Thursday, March 13, 2014

Looking For a Handout? Try Crowdfunding

I believe in working hard for what you want. But sometimes, you need a hand. Whether you get that helping hand or not depends, for me, on whether the cause is worth supporting.

Crowdfunding, the act in which you ask a large group of people to donate a small amount of money, in order to cover the cost of a project, seems to have become popular over the past couple of years. With the economic downturn in the United States, crowdfunding has been a method for keeping some struggling businesses afloat.

If you believe in that company or that project, crowdfunding is a great and inexpensive way to show your support. But should you always support a project or company?

Last year, I participated in a crowdfunding venture to raise funds, in support of PEN Canada, "a nonpartisan organization of writers that works with other to defend freedom of expression as a basic human right." The Bare It For Books project offered a calendar in exchange for your support. It features some of Canada's esteemed authors, such as Farzana Doctor, Terry Fallis, Yann Martel, and Yasuko Thanh, baring flesh in a tasteful and amusing fashion.

I was interested in the project as soon as Angie Abdou, one of my Twitter buddies, said she took it all off for the calendar.

It really is a gorgeous calendar. I feel I got my money's worth and supported a good cause in the bargain. I'm just sad that I can't hang it at work.

I don't think crowdfunding should be a means of acquiring money as a means of personal support. To me, I equate that action with standing on a street corner with a handout. I don't think that's an appropriate use of crowdfunding.

One of my LinkedIn contacts, one with whom I had very little contact but with whom I connected because she was a fellow technical writer, wrote to me and her other connections, and encouraged us to visit her Indiegogo page, and give what we could so that she could continue payments on her car. She was currently between contracts and was having trouble making ends meet.

While I sympathized with her situation, I thought that a lot of people were in a similar situation but were not looking for handouts. They were doing whatever it takes to keep going. I've been in a situation where I've lost my job, and yet I fought on. Though I was a writer, I would have flipped burgers if it meant I could keep my family afloat.

I was uncomfortable with her reason for crowdsourcing, so I declined the invitation. I also severed my LinkedIn connection with her.

I wish her all the luck in the world.

I've been recently introduced to a new crowdsourcing project, and I have mixed views on it. A new craft brewery, Dominion City Brewing Company, is starting up in the Ottawa area, and they are appealing to beer lovers to help them finish their facility. In exchange for your support, they offer swag, from singing "your name into a pot of boiling wort" to sweaters, toques, and even collaboration on a new beer.

Dominion City's Web site displays their three main beers—an IPA, a blonde, and a saison—and my mouth waters. I can't wait to try these ales and write a review for Beer O'Clock. What I find missing from the site is information about the brewer or brewers. Who makes the beer? How long has he been making it? (I know it's a he because the video on their site shows three buddies.)

Sure, swag is good, but I only want to advertise a brewery after I've tried its beer and decided that I like it. I would also only want to give money to a brewery that I believed in, whose beer I loved.

If Hogsback, Ashton, or Beyond The Pale started a crowdfunding program to expand their production, I would support them, but that's because I know their beer and would want to encourage future success. 

I can't get behind a brewery that doesn't yet exist.

I supported PEN because I believed in the cause and was receiving something I needed anyway (who doesn't need a calendar?). I didn't support my LinkedIn connection because I felt uncomfortable with the cause and felt that crowdfunding wasn't an appropriate vehicle for handouts. And I'm conflicted with Dominion City, because I'd love to support a local craft brewer, but I don't yet know if the beer is worth my support.

What are your thoughts on crowdfunding? Do you support projects in this manner? Have you created a crowdfunding project, and for what?


  1. It's a funny way to raise money for a brewery in Ontario. In other states or provinces where the alcohol laws are a bit more relaxed new breweries can host tasting nights to tempt Kickstarter investors. ..and that make sense. Have a sample or two, talk to the people involved - YES I will lay down $15 for a set of coasters because you're awesome.

  2. Great post Ross. I share your thoughts on this. They're doing it wrong. Opening a brewery without any experience and then asking others to pay for your fancy brewery to gain that experience is just ... wrong. One of their blog posts even mentions that their pilot batch is almost complete. Have these guys even brewed a batch before this venture?

    As much as I LOVE beer I can't back their brewery. Not yet. I'll put up my money once I can try their product.

  3. As much as it seems like a good bunch of guys, and i want them to succeed - i think you put into words what seemed strange/uncomfortable about it.