEO Dr. Jonathan Ellen candidly acknowledges...
Published: 05/22/18
Updated: 05/23/18
Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Big Sugar remains king in Florida. Just three of the state’s 27 House members voted for an amendment to the farm bill late Thursday that would have started unwinding the needless government supports for sugar that gouge taxpayers. Predictably, the am...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the state’s battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

This is music to the ears. Members of the Florida Orchestra will introduce at-risk students to the violin this summer at some Hillsborough recreation centers. For free.An $80,000 grant to the University Area Community Development Corp. will pay for s...
Published: 05/17/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

In barely six weeks, President Donald Trump has gone from threatening to impose $150 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods to extending a lifeline to ZTE, a Chinese cell phone company that violated U.S. sanctions by doing business with Iran and North K...
Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Lots of teenagers are walking together this week in Hillsborough County, a practice they’ve grown accustomed to during this remarkable school year.We can only hope they keep walking for the rest of their lives.Tens of thousands of them this week are ...
Published: 05/17/18