Will WeFund and WeDidThis be the U.K.’s Kickstarter for the arts?

In the last 6 months, two new websites have launched, WeFund and the newer WeDidThis*, both dedicated to crowd funding within the arts in the U.K.  I first noticed the ‘trend’ in the FT article ‘Arts projects try to net crowd funding’. The Guardian’s Charlotte Higgins wrote a similar blog in January and Daily Candy even got on the bandwagon last week writing a post entitled: ‘WeFund Helps You Become a Mini Patron of the Arts’.**

The basic premise of these sites is that you can log on, learn about projects that need funding and provide a variable amount of funding for which you receive a tangible benefit (NB: in all cases this is funding vs. equity)).  For instance, WeDidThis, is currently trying to raise £3,000 to ‘Fund two newly-discovered playwrights’. Benefits for donation range from ‘a handwritten thank you postcard from our selected playwrights’ for £10 to ‘a personalised 20 page play written by a newly discovered playwright’ for a £500 donation.

What the articles don’t mention or only lightly touch on is that these sites are following in footsteps of the U.S. success of Kickstarter. For background, Kickstarter ‘the largest funding platform for creative projects in the world’ was founded in April 2009. Kickstarter’s model, like WeFund and WeDidThis, is all-or-nothing, non-equity, and with a limited-time frame.  The site takes 5% of the fees earned, if successful. Kickstarter currently only accepts U.S. based projects which has no doubt led to the creation of the U.K. based sites.

Some key facts on Kickstarter from a Wired report this past week: ‘More than 14,000 people have posted projects on Kickstarter, and more than 400,000 people have supported them, contributing a total of more than $35 million. Eighty new projects are launched every day, and $1 million is pledged every week. The site has tapped a source of patronage that was all but nonexistent before. The result, says cofounder and CEO Perry Chen, has been the realization of thousands of passion projects—a lone sailor who wanted to travel the world and send Polaroids and origami boats to backers, a designer who created a free online library of symbols, a vegan food truck in Louisville—that might never have found funding otherwise.’

I do hope that these sites are successful and a new funding model is born in the U.K. although I think to be successful in the U.K. these sites will need to:

  • Create a large community of individuals who are willing to donate and engage with the site on a regular basis.  This can take ages and is my biggest concern. Currently, as a proxy, Kickstarter has 55,979 followers on Facebook (including yours truly), WeFund has 4,536 followers and WeDidThis has 373 followers.  The reason this is my biggest concern is I can’t imagine many of my peers from the corporate world following these sites (I did a little test over the weekend)…although there is a certain circularity to sites like these, whereby those who put up events also often act as funders which may support the community needed
  • Attract good ideas worthy of donation. As one techie friend said in discussing this post ‘Kickstarter only works for really good ideas’.  Whilst I couldn’t find an overall historic success rate for Kickstarter, one blogger last year did an analysis showing that 38% of projects were funded.  In addition, Kickstarter did an analysis in the early days that suggested that if a project manages to get to 25% of its funding goal, it has a 94% success rate
  • Have a couple of high-profile big wins that can be used to generate more interest in the community. The Wired article profiles Scott Wilson, an industrial designer who ‘had an idea to create a wristband that would convert an iPod nano into a watch…he posted it [his idea] on Kickstarter, asking for $15,000 to cover tooling costs for the parts. After 30 days, he had raised $941,778 from 13,512 people—the biggest haul any Kickstarter project had ever received. Seventy-six percent of those people didn’t even own a nano but planned to buy one specifically to use with the watchband’  It is stories like these that stick and generate interest across donors and artists

What are your thoughts? Will you use sites like WeFund or WeDidThis? What would make these sites more attractive to you?

* I also with a quick google noticed at least one additional site for crowd-funding the arts in the U.K., Sponsume

** The WeDidThis founder Ed Whiting also wrote a guest blog on the Guardian’s site highlighting all the benefits (e.g., greater awareness and support for individual art’s organisations) and reasons for donation (philanthropy as well as tangible benefit received, e.g., a ticket or a programme mention).’

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15 Responses to Will WeFund and WeDidThis be the U.K.’s Kickstarter for the arts?

  1. Aliceson Robinson says:

    Following on from the post, Crowdfunder.co.uk and Pozible.co.uk also brought to my attention. Perhaps that is another challenge, a crowded market? Still, I do hope this model proves to be successful as we could use another funding channel for the arts

  2. Greg says:

    Thanks for this article. Please note that Sponsume:

    - is the first platform to have been launched on this side of the Atlantic (August 2010)

    - has the most projects actually crowdfunded (out of UK/EU platforms)

    - is the cheapest option out of all the existing platforms (free for now, 4% fee from April)

    • Aliceson Robinson says:

      Thanks for this Greg. Great to know further details about what Sponsume is doing. I would love to hear your thoughts/reflections on the journey since August. My interest is really in if crowd funding for the arts will work in the U.K. (generally as I don’t have an allegiance to any particular site) and what sites can be doing to maximise the funding aspect.

      My specific concern, which I site in the post, is whether/how the community of funders will develop. This is perhaps based on my previous work in the corporate world and knowledge that not many of my peers there knew of, much less used, Kickstarter. It would be interesting to know what the composition of the donor base for a crowdsourcing site like this is, e.g., do most donors also have projects listed at one point or another? what is the background profession of donors (i.e., are they in the arts themselves)? is there any correlation between background and amount donated? etc…Perhaps the audience I note (and tend to write for) is not a critical audience here though (which in itself is fascinating as most arts development teams tend to look to corporates and HNW individuals – is this the model that breaks that?)

      Above all, I would love to see this platform work and wish all the companies involved (which also includes PledgeMusic I have learned today!) succeed.

  3. Cabe Franklin says:

    I think you’re asking great questions here. Most people I know in tech-startup-land know Kickstarter, and everyone has heard the watch story. It’s a cool watch, and there is a heck of a lot to be said for making a well-produced 5-minute video to pitch your project (which he did) rather than just slapping up some text.

    Switching to the arts – it is interesting that someone who would consider donating thousands of $ or £ to a museum, or as an “investment” into a production of a play, isn’t seen as an audience for these crowdfunding sites. If I was running one of them, I would be buying ads on Facebook (at a CPM of 30p, so no cost at all really) and targeting people a) by high-end employer and b) with an expressed interest in culture, with an ad “What do you want to see a play about? Come to _____.com and MAKE IT HAPPEN.” (you are allowed to use caps in FB ads but only sparingly.) Maybe a less shouty ad for women.

    I agree with your inference that creative communities tend to see suits as just suits, e.g. people with checkbooks, and not potential collaborators. I think the first site to get this dynamic right – “you may have a suit job, but we know in college you were a literature major, let’s see if we can’t work to make that a little bit more part of your life again” – will be doing a huge service to all involved.

  4. Aliceson Robinson says:

    Thanks Cabe!

    I really don’t have much to add to your dissection as I very much agree.

    The real question for me is what is the donation base for these sites? As I put forth and you pick up, I don’t think it is ‘the suits’…but again there is a possibility through these sites. But are these sites intended to target that group or is it a different market? I really am not sure. All I know is that I think the crowd who normally donates medium to large funds to arts organisations (which I am surmising are in the main ‘suits’) spend very little time on sites like kickstarter. It just doesn’t fit into the day. But, as you suggest, perhaps there is a way to appeal to this group and get them on the sites more actively.

  5. Aliceson Robinson says:

    David Bolton has also replied to this post here: http://www.facebook.com/board.php?uid=64628225790#!/topic.php?uid=64628225790&topic=56679

    He raises the question inherent in my post around ‘do these sites really attract independent project funding philanthropists?’ As the discussion above notes, I am not convinced yet that the vast majority of *existing* project funding philanthropists do visit these sites, especially in the early days. (But..I would like to see this change…) Of course the word philanthropist is a bit weighty as it implies relatively large donation sizes (although not necessarily in the Eli Broad type category) whereas I think one of the key benefits of these sites is the ability to donate no more than, say, the price of a movie ticket.

    What I do think happens is that a community develops that does consistently follow certain sites and looks to support those who post on them. Every time something goes big from one of these sites, like the infamous watch, this community is reinforced and potentially grown. Press up front is important to generate the interest but it takes continuing success I think to work over the long-term.

    David – I feel less able to comment on which sites I would suggest those looking to raise money use, which you discuss in your post. But I do know two things from a donor perspective (my personal one below but I would guess it translates further):

    1) Perks don’t and do matter. They don’t because if the idea isn’t a good one, I am not going to donate. Very simple. But…once I think the idea is good, the perks could easily take me from £20 to £500. (assuming I am on the site!)
    2) I am likely to visit one of two types of sites – either those where there is a significant amount in my particular area of interest or one where I know good ideas flock (given the above). If they are the same, more the better!

  6. Pete Jenkinson says:

    A worrying development is for sites like Sponsume to offer benefits in kind. ie. be an extra in the film or be supplied with a DVD copy of the film.
    Site owners must improve their understanding of the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 – it is illegal to offer unpaid work to workers who are due the NMW (and that includes performers/extras), workers cannot opt out of the NMW and you cannot offer a payment in kind – DVD.
    Crowdfunding websites must behave responsibly, whilst trying to grow investment, they must also not undersell the value of those working in this field – a sector all to easily exploited and rife with unpaid work (see Low Pay Commission Report 2010).

    • David Bolton says:

      There is also the sale of goods act (which is more relevent, I would suggest in the case of supplying a DVD in return for a “donation”).

  7. Tim Robbins says:

    I have read the comments here with interest and thought I would introduce you to what we believe is a unique, pioneering approach that answers many questions raised. Blue Sky (named as such in recognition of being the source of all, new ideas) is the product of over 5 years study and development, into the nature and nurture of creativity and the increasingly rigourous demands of capital investment.
    The result has been the (quiet) launch of the first phase of our system and methodology, where all those involved in creating and developing new ideas can securely store their copyright assets (the intrinsic value) free of charge, in perpetuity.
    The second phase (to be launched at this year’s Cannes Film Festival – again without fanfare) offers all registered creators the opportunity to develop their idea(s) in business terms to achieve what we have called ‘Investment Ready’ status. Full due dilligence and overall business competence being the key elements here.
    The final phase (which will launch in the final quarter of this year), will allow the offer of tradeable, copyright backed securities via a dedicated (and fully regulated) market to raise the required capital.

    These elements have been brought together to substantially reduce risk on both sides of the equation: risk for the creator (i.e. the money not being legitimate) and the investor (the project being poorly structured or even spurious).

    In the final analysis, investment transactions within the arts are extremely low in comparison to other areas of finance. We believe that through our approach, far larger pools of capital will begin to view this growing sector as realistic in terms of their investment strategies and give film, music, literature and other ‘creative’ areas the real boost they need.

    Currently, the Blue Sky data warehouse stores over 200 copyright assets from 17 countries, with a steady amount of new ideas and documentation received weekly. In addition, 7 of these properties (the true pioneers) are in the process of funding preparation totalling over $27m.

    As have I outlined, our business is in the first stages of development, but we are confident that our approach will resonate with investors at all levels.

  8. David Bolton says:

    An example of an upcoming fringe theatre production that achieved its crowdfunding target:

    • Aliceson Robinson says:

      Great news! I will try to check it out in Edinburgh. Would be interesting to know the distribution of donations.

      • David Bolton says:

        This may be a special case – as Spike Theate lost its Arts Council funding last Wednesday – and a wave of sympathetic tweets helped to make sure the target was met (on that same evening. I threw some cash in the pot too). However WeFund does have other theatre projects on its books – at least one of which has recently reached its target.

        • David Bolton says:

          Table below might come out a bit weird. Of course this does not show how many donors were approached directly, or indirectly (via the usual publicity routes – press, social networks, friends of friends), and the number who just saw the item on the crowdfunding site. Data from http://www.wefund.co.uk/?field_project_category_value=17

          Show raised donors per donor Base Venue
          wordplay 4 525 25 21.00 London London
          boy on the swing 1000 18 55.56 London London
          av a banana 1535 48 31.98 London London & Brighton
          mamet double bill 2041 68 30.01 London London
          the games 2800 61 45.90 Manchester Edfringe
          epic 5011 85 58.95 Newbury Nat. Tour

          • Aliceson Robinson says:

            These numbers look quite positive I think. Most with a large number of donations and a large donation (quick calculation suggests the average is slightly over £42 across the 6 shows). This suggests that when people do commit they are willing to commit say more than the price of a ticket.

            Of course, as you note, we would need to understand those who wouldn’t have donated in any other way and came across the opportunities via WeFund. And of course, now that people have used it once (especially given an impetus like the cut in funding) will we see these people return. I hope so – some good early successes I think.

  9. James Bailey says:

    Hi Everyone,
    It is great to see so many people participating in the debate about where crowdfunding is going and what it needs to succeed in the UK. http://www.PleaseFund.Us was launched after wefund and sponsume making already busy market even more saturated. That being said crowdfunding as a concept is still very new to most people in the UK.
    As you have all pointed out, most of the people contributing the first time have a very strong affiliation with the project that they are contributing to, i.e. they have been called to the action of making a pledge by one of the projects owners. However, this only explains half of the story, what the “crowd” are really looking for are great ideas and credibility. If a project owner can persuade 10 – 20 of his closest network to chip in and support his idea, then other people are much more likely to believe in what he is doing. We have found that if your project gets 20 backers then it has an 80% chance of success.
    How do the pledges break down in monetary value… well our site wide average pledge is about £35. For an individual project what normally happens is that they get most of their funding in the £20 – £50 range and then a few bigger pledges come in for 20% – 30% of the funding. These figures do all get skewed when grant giving bodies get involved as their normal commitment is much much higher than individuals. Hence the large amount raised on spacehive for the community center – £790k or something with over £500k coming from just two government grants.
    If anyone has any questions on how to go about crowdfunding a campaign we would be delighted to help – in fact we have set up a whole resource area on our site to helping people shape their campaigns – http://www.pleasefund.us/help/define-your-project – please feel free to drop us a line anytime.
    Kind regards,

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