Whether it’s for medical expenses or to produce an aspiring artist’s new album, the impact of crowdfunding cannot be ignored. The “traditional” avenues of philanthropy—soliciting donations and support through a nonprofit—seem far less effective when individuals can easily set up a page on a site such as GoFundMe and immediately reach an audience. Nonprofits have worked to not only help individuals but the causes of issues that affect them as well, whereas crowdfunding gives interested donors an avenue directly to an individual.
It’s certainly noteworthy, but to what extent will these new platforms change existing charitable efforts?
I believe that, rather than supplanting traditional philanthropy, crowdfunding fills a distinct niche that can coexist alongside nonprofits. It’s not hard to see why crowdfunding is popular. For decades, nonprofits have struggled to reach potential donors and make them inclined to donate, with initiatives that have sometimes come across as tone-deaf or condescending. Overall, it’s not just about selling the idea of a noble cause, but about the stories that make the cause worth contributing to.
Humanizing the people that benefit from philanthropy has become especially important in recent years, something that crowdfunding platforms do well. Nothing is more authentic than an individual personally coming forward to tell their story and request assistance. Add in the power of social media and an instant audience in the form of online connections, and we have a formula that has already raised billions of dollars.
With nonprofits, missions don’t always include provisions for individual support. These initiatives are highly impactful, but leave some people seeking other options. Crowdfunding turns this on its head, giving the beneficiaries the oversight over where the money goes and changes the narrative about what donations can accomplish. However, nonprofits aren’t experiencing fewer donations; the numbers have more or less stayed the same. This is a pain point for many of these organizations given that the industry as a whole has not made significant gains in recent years, despite a recent surge of funding.
The question of impact also characterizes the differences between these two approaches. Donors, particularly younger donors, display a desire to see the immediate impact that their funds make. This is far more pronounced with crowdfunding, particularly when donation goals can illustrate the collective accomplishments of donors. Savvy nonprofits will take note of these changes and find ways to demonstrate the value of a contribution to their audience.
Crowdfunding has also called into question whether these donations should be considered tax deductible. Some people believe that this makes donating more appealing, as any funds will not be filtered through a charity’s ecosystem before being put to use. Others believe that the lack of rules around crowdfunding opens the door for fraud.
Whatever the case, the instant support network created by crowdfunding provides a new type of philanthropy, one centered around grassroots movements and the notion that people should give back to their neighbors. This coming at a time when nonprofits try to reinvent themselves indicates that, perhaps, these organizations should focus on their stories—as well as providing transparency about where their funds go. There’s still a place for nonprofits, but this dichotomy of giving may only become more pronounced as time goes on.