For setting its sights on education reform. Since it was founded in 2000, DonorsChoose has raised $225 million for more than 400,000 classroom projects—from buying classroom dictionaries to funding field trips. Recently it began thinking even bigger. Pilot partnerships have offered classroom rewards to teachers who offer AP stem courses or coding classes, and the company has hired a data scientist to uncover what teachers need most. "With so much data floating through our sites, we are hoping to give our donors the ability to spot the trends and connect the dots," DonorsChoose CEO Charles Best told Fast Company for our March cover story, "and, with the power of that insight, do something about it—make clear to the folks who are making those decisions that they want something else."
For enabling artists to sell their work directly to their fans. Most crowdfunding sites require an artist to have a new project. Patreon is instead designed to keep creative people doing what they’re doing. Subscribers pay a set amount every time the artist they support releases a new piece of content. Patreon takes a 5% cut. "Artists deserve more than a check cut in half eight times by publishers," Patreon cofounder Jack Conte told Fast Company in November.
For helping crowdfunded hardware products to become reality. Many gadgets that raised big money on crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter weren’t prepared to actually manufacture them at scale. Dragon Innovation offered to help some of them, like the Pebble Watch, navigate the logistics. Last year, it started its own crowdfunding platform. In addition to helping hardware inventors crowdfund their ideas, it helps to plan, make, and sell their products. Projects that raise more than $1 million get a bonus $100,000 investment.
For enabling crowdfunding between friends. Crowdtilt aims to help groups collect funds for trips, gifts, or anything else where pooling money can quickly become a logistical hassle. Organizers invite their friends, and no money changes hands until the target amount has been reached.
For bypassing politics in research funding. Experiment (formerly Microryza) allows scientists to propose their projects directly to the people who care about their field. A team of scientists vets every project before it goes live on the site, and rather than coffee mugs or T-shirts, successful campaigns reward donors by sharing progress updates with them.
For bringing fundraising to the masses. Crowdrise helps individuals collect money for causes they care about. "There’s a new era of social networking that’s taking shape around charitable giving," founder Ed Norton told Fast Company in December. "Younger people are rapidly adopting these new tools, and learning to use them in more and more substantive ways, to go beyond mere socializing and make these tools extremely productive."
For giving readers a say in which books get published. As the publishing industry struggles, the pressure to write a particular kind of mass-consumable literature has increased. With Unbound, authors can publish anything they find funding for. They start writing after reaching their funding goals, and their supporters get the opportunity to interact with the author as the book is being written.
For creating a writer-centric paywall. Instead of asking readers to support its site, Beacon asks them to support a journalist. Each writer on the site details their projects. If you pitch in $5 to support them, you gain access to their work as well as the rest of the site. Recently, the company has experimented with sprouting new publications via the same method.
For building tools for crowdfunded companies. Airbrite originally set out to create a general e-commerce company but had trouble getting established companies to try their tools. New companies that were crowdfunding a product, however, made the perfect first customers. Airbrite cofounder Chris Tsai and his team tailored their tool toward those companies and named it Celery. "When we first started out with the regular platform it was [the] slow way," Tsai told Fast Company in June, "but once we tied ourselves to this movement of crowdfunding and pre-orders and hardware, we picked up the volume much more significantly."
For changing the rules of commercial real estate. Fundrise creates a company that allows anyone to buy shares in a piece of property. Shareholders make money on rent from the businesses that move in and appreciation of their purchase.
[Image: Flickr user Steve Voght]