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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 20 2013: Well, for one thing, when you donate to a cause, you start getting bombarded with requests to continue donating. That can get tiresome.
    • Jan 20 2013: I think most causes make a mistake, when they ask for one-off donations. Those with world-changing goals should ask for monthly recurring donations: you sign up once, and each month a small amount (say $10) gets charged to your credit card. To what extent would that address the concern you raise?
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        Jan 20 2013: Thank you, Leo. It's a great idea except I hesitate to provide my credit card number because of fear of identity theft. Also what if the organization counted on your money and then you wanted to stop, would they put you through hell?

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