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Can world-changing projects be crowdfunded? (Aka, why don't people donate?)

The internet offers the opportunity to connect a large number of people, for a common cause. If these people each contribute a small amount of money, you have crowdfunding. Crowdfunding has been used successfully to support independent bands, startup companies, and business/humanitarian projects in the developing world. But what about crowdfunding something really big? Renting the whole Amazon rainforest for instance (to protect it from logging)? Or saving tigers from extinction in the wild? Or supplying the entire developing world with efficient cooking facilities (to reduce harmful soot emissions)?

A big obstacle, to any such scheme, is that people often agree a cause is worthy, but do not give any of their own cash towards it. Why do we act that way?

- Is it because we’re conditioned to avoid giving? (E.g. “Don’t give to the homeless man, it will only make him dependent on charity”)
- Is it because, to give to one cause, would feel like an admission that we should be giving to all of them?
- Is it because we feel unsure of how well our donation would be used? (Or is this just an excuse?)
- Is it because we put our own affluence ahead of the causes we espouse?
- Is it because many worthy causes are seen as issues “owned” by particular groups at the left-most end of the political spectrum, alienating those genuinely caring people who happen to have different political views?

I don’t know. But I do know that if we could make large-scale crowd funding work, it could be our best tool to change the world – unencumbered by the hidebound caution of our elected leaders, driven only by the passion of ordinary people.

For a cause you believed in, would you donate to large-scale crowdsourcing? Why or why not?


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    Jan 19 2013: Am I correct to assume the new term "crowd-sourcing" includes only free-will offerings as distinct from taxes?
    • Jan 19 2013: correct.
    • Jan 19 2013: Correct. (Although widespread taxation for worthy causes might be another way to solve global problems, although I suspect that might be even harder to achieve than donations from individuals).
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        Jan 19 2013: I suspect many average Joe-bag-o-donuts types, like me, consider the taxes taken from our paychecks are being used to fund "worthy causes" and "world-changing projects" and we are, therefore, not motivated to take some of what remains, if any, and donate it. That's why I asked about taxes being considered to be crowd-funding.
        • Jan 20 2013: Fantastic, your viewpoint is exactly one of the ones that I'm trying to understand! :-) Are you happy with what the government is doing with your money? Is there any major issue which you care about, and which you feel the government is not doing enough about? Would you give, say, $10 per month towards that issue, over and above your taxes - if you knew that most other people in your country would also do the same?
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        Jan 20 2013: Whoever constructed the term "crowd-funding" made a mistake by excluding taxes. The seminal, prototype of funding by the masses is taxes. What we end-up with is a new version of fund raising added to Girl Scout cookies, panhanding, selling pencils, telemarketing, the Fireman's Ball, and infomercials. As the amount collected increases so does the amount actually spent on the declared purpose decrease. This is because of administrative costs, graft, corruption, stealing, and misappropriation. So, no, I would not trust a crowd-funded multi-billion dollar enterprise any further than I could throw it. :-(
        • Jan 20 2013: What if there was no "one organisation"? Returning to Fritzie's examples of conservation organisations, what tens of billions were donated every year to such organisations, but you, as the individual donor, got to choose which one received your money? (And you gave it directly to your chosen organisation, no middle-man.)

          I imagine a "market" of conservation services, in which organisations such as WWF and Nature Conservancy compete for your donation. The competition will keep them honest, and hedge the worlds bets, since each will take a somewhat different approach from the other. The ones that appeal most to donors get the most funding (which I would argue is a better model that we give our money to the government in taxes and then our elected representatives argue amongst themselves about what to do with it).

          (As Fritzie pointed out, all of the above exists today. My point is that it needs to be scaled up by a factor of about 50, if it is to actually meet its potential, to really make a difference, )

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