Random Thoughts

Observations on life as I see and experience it.

Audrey Henderson

Audrey Henderson
Chicago, Illinois, United States
August 09
Founder and Owner
Knowledge Empowerment
Independent writer, researcher and policy analyst with a progressive viewpoint. Especially interested in arts policy, housing, world events, sustainable development and socially responsible travel.

FEBRUARY 24, 2012 10:41PM

Fishing from an Empty Pond

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Article first published as Fishing from an Empty Pond on Technorati.

Chicago Board of Trade Building -- Photo Credit: Audrey F. Henderson -- All Rights Reserved

I won't be attending the Globe 2012 conference in Vancouver this year after all. Oh, I had press credentials and, yes, I had a writing assignment. I even had a hotel reservation.  I had mapped out a rough agenda of what I wanted to accomplish during the trip — including renewing old contacts. I had it all planned out.  What I didn't have, and still don't have, is the money to afford to go.  It's all the Internet's fault.  No, really.

The Internet is supposed to be this great leveler, a means of making the world smaller, more accessible and more closely connected, and in a lot of ways, that's true.  The Internet had played an integral part in driving the Arab Spring.  On a personal level, the Internet has provided the means by which I have earned nearly all my income for several years.  But this time, the Internet let me down.  Or, more accurately, I committed the sin of approaching the Internet backwards.

(Oh, right, that photo at the top of this article?  It's the photo I used to showcase my crowdfunding drive for a charrette on affordable housing and sustainable development.  No, the Board of Trade in Chicago doesn't really relate to sustainable development, affordable housing, or charrettes for that matter.  I just thought it was a cool photo that might command attention.  And yes, I took the photo.)

I'm getting ahead of myself.  

I consider myself to be reasonably tech-savvy, and a fairly early adopter, especially when it comes to the Internet and social media.  I've been surfing the web since way back in the day when Al Gore was still calling it the Information Superhighway and AOL got away with charging users by the hour for using its services. (Can you imagine?)  I've had a GMail address since the time you had to have an invite to get one; I maintain a reasonably active Twitter feed and I've been on LinkedIn since 2005.  Since the mid 1990s, I've owned no less than six computers, including a hand-me-down desktop model into which I installed a CD-ROM drive, a 14.4K modem, a replacement hard drive and supplemental RAM. (On the other hand, I've never owned a car.)

You get the idea.

Anyway, when I first heard about crowdfunding, I was intrigued, but skeptical.  Would total strangers really donate money to a project for any reason?  Why, yes, and enthusiastically so, it seems.  If a project catches the imagination of enough donors, or is prominently featured in the media, or both, well, the money comes pouring in.  After reading enough glowing success stories of  singers dropping albums and journalists flying off to jaunts halfway around the world, all financed by crowdfunding,  I was all in. 

I had a good idea for a crowdfunding campaign, actually several.  But I settled on the Globe conference because it was timely, and going to the conference would satisfy several purposes: I would undoubtedly make valuable contacts at the conference, collect a set of killer writing samples, further demonstrate my expertise in the sustainability arena, and, oh yes, get to hang out in Vancouver.  What part of this was bad?

So, I dutifully constructed a funding campaign: selected a feature photo, explanatory narrative, appealing rewards, authoritative bio, etc.  I even sent out a handful of email messages to my contacts appealing to them, not for money (I was too wise for that), but requesting that they pass along the good word about this really cool campaign I was running. I even received one or two favorable replies, and my first $25.00 donation.  

Hey, this crowdfunding thing is really easy, I thought. Just like in the movie Field of Dreams, build it and they will come, "they" being eager donors happily contributing to my grand scheme.  I was practically boarding the plane.

This is where we came in, isn't it?  To make a painfully long story mercifully short, after that first donation was registered, no one contributed a dime.  Check that, one hour before the project expired, someone contributed an additional $5.00.  Of a requested amount of just shy of $3,000, I had collected the grand total of thirty bucks.  Actually, not even that, because the funding platform I used had an "all or nothing" funding policy.

But, not to be deterred, I figured that perhaps I had swung for the fences when I should have been playing little ball — so I concocted a second, much smaller funding drive for a charrette on sustainability and affordable housing and posted my funding request on a different platform — highlighted by the photo inserted at the top of this article.  Surely my scaled-down ambitions would be much easier to fulfill.  Or not. As of the writing of this blog post, I have collected zilch.

Puzzled, I wondered, where was Shoeless Joe?  I posted the question on LinkedIn, "Is crowdsourcing** a viable financing strategy for professional enterprises?"  The general consensus from the responders was, well, likely not.  Maybe if you posted just the right project at just the right time and happened to tug at just the right heartstrings or catch the eye of just the right crowdfunding angel investor, then, yes, crowdfunding could be viable. 

Alternatively, you could draw upon your well-established, pre-existing audience to fund your enterprise.  After all, they were already invested in you, your career, and your ultimate success.

Otherwise, you were fishing in an empty pond.

Aye, there's the rub.

Given that I hadn't caught lightning in a jar to generate viral buzz for either of my crowdfunding projects, and absent a sea of adoring fans, I had been fishing in an empty pond.  Or, actually, two empty ponds.

So — no trip to Vancouver and likely, no charrette, at least not financed by crowdfunding.  It seems that carving out a field of dreams in the middle of Iowa corn farming country only works if your dad played baseball with Shoeless Joe. 

For folks like me, it's back to the conventional platform-building of blogging, presentations, and making the round of networking events.  All the hard work associated with cultivating my own sea of, well, maybe not adoring fans, but, perhaps admiring observers.  You know, stocking the pond. 

Of course, it's still possible that I might catch the eye of some cable TV pundit or win a MacArthur Genius GrantHmm.  Better get on that pond-stocking.


 (**N.B. I realized after I posted my LinkedIn question that I had misstated "crowdfunding" as "crowdsourcing." I added a clarification to my original question, since LinkedIn does not allow editing after more than 10 minutes have passed from the time users post questions or comments. I quoted the question in this article as it originally appeared on LinkedIn.)

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Interesting to hear your crowdfunding experience. Plus I learned the word "charrette", a completely new term and concept to me. I have to sheepishly admit that for a second I thought you were trying to write "charity", and I felt a cringing painful embarrassment before Google showed me my own ignorance. It was good for a chuckle at my expense.

You'll need some pretty attractive bait to get that MacArthur grant. But good luck to you; hope you do.
Jeff -- "charrette" was a new concept for me also. I participated in my first charrette in 2006 at World Urban Forum 3 in Vancouver. It was big fun for a nerd like me. I've wanted to organize my own charrette for years, but I've never had the financial means to do so. Thanks for the well wishes re: the MacArthur grant. I'm not holding my breath, but I would be thrilled if it ever happened. :)
Call me a glutton for punishment, but I'm trying crowdfunding again. This time around I am conducting a 30+ day campaign and asking for (wait for it) more money! But this time around I intend to at least try to stock the pond -- sending out press packages and actively promoting my fundraising efforts as well as the event for which I am raising money. We'll see if Shoeless Joe shows up this time around. Wish me luck everyone!