A little goes a long way

Fund it has proved to be a lifeline for cash-strapped cultural projects, writes Alan O’Riordan

A little goes a long way

A SOUND art project about honey bees and colony collapse disorder, involving the monks of Glenstal Abbey; a community circus in Galway; a host of new plays; and a new visual arts depot. A quick trawl of the crowdfunding site Fund it reveals an incredibly wide range of projects, all looking for small donations to achieve their goals.

The site has been running for just over two years now, and is filling a useful funding niche in these straitened times for artists. Some 25,000 individual donations have raised €1.2 million for successful projects so far, says Stuart McLaughlin of Business to Arts, who run Fund it. Impressively, some 74% of projects reach their target.

“That’s a lot lot higher than the international comparators,” says McLaughlin, sipping tea in his Temple Bar office. “One of the things we do that is different from a lot of the crowdfunding sites internationally is that we have a lot of moderation before a project goes on the site. We spend a lot of time with people telling them what we know is important, especially about getting their message clear. After two years we’re able to understand patterns of funding a bit more, too.”

The way Fund it works is that an artist comes with a specific project and a sum that needs to be raised. Following consultation with Fund it, what is seen as an achievable figure is decided, and a rewards system is put in place: for a music project, €10 might get you a download, say; €30 a limited-edition vinyl, and so on. The money pledged by donors is held until the target is reached, only then are electronic payments finalised.

This can be a bit of a nerve-wracking experience, as Eileen Carpio found. She organised a successful campaign for the debut album of her brother Seán’s band, the Wowos. They raised an impressive €13,950. “It’s good to have that deadline format, but it was nerve-wracking,” she says. “You make your target or you don’t get anything. And when you look at campaigns, the last few days are when it usually takes off. Even I as a funder left it to the very end.”

Despite being a public platform open to anyone, the key to a successful fundraising drive is, for McLaughlin, building up and tapping your own networks first of all. “We know people who go on Fund it to look at what interesting things are happening, who fund multiple projects. Our job is to build that general awareness of Fund it, so that happens. But it’s up to each individual project to build from the networks they have, place stories in the media and so on. What you do is get people to become your marketeers. If I see a project that I like, I’ll fund it, but generally I’d put it on Facebook and say, ‘I funded this, you might like it too’, so someone who’s never heard of that artist might click through and pledge to them.”

Certainly this was Carpio’s experience. “I figured from the start we would be hitting everyone we knew. We started with family, friends, musicians, anyone we could think of,” she says.

The performer and musician Dylan Tighe, who funded his record, Record, through the site, had a similar experience. “I found primarily those who funded me knew me or knew my work,” he says. “I didn’t feel it made a massive impact on people I wouldn’t have known at all.” Tighe’s record was one part of a wider theatre project, part funded by the Arts Council and Cork Midsummer Festival. “I couldn’t divert that funding into the album, so it was another piece in the jigsaw of the whole project’s funding,” he says. “Fund it would have been less than 10 per cent, but it was crucial to the overall project.”

Yet some projects prove you can reach outside your immediate circle, if you have the right project and attract media attention, as was the case for Andrew Douglas and Urban Farm, his rooftop farm in Dublin’s north inner city. For Douglas, Fund it was literally a source of seed capital: to the tune of €5,000. And, he says, almost all of that was from strangers. “I prefer to call them visionaries,” he says. “Fund it was a great promotional tool. It gave us more presence than simply the website, we were able to spread through social media, and able to tell a lot more of the story. They were extremely helpful; it was a very simple process for us.”

An impressive 19 projects from last year’s Fringe Festival raised money through Fund it. For McLaughlin, this is an ideal approach for such shows, giving them a source of revenue that doesn’t depend only on ticket sales, and the dreaded “walk-up” audience, a Fringe staple. “Often what you’re doing is no more than getting people to in effect pre-buy their tickets,” he says. “One of the biggest challenges for artists is often around cash flow, not knowing until the day what you’ll bring in, so anything you can do to reduced that and increase pre-sales is a benefit.”

But there’s an added boon to the Fund it approach, too. Whereas we all have an idea of how much a Fringe ticket might cost — basically a €10 punt on what could be an undercooked callow effort, or a brilliant hour of inspiring invention. But the average Fund it pledge is more than that. “An interesting thing behaviourally about Fund it is that people will often give more than they would simply for a ticket,” says McLaughlin. “Fund it gets us to engage emotionally and financially, and once you’ve bought in, once you’re a stakeholder, you want the thing you funded to get made. You engage with the story and the individual, so people do tend to give a bit more.”

There’s a bit of sociology, too, behind Fund it’s success in this country. “In the World Giving Index, Ireland has gone up to second, in terms of the percentage that we give,” says McLaughlin. “They are good at giving in small value, but high volume.”

In a world where social networks are easily built and maintained, Fund it is a logical step, a way, says McLaughlin, of “unlocking value” in your Facebook following, or what have you. But, he warns, “people have to think through their comms incredibly carefully. People get very grumpy incredibly quickly, they don’t like being hassled, there’s a very fine line between asking people to support your idea and begging.”

Tighe also warns artists not to underestimate the demands on time that a Fund it campaign brings. “There’s a lot of management to the campaign from the artist’s point of view. Even trying to get the word out is a job in itself. That creates extra work on the work that you’re doing. There is also a certain amount of management after, fulfilling rewards, sending records you promised.”

Perhaps the ideal, then, is to have someone who can take the Fund it reins for an artist, as Eileen Carpio did. “In this case, that was really important.” she says. “Especially with Seán travelling so much, it would be difficult for him to be here. Also, on a personal level, Seán wouldn’t be loud about what he does, and you do need to be a bit brazen about it, when you’re asking people to fund you.”


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