NON-PROFIT ONLINE ART FUNDING PHILANTHROPY
HelpersUnite is the first platform to combine fundraising for creative and business ventures with charitable giving and online event ticketing. Their crowdfunding model is based on helping artists, entrepreneurs and charities work together. Art Radar takes a closer look.
The number of non-profit and independent art organisations in Asia is rising and the need to find successful, appropriate funding models is growing with them. But is this need being met? A critical report from the Wall Street Journal marked 2010 as “a year in which, in Hong Kong, international auction houses and big-name gallery spaces dominated the market, while emerging homegrown artists were left grappling for support and, in Australia, The Sydney Morning Herald published an article on 24 August 2011 reporting that a rise in private donations provided the Australian arts scene with a reprieve from an unprecedented fall in corporate sponsorship. So, what is a non-profit to do? How can these kinds of art organisations leverage the growing number of online platforms and find donors to help them raise much needed funds?
HelpersUnite is one of a score of new crowdfunding websites that have been springing up online in the last few years. It was founded in September 2011 by GoodWorldCreations LLC with a goal to create an integrated platform for artists or entrepreneurs to raise funds, and for donors to find information and analysis on projects, start-ups and charitable initiatives that match their ideas.
The team at HelpersUnite noticed the recent rapid growth of crowdfunding as a method for supporting creative and non-profit initiatives and, as Luan Cox, CEO of HelpersUnite, says, they noticed that the platforms that already existed focused on either creative projects or non-profit fundraising; they did not combine the two into one fundraising model. To address this gap, Cox and her team “decided to create a platform that could do social and artistic ‘good’ through empowering filmmakers, musicians, and entrepreneurs to help a charity in parallel with making their dreams happen”.
Unlike other singularly-focused sites, HelpersUnite’s mission is to build an ecosystem of crowdfunding websites, APIs, mobile applications and modules, plug-in applications that enable crowdfunding within individual or social media sites, focused on “good meets art, business, film, technology”.
What it is and how it all works
Artists and entrepreneurs, the “Creators”, are invited to submit their project or initiatives online. Creators are required to donate a minimum of five percent of what they raised to a charity which they choose during the submission process. If they are undecided on who to donate to, the HelpersUnite team will recommend charities based on the Creator’s interests. The amount that is donated is not restricted, and a Creator can potentially choose to donate 100 percent of their earnings to a specific cause. After a project has been created, it is promoted online and it is then up to a community of “Helpers” to raise funds for the project.
HelpersUnite is based in the United States, and does support projects in other parts of the world as long as they do not make use of the the HelpersUnite ticket selling engine. They are currently exploring international partnerships as well as building local language versions of their website. “We are exploring all possibilities,” explains Cox, with a focus on central Europe and the UK.
And the HelpersUnite website is just the start. Using the same custom-built proprietary platform, GoodWorldCreations affirms that they are able to expeditiously develop and launch sites that integrate with social media, e-commerce, messaging, user profiles and search engines. “Because of our team’s deep web technology and finance backgrounds,” explains Cox, “we are better equipped to enable crowdfunding on a much larger scale through flexible technology….” One such site is GreenUnite, a new upcoming crowdfunding platform for developers of clean technology and sustainable products.
Sourcing the right “crowd”
Sam West from the National Campaign for the Arts (NCA) in the UK stated, in a blog post on The Guardian published in December 2011, that “in the three years measured by this first Arts Index, business contributions are down 17 percent. Private giving is down 13 percent.” A Green Paper study carried out by the Cabinet Office in the UK reported that only 2 percent of everyday donors currently give to the arts, although 22 percent of adults say that cultural events are an essential part of their lives. With such an obviously low level of financial support available to the arts, how is HelpersUnited sourcing their crowd to raise funds and maintain their support?
Cox is aware of the importance of attracting not only a loyal user base interested in more than just donating to their favorite artist or entrepreneur’s project, but also offering a variety of important charities that will appeal to different Creator interests. When feeling generous, Cox’s hope is that donors should only want to visit HelpersUnite versus other sites. “The fact that an artist has chosen the only platform in the world that requires a charity to be selected says a lot about who they are. Crowdfunding is incredibly hard work. These people reach out to friends, family and followers to help support their dream and they are asking that same network to help the world along with them.”
Because every project on HelpersUnite ties a Creator with a charity, the site’s crowdfunding campaigns “have the benefit of two evangelists, which means two groups incentivised to promote the project,” says Cox. In addition, the exposure and coverage that HelpersUnite gains from successful partnerships – each side promotes their collaborative efforts to media and their networks – helps the visibility of the company.
People power: Next-generation philanthropic concepts
The power of crowdfunding stems from a want, some would say a need, for people to collaborate with one another. Sarah Gee, the founder of new philanthropic crowdfunding site AngelShares, told UKFundraising in November 2011 that “HM Government is encouraging philanthropy in the arts, and our aim is that AngelShares will help create a band of angels who are new philanthropists and help make art happen.” This year also saw the launch of WeDidThis, a new crowdfunding platform supporting arts organisations within the UK, allowing them to reach out to their audiences and supporters for funding and bring together large numbers of small donations. Ed Whiting from WeDidThis, writing for a blog published by The Guardian, says he wants crowd funding sites to work together to further the movement, the growth of which he sees as “truly exciting” and something that could “bring about a profound social transformation”.
Cox sees crowdfunding as a positive and important development for companies, non-profits and individuals to raise funds. “Given the state of the global economy, it’s clear that funds available for artists, non-profits and entrepreneurs is difficult to come by, and becoming more so. To us, all three of these groups share the same challenges when it comes to having the money needed in order to succeed. Now, with web-based crowdfunding a door is opened that hasn’t been previously available.” Additionally, crowdfunding not only has the potential to provide the capital needed for an idea or initiative, but it also is a platform to test the idea and get a “vote of confidence” through a donation.
Readers, have you been a benefactor for or organiser of a project that uses crowdfunding to raise capital? Share your experiences with us in the comments section below.
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