Crowdbacking Ideas For Good

The world's first crowdbacker raises £13,500

By Michael Simpson

I’m sitting two rows from the front of a packed O2 Think Big Hub in Hoxton. There’s popcorn, frivolity and a bunch of startup social projects getting set to pitch for support from a live crowdfunding audience.

More than 80 willing donors wait in anticipation to hear the ideas. Tonight they include Settle, a volunteer-powered service for young homeless people leaving hostels to move into their first home. There’s also Birdsong, an e-commerce platform selling high-quality products made by women’s charities – and Curiosity Club, an education venture which wants to cultivate an inquisitive nature and passion for learning in children from less privileged socioeconomic backgrounds.

Amid a flow of drinks and live music interludes, the crowd chips in with offers of money, time, tweets and more to get the ventures off the ground. A friend of mine is also offering to do the dance made famous in the film Napolean Dynamite if a group of us can collectively give £500.

This is Year Here’s Crowdbacker event, where everyone from the well-heeled philanthropist to the penny-pinched punter puts their support behind bold ideas for good. The crowdbacking ethos is that it takes more than just money to get an idea on its feet, and it’s the endorsement of the mob that will keep it standing.

Colliding peer pressure with an auction-style bidding process – the return for the audience backer is group approval and the risky but more meaningful pledge to be a part of the first steps in a young organisation’s growth.

It’s a frenetic way of giving that sees the crowd, led by a trusty and persuasive compere, race towards assistance and fundraising targets.

Crowdbacking draws from the global boom in crowdfunding that raised more than $2.7bn in 2012 and put group giving on the map for startups and social ventures. Crowdbacking takes the notion of peer-to-peer fundraising a step further, recognising that almost everyone has something to offer – and beyond the financial capacity of the crowd there’s a wealth of talent and assets to be tapped.

The projects here tonight are being run by young graduates on the Year Here Fellowship in London – a free, seven–month course cultivating social innovators.

Their ventures attempt to blend market-based and social approaches to the problems they see, opening up spaces in each of their sectors that have not yet been tapped.

The evening is an adventure, with the traditional idea of giving a tenner to charity seeming like a conservative approach in comparison. The crowd is whipped into a frenzy of giving, with more than £13,500 going to the ventures through donations and awards.

In a giving culture dominated by online web donations and “clicktivism”, society is at risk of becoming detached from the all-important question – where is our support actually going?

Crowdbacking addresses this. It creates human connections and assigns value to more than just a bank transaction, democratising giving by showing what everyone can offer. It pushes the novelty and adventure of supporting new ideas to the fore and gives a greater sense of being “in it together”.

The original article was featured in The Guardian’s Voluntary Sector Network.

Michael Simpson is our Programme Manager and was part of the 2013 cohort of students. You can follow him on twitter.