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Since this post was written, the RSA's crowdfunding area on Kickstarter has been launched, you can find it at www.kickstarter.com/rsa

Ed Whiting announced on Monday “why crowdfunding, why the RSA and why now”. Before and after this post there have been some really interesting emails and exchanges (and some less interesting spam) on the #RSAcrowdfunding twitter-stream relating to why we chose to start an RSA area on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter as opposed to another platform. So I thought I’d take the time to set out how and why we chose to partner with them.

How

As is normal, I work with members of the Catalyst Working Group (mostly Fellowship Council members and some senior RSA staff) to design and deliver process changes to the Catalyst programme. For this particular change Ed and I worked up a proposal as to what we wanted to do. Since we hope RSA crowdfunding will a) make our organisation visible to other audiences, b) draw in projects from ARC and Events in addition to RSA Fellows and c) inform future technological developments, we formed a steering group with members of staff from across the organisation, ensuring we had members with experience of setting up a crowdfunding platform and of running campaigns. We also found two Fellows to advise us: one a leading academic on crowdfunding; another who runs a different crowdfunding platform.

As a group we set the following eligibility and criteria for deciding who we’d go with:

Eligibility. We would only consider platforms:

  • that allowed us to set up a partner page for free
  • with a track-record of hosting successful crowdfunding campaigns; and decided that our threshold would be those that had successfully raised at least £200,000
  • Criteria. Whilst it’s impossible for a brief list to exactly reflect the weight of particular criterion, or include all the factors one brings into the final decision, our agreed criteria were (in no particular order):

    1. the profile our projects would get through the platform, particularly internationally, which is a key strategic priority for the RSA
    2. what training and support for us staff and our Fellows running campaigns
    3. what data we would get to help us get a better picture of the extent to which Fellows will like crowdfunding
    4. what % the platform took on successful campaigns
    5. Why

      We went with Kickstarter because it performed against the criteria as follows:

      1. they are the most successful crowdfunding platform having raised the most money to date and having the biggest community of return backers. We think that putting our projects on there will give them the greatest chance we can give of attracting wider support, as their stats indicate (of the stats, design, technology, food and art sections are the most relevant for us). In addition, Kickstarter has built a big international following
      2. the depth and quality of the advice for prospective campaigners both on the website and through their approval process. Whilst some bemoan their selection criteria, we think that by forcing projects to focus their pitches on what they are aiming to create and bringing into fruition, they give projects the best chance of appealing to a wider audience. Since we are new to crowdfunding and testing it out (without huge resources being invested), having these services saves us having to set them up ourselves. They also have expertise of working with partners to run spaces (such as Awesome, TED Fellows, good.is, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Brown Center for Public Humanities and Slow Money)
      3. whilst we don’t get a lot of data from Kickstarter, we've found other ways to measure how much Fellows are interested
      4. Kickstarter’s 5% commission plus 3-5% payment costs on successful projects is only marginally higher than all other platforms considered, with the exception of pleasefundus whose pricing model really appealed since it is based on the “gifting” principles that drive (non-equity-/loan-based) crowdfunding sites
      5. What next

        We hope those platforms that we haven’t chosen will still be involved in the following ways:

        • our plan is for the pilot with Kickstarter to inform our own technology strategy and so we may well come back when we decide what our longer-term needs are. In the longer term we’d certainly hope for something more tailored to our organisational needs as well as what the social enterprise sector needs
        • as is typical, we’ll be bringing a wide range of people to deliver our support for Fellows who are crowdfunding:
          • as part of the Social Entrepreneurs Network breakfasts, on 27th September 09.00-10.30 for an informal discussion among social entrepreneurs about crowdfunding so I hope you can make that
          • I've invited you all along to the RSA Event debate on crowdfunding on Monday
          • join the debate and/or signal your support for the RSA’s move into crowdfunding by tweeting to #RSAcrowdfunding, ideally pledging to give £20 to your favourite of the projects that launch on Monday
          • finally, please let me know what you think in the comments (watch out for our spam filter though! Comments won’t get past our moderator if they’re just offering services and not commenting)
          • It’s been a huge pleasure to have been so involved in what I hope will be a great move for the RSA. The success of this won't be down to the decision to go with Kickstarter. Instead it will be down to: the quality of the ideas that Fellows come up with/help one another craft and of the Events and ARC content to inspire those ideas; how many of our 27,000 Fellows and wider ARC and Events following back those projects and; to what extent the crowdfunding draws in more Fellows with amazing ideas to the RSA. I'm looking forward to getting the first glimpse at an answer on Monday!

            Alex Watson is Catalyst Programme Manager at the RSA – follow him @watsoalexRSA Catalyst provides money, expertise and crowdfunding to Fellow-led ideas that aim to have a positive social impact. Find out more and apply for support at www.thersa.org/catalyst 

            Since this post was written, the RSA's crowdfunding area on Kickstarter has been launched, you can find it at www.kickstarter.com/rsa

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