Crowdfunding Conundrum

richard-cheese

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 12th March 2013.

In my very first column for the Central Western Daily way back in 2009, I discussed my interest in microloans via kiva.org. This fantastic non-profit organisation allows investors worldwide to collectively loan small amounts of money to entrepreneurs. No interest is charged by Kiva and when the loan is repaid, investors may reinvest their $25 share in another project.

Since then, this model of collective finance has become popular and is now known as crowdfunding. There are many different platforms for investors and entrepreneurs but the emphasis has shifted away from loans towards investment and incentives.

Music fans can purchase “parts” in musicians and bands through sellaband.com and receive limited edition CDs should enough investors pledge to fund a new project, usually an album. Kickstarter.com, pozible.com and indiegogo.com allow punters to invest in creative and technological projects in exchange for incentives.

There are literally thousands of projects available, from short films and theatre productions to books and inventions, each with its own range of incentives and offers. For a dollar or so, you might get a thank you acknowledgement online. For $20 – $50, you may receive a DVD, CD or t-shirt. For $1000 or more, you may receive an executive producer credit on a film, or a private gig with your chosen band.

Like all investments, there is an inherent risk. There have been reports of some entrepreneurs disappearing after funding has been released as well as complaints about extended delays with fulfilment of incentives.

One of the many success stories of crowdfunding has been lounge singer Richard Cheese, portrayed by Mark Jonathan Davis. With cheeky album titles such as I’d Like a Virgin, Aperitif for Destruction, Tuxicity and Lounge Against the Machine, Cheese has developed a cult following for his swinging arrangements of popular hits.

To date, two new Richard Cheese albums and a biography have been crowdfunded via kickstarter.com.  With a busy tour schedule, online merchandise store and worldwide fanbase, I assumed RC could be considered a successful independent musical act, so I was surprised to receive an email inviting me to participate in another Richard Cheese crowdfunding project, corneal transplant surgery.

Cheese is seeking $19500 to help fund the surgery on his left eye. Cursed with congenital eye problems since birth, RC has been unable to get health insurance and had been saving towards the vision restoring operation until two unplanned abdominal surgeries over the past year wiped out his finances. With failing vision, it has become almost impossible to tour and music piracy has decreased his income from record sales.

After pledging $35 towards RC’s operation in exchange for a signed photo, I went for a quick scout around indigogo.com and found over 1000 different health related projects seeking funding, from assisting a stroke victim to return to work, to a couple wanting financial help to adopt twins.

I was floored.

A week later, I still have mixed feelings about crowdfunding shifting into the realms of health. Firstly, it’s a sad indictment of the American health system and I’m really glad I live in a country with Medicare. However, I’m impressed by the ingenuity of Richard Cheese and others to seek alternate means to improve their health. On the other hand, I’m concerned about the lack of fairness in an open market where the flashiest project may get more attention than others, which may be just as worthy. What do you do if you don’t have CDs and autographed photos to give away?

Anyway, whilst pondering the pros and cons of health crowdfunding, please visit indiegogo.com and send a few bucks towards my (or your new) favourite lounge singer, Richard Cheese.

Help Richard Cheese now

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