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Social Entrepreneurs: Don’t Forget About Kickstarter

The fundraising platform wants to be a place where projects for good get off the ground.

Social Entrepreneurs: Don’t Forget About Kickstarter
[Image: Abstract via Shutterstock]

Social entrepreneurs, Kickstarter wants you to know something: Yes, you can use the crowdfunding platform to help launch your new project. Despite the success of dozens of kickstarted social enterprises like the Global Village Construction Set or Mine Kafon, a tumbleweed-shaped landmine detector, Kickstarter says it still gets questions every week about whether this type of project is allowed.

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Maybe that’s not surprising, considering the platform has only been around for a few years. “Kickstarter as a phenomenon is still really new,” says Julie Wood, a spokesperson for the company. “It’s a tool that can be applied to an endless number of things–we haven’t even thought of all the possibilities yet–and that can be a difficult concept to grasp. Plus, a lot of people hear about the site because of one project, like their friend’s film, or type of project, like video games, and they may not realize the full scope.”

It’s true that the platform doesn’t allow straight fundraising by nonprofits, which adds to the confusion (that’s in contrast to sites like Indiegogo, which allow all types of fundraising). But nonprofits can fund specific projects. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a business, or a nonprofit, or an individual that runs the project,” says Wood. “The idea on Kickstarter is that everything is a project–a thing that’s being made or done, and will have an end.”

Like other types of projects that find success on the site, the social projects that do best pair good ideas with interesting rewards and an effort to engage backers. “Passion about a creative idea shines through, and it draws people in–that’s true for everyone from social entrepreneurs to video game developers to dancers to chefs,” Wood says.

Crowdfunding has some obvious advantages over traditional fundraising for a social enterprise: You don’t need to wait for a meeting with a VC or apply for grants, and you can start creating new communities of support. It also provides near-immediate feedback, whether an idea is bad or good. In one case, a social enterprise called the Ricefield Collective had such positive feedback on Kickstarter that it ended up turning into a much larger project; the founder left her PhD program to turn the new social enterprise into a global operation.

“Kickstarter removes gatekeepers and it encourages people to support and bond with one another, which seems aligned with what a lot of social entrepreneurs are trying to do,” Wood says. “Most importantly, it allows creators to run their project, or their business, the way that they want to.”

While different crowdfunding platforms have different merits, Kickstarter seems to have an advantage of scale–the site has the most traffic, and at least one report argued that projects on the platform are far more likely to get fully funded than the next-nearest competitor, Indiegogo (though Indiegogo disputes those figures). For social entrepreneurs, it’s good to know that the crowdfunding giant is an option to consider.

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley, and contributed to the second edition of the bestselling book "Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century."

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