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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: There are already a few crowd-funding websites of that sort. Kickstarter (http://www.kickstarter.com/) is one of the more famous ones. For example, they have many projects related to food (http://www.kickstarter.com/discover/categories/food?ref=sidebar) that require funding.

    If you like one of the proposed projects, donate! If you have a good idea, the means to execute it, and are only lacking funding to start it, apply, and describe your project.
    • Jan 19 2013: Have they funded any really big problems? (Billions of dollars, rather than tens or hundreds of thousands?)

      For some things, such as Fritzie's examples below, organisations with the means to execute the idea are already well established, so I presume they can't go on Kickstarter. But, they are not getting ENOUGH support to really change the world.
      • Jan 20 2013: As for Kickstarter, depends on what expectations you have to qualify for "really change the world".

        In any case, charity is not a new concept. Even historically, charities have addressed many different scales of needs, including billions of $. "Crowd-funding" is just a newfangled term for it.
        • Jan 20 2013: True. The concept is not new. My question was intended to be specifically about mass-participation, large-scale crowdfunding. The kind of thing where, odds are, most people in your street would be contributing. I don't think it's ever happened before on that scale, and I wonder why not. Especially given that most people are indeed concerned (to some degree) about the world's major problems. Why doesn't that concern translate into near-universal support for charities? An more importantly, what could be done to create such support?

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