STEUBENVILLE, Ohio — Catholics are jumpstarting their own projects to bring Christ to the world by taking advantage of a new kind of personal economics made possible only through the Internet and social media.
The name of the game is "crowdfunding," where the investors are ordinary people, but success depends on how personally connected people feel with the project.
Crowdfunding in the digital age is largely an Internet-based — and often social-media-fueled — collective effort. An entrepreneur with a great idea invites other individuals to invest in his idea and give him the financial resources to make a dream a reality.
Bob Rice, a professor at Franciscan University of Steubenville with his own music ministry, told the Register that he successfully raised more than $12,000 for his new album, The Gospel Accordion to Bob Rice, through the crowdfunding site Kickstarter. The site describes the unique album as an "accordion-driven rock ‘n’ roll, bluegrass, Irish, Christian/Catholic music experience that glorifies God and is fun to listen to."
Ordinarily, Rice would never have thought to use Kickstarter. He said the sales from his previous CDs always managed to pay for themselves — that is until a "perfect storm" of a new baby on the way and medical expenses from his son breaking a femur dried up his spare cash.
"It seemed kind of weird to go online and ask people for money," Rice said, but he decided to trust in God, whatever the outcome. And trusting in God meant working through the anxiety, the fear of humiliation if the project failed and the hard work of promoting the project for 54 days and staying in touch with backers.
As for the weird feeling? "I never got over it," he said.
But the end result, he said, was a project "more beautiful and amazing than had I funded it myself."
Rice said that because the Kickstarter campaign was positively received by fans, he decided to extend it after running some polls on Kickstarter about improving the CD. He set a goal of $10,000 if backers wanted to fly in better musicians; a goal of $11,000 to add two more tracks; a final goal of $12,000 to add a booklet with lyrics.
"It ended up giving them the opportunity to participate in something I was creating," he said.
Crowdfunding platforms typically involve sharing with people what a person is doing, telling them how they can help and providing perks for different levels of investment. The sites generally take a small percentage as a fee for hosting the campaign, and they generally offer something different to persons looking to raise funds.
Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing crowdfunding platform for projects, not causes or other fundraising ventures — meaning it is for novelists, artists, technology developers, etc., and not for people looking to raise funds to pay off student debt to enter a religious vocation. And if a project meets the Kickstarter guidelines, creators must set project goals and deadlines.
If a campaign fails to meet its target, the backers do not get charged. Kickstarter says the all-or-nothing approach is key to generating momentum for a campaign. It says this has created a 44% project-funding success rate.
IndiGogo is another crowdfunding site. The group boasts a unique algorithm for increasing exposure it calls the "gogofactor." Using its social-media tools to share, tweet and get others to "like" the campaign enhances its "gogofactor," thus increasing its profile. It offers two options for raising money: keeping all donations raised or a "fixed funding" option, which means a user only collects when the campaign meets its goal. The site also provides experts to help individuals make their campaigns more effective.
GoFundMe.com provides three options for the potential crowdfunder: a personal donation page, a charity donation page (encouraging others to donate to a person’s favorite charity) or the all-or-nothing campaign (where the campaign must meet its financial goals over a set period of days in order to collect pledged donations). GoFundMe.com offers its own tools and fundraising tips, but especially encourages users to link to a Facebook profile to build trust and identity validation.
Crowdfunding projects or causes for Catholics have a broad diversity: anything from film ventures to music albums to mission trips. Some have raised money to send children to Catholic school or invited others to help them raise funds to allow them to pursue religious vocations.
For every crowdfunding success, there is a graveyard of crowdfunding failures. But the key to every success is how much personalization a person puts into his project, says John Trigonis, a campaign specialist for IndiGogo.
Trigonis, author of Crowdfunding for Filmmakers, told the Register that each successful campaign depends on what he calls the "three Ps: pitch, perks and promotion."
"But what makes a different and a really successful campaign is the level of personalization you do for each of those three Ps," he added.
Trigonis said personalization makes a difference, because people who feel valued and personally invested in the project will give. People who feel they are viewed only as useful for their money tend not to give.
"The big thing is making the perks connect personally to your audience," Trigonis said. Encouraging more donations, then, means upping the level of personal engagement and reward for each investor.
But building a social-media community, Trigonis said, is also key. However, he said the community-building has to come first. In his own experience, Trigonis has found that when people are invested in the person, and already believe in what that person is doing, they will happily donate to support a project or cause.
"It’s all about personalization," he said, adding that he continues to invest in other crowdfunded film projects. "They have to really touch me as a person, because, if not, they just become another film out there."
Catholic musician and missionary Sean Forrest said that he was surprised at the outpouring of response from his fans to his own Kickstarter project.
"I wish I had set the bar a little higher, honestly. I didn’t think it would be that productive, but it sure was," Forrest said. He met the goal he set at $20,000 in just two and a half days, so he extended the campaign, which allowed him to record in Nashville with some great musicians behind him.
His way of personalizing the campaign included short videos, showing snippets of songs and being creative about making it personal. But keeping engaged with backers and treating them like producers, he said, was intensive.
"You’re going to be responding a lot," he said, but it can really make a difference in an artist’s market awareness.
The sales of his newest album, You Will Be Alright, have taken on a life of their own and will go to help his orphanage in Haiti.
Rice also confirmed that he is glad for the successful experience, but he will have to pray before doing it again: "It was a tremendous, positive experience. I’m not sure if I will do it again, but I am thrilled that I did."
Peter Jesserer Smith is a
Register staff writer.