Friday, May 31, 2013

Putting the fun into funding

The government's drive for new sources of cultural funding has a poster child in Boosted, the Arts Foundation’s crowd sourcing site. It’s been up for a couple of months now, so how's it going?

OTN joined up and in March chose to support the Christchurch Art Gallery’s effort to fund an outreach programme. The goal was $25,000 in 35 days. The first surprise (ok, we didn’t read the fine print) was that unlike other crowd sourcing sites Boosted banked our contribution a day or so after it was pledged. On other funding systems our dollars were claimed when and if the project reached its target. Of course the big difference with Boosted is that in reality you are donating to the Arts Foundation and not the project. It is the Foundation that decides whether or not to pass the money on to your selected project. OK they are almost certain to do so, but it is not guaranteed. As the Foundation has also undertaken to refund donations when projects don't reach their goal, it must be bracing for the heavy admin job of contacting hundreds of contributors (one unsuccessful project alone had over 55) when this happens. That's on top of providing tax receipts to the 600 plus donors (the average donation, not including Christchurch, is around $100) to successful projects

Back to Christchurch. By the middle of April nothing much had happened. Our project was only five percent funded and its prospects were looking grim. Suddenly a contribution of around $12,000 landed in the kitty via insurance company IAG. Hmmm, that was convenient. Then with three days to go, magic. Another $12,000 popped up, this time from the Christchurch Casino, and game over. It's hard to believe that the Christchurch Art Gallery didn't already have those large donations in its back pocket and was participating as an act of support to the Boosted concept. The downside was the danger of making the other smaller contributors feel rather surplus to requirements.

Tracking projects is definitely an issue for Boosted. There is nothing on the site we could find listing successful projects and unsuccessful ones just vanish in the night although you can cobble some information together from Facebook. We've been through the site but we're not quite sure what happens if a project is over-subscribed. There is some stuff about projects maybe being given more if the AF thinks they would do even better good things with it but it's wrapped in a lot of lawyer language.

And then there's the way the Boosted site stresses that projects have a limited time to raise their funds. Sure, it adds drama, but it's a little ingenuous as a number of 30-day time extensions have been allowed to projects that have only excited the smallest flutter of donor interest.

At the 50-day mark the Arts Foundation announced the funding of six successful projects. “We're thrilled to announce that, since launching, Boosted has raised over $50,000 for the arts! “ (this amount is now $70,000).  While Boosted certainly had raised $50,000 what was not mentioned was that over half of it came from two donations for one project.

A site like Boosted that gathers good art projects that need funding and manages donations is a great idea. But it probably needs some fine tuning to make it a little more donor friendly given that increased philanthropy is the aim. For example a clearer connections between the projects and the cash (not every donor is just in it for the tax deductions), better tracking to show what happens to every project, a cumulative list of past projects and results that stays up for easy reference (at the moment Google seems to be the only way to old projects, so a search box might be good too) and a FAQ that answers potential contributor questions.