Media Misinformation is Crippling Crowdfunding: Know the Facts

Dear Readers,

This post originally appeared on my LinkedIn Pulse blog site. I thought the information was worth sharing if you’re not a big user of LinkedIn. Please feel free to share with your friends who may be considering crowdfunding, especially if they’re not as far along in their crowdfunding education as you are. Education is power, after all.

One more thing before you settle in to read about media misinformation: I wanted to let you all know I am in the process of strategizing on not only a new site redesign but also repositioning myself in the crowdfunding space so that I can better serve you and also personally experience maximum reward in my daily work. Because work happiness is what it’s all about, isn’t it?

Any comments, suggestions, complaints, requests from you, I’m all ears. Really. Whether it’s technical issues on the current site—a possibility—or what you would like to receive more from me by way of helping you achieve your goals. I do this work for you, so it only makes sense that your feedback on how best to get it right would be invaluable to me!

Now to the article.

Several weeks ago I got an email from a local woman in her upper 60s with a spinal problem who wanted to run a crowdfunding campaign to raise several thousand dollars for at least a single round of stem-cell replacement therapy, maybe two—she’d learned that the second is often required. She told me her condition made it difficult for her to use a computer and wondered if we could talk by phone to discuss working together.

My heart sank. Again.

I know, and many of you know, that because crowdfunding is an online tool, if you can’t even use a computer you’re starting out at a major disadvantage. But not enough people know that crowdfunding isn’t the slam-dunk the media stories would have you believe, and that’s a big problem.

Like most of us I’m a busy person and was unable to take the time to have what I knew would be a lengthy conversation just to get the basic facts of her situation out of her. So as a test of sorts to see how serious she was I told her I would send her the usual questionnaire I ask people to fill out and she should find someone to help her. I’d read it, and give her my response afterwards.

About a month later I received the questionnaire filled with long responses to each of my questions. I knew immediately a) she was serious and b) my instincts were correct that crowdfunding would not work for her.This was one woman in a sea of people who needs money yet she lacked all the basic ingredients that would even put her on the map: She didn’t use social media, she had no understanding of PR or how it works, and she didn’t have a team to help her run her campaign. I decided the only decent thing to do was to phone her to break the news.

What Level Playing Field?

She was incredulous. But I see so many stupid campaigns that make money. I have a real need. Why wouldn’t people give to me?

I went through my spiel about needing to engage via social media, bloggers and media professionals, in order to spread the word. Ah but this is what she wanted me to do for her, she said. She offered to pay me $600, clearly a lot of money to her, because she heard that I was good at this sort of thing.

I told her I could not take her money because I did not believe I could succeed, especially since I could not commit to taking the time and resources I knew I would need to even make a dent. And even then it would be an up-stream swim unless we got very, very lucky.

She persisted, practically begged. It felt so awful I wished I could be anywhere than on that call. But I also knew I couldn’t be that good of a Samaritan while I watched my own business flounder.

Frustrated, she said she would try anyway. I offered to give her my online course for free. She bristled—again, she couldn’t sit in front of the computer, she fretted, plus time was short and she needed help now. I sympathized and gave her a coupon code for the course. She never redeemed it.

Crowdfunding as the Great Equalizer

I find myself not only thinking about this woman, wondering how her health is doing, and if she found some help. I have also have spent a lot of time considering the future of crowdfunding and its ability to truly level the playing field for all.

No doubt it’s truly a democratizer for entrepreneurs who have a promising new device or a fun gadget. But what about those people who don’t have anything to pre-sell? All they have is a need for you, dear public, to care enough about them to give them a leg up at a donation level of your choosing.

And even if you have a most compelling story it will be nothing more than the sound of one hand clapping unless it can be shared again and again by people for whom that story struck a chord.

Hey Media, Get a clue

I’ve been sitting on an article I read that was published in the Washington Post not long after my discomfiting conversation with one of the “needy nobodies.” It really hit a nerve with me.

Here’s the article in full but using the Detroit-based James Robertson as her baseline—remember he was the guy that a virtual stranger raised $350K for when he learned that every day Robertson walked 21 miles as part of his commute to get to his job—she itemizes why she was “not a fan” of the outcome of Robertson’s crowdfunding success story.

There are so many things wrong with the points made in the article I don’t know where to start. But I will, so let’s break it down.

  • The gist of this writer’s thesis is that the public shouldn’t give just because Robertson’s story was raised to “celebrity” status through social media.

But wait! Crowdfunding is nothing if not the perfect online vehicle that, fueled by social media amplification, can touch us as individuals and strike that emotional chord that tells us we want to give.

  • The writer also posits that the money would have been better spent to raise awareness about lack of access to affordable transportation for the poor. The solution, she says, is that we should give regularly to our favorite charities and call it a day.

Um yes, sure. But that’s not crowdfunding. Isn’t it possible that there is room for both of these mechanisms to support good causes? One is the traditional means; the other is a new, 21st century, technology-fueled method. The writer’s point is about as accurate as those who insist that money raised in crowdfunding “takes away” from money raised in traditional fundraising. It’s not one or the other. Didn’t we clear that up ages ago?

  • The writer laments that though Robertson’s story is “heartwarming” what about all the other people who don’t have such a good story?

That these words come from a writer—a purveyor of stories—for a major publication truly strains the imagination. Enough said on that point.

There are a lot inaccuracies about crowdfunding flooding the internet that can infuriate those who are working hard to clarify what crowdfunding really is and how to use it. That this person clearly has no idea what crowdfunding is yet has been allowed the bully pulpit to spread yet more misinformation about it rankles me. The sooner she’s gagged the less likely I am going to have to deal with people like that nice woman who needs money to get her health back on track.

I’d love to hear your comments.

Photo credit: Morguefile