How Crowdfunding Is Putting The Social Back Into Social Entrepreneurship


Skoll World Forum

In the lead up to the 2013 Igniting Innovation Summit on Social Entrepreneurship, the Skoll World Forum is featuring the ideas and innovations of several speakers and delegates, all of whom are writing on entrepreneurial approaches and solutions to some of the world’s most pressing social issues. Organized by the Harvard College Social Innovation Collaborative, the Summit takes place on November 9th at Harvard University. View the full series here.

Bre DiGiammarino is the Education and Social Innovation Director atIndiegogo.

Grey Frandsen wants to make you invisible to mosquitos.  He received a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and has worked for years developing the technology to do just that.  His patch, a little bigger than a postage stamp and shaped like a Kite, releases FDA approved chemicals that confuse mosquitoes and make them unable to sense humans.  Yet just months ago, very few people had ever heard of the concept of mosquito invisibility and even fewer had access to the patches needed to make that concept a reality.

Awareness and capital access gaps are familiar demons to social entrepreneurs — they form an infinite loop. A lack of awareness makes it hard to raise funds, and without funds, it’s hard to raise awareness.  Crowdfunding is changing this problem.  At Indiegogo, we address the awareness and access gaps by enabling anyone, anywhere to raise support for anything.  Social entrepreneurs are using crowdfunding in ways that make their work more efficient and effective than ever before.

Learn rapidly

Crowdfunding enables social entrepreneurs to rapidly test, learn and grow their business models in the early days of their development.  Historically, entrepreneurs would create pitch materials for traditional investors, which prompted them to think through their business model and frame it from the perspective of that single point of view – the investor.  Crowdfunding enables entrepreneurs to not only consider that important stakeholder, but also pushes them to consider their other stakeholders from the very start, including clients, beneficiaries, philanthropists and media.

Jean MacDonald recently ran the App Camp for Girls campaign to launch her new nonprofit to teach girls to code.  She set out to raise $50,000 to start the camp in Portland, OR.  When she reached her goal in three days, she acknowledged the significant demand for her work in the market.  She quickly set out to learn more from this demand, asking contributors to suggest in their comments where she should establish her second chapter location.  She ultimately raised more than $100,000 from 1,043 people, ran a Beta version of her camp in Portland, and is gearing up to launch in multiple cities in the summer of 2014.

Support programs

Unrestricted grants may be the ideal form of contribution for social sector organizations, but the power of the “retail model” of philanthropy, in which donors can select to support specific units of social impact, is increasingly clear.  In this model, organizations clearly identify how much impact each unit of contribution supports.  Donors appreciate the added transparency.   Crowdfunding makes this model easier and more fun than ever before, often enabling contributors to directly connect with the beneficiaries of their impact.

Kimberley Bryant founded Black Girls Code to engage more women of color in the digital economy.  She launched the 2012 campaign to cover the costs of teaching computer programming to more than 300 boys and girls from underrepresented communities, in 90 days, in more than 7 cities across the United States.  She raised more than $20,000 from over 434 people.   This year, Kimberley and Black Girls Code took their work to the next level, running the 2013 campaign and raising over $100,000 from more than 1,000 contributors, and bringing programming to more than 2,000 girls in 10 cities and South Africa.   The most claimed contribution was $50 to cover the cost of bringing Black Girls Code programming to one girl that year.  The highest visible contribution was $5,000 to sponsor one of the workshops during the summer and provide 20 students with scholarships.


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