Irish crowdfunding website Fund It turned five last week, and its success to date ensured that the anniversary was an occasion worth celebrating.
Since 2011 it has established itself as a leading platform for crowdfunding – particularly in the areas of music, performance, film and art – giving rivals Kickstarter and Indiegogo a run for their money.
For Ireland’s creative community, Fund It has become much more than a place to try to raise capital to get a project off the ground. It is where hopefuls can sharpen their ideas, focus on goals and build a network of people who believe in and support their vision.
Fund It is run by the Business to Arts charity, whose goal is to nurture creative partnerships between the worlds of business and arts and culture.
Fund It encourages companies and investors to support artistic endeavours, whether it be a singer’s new album, a new Fringe theatre production, or a short feature film.
In the five years the site has been up and running, more than 65,000 people from 66 countries have pledged money to 1,300 projects. Pledges can be anything from €10 to €100,000, with the average standing at just over €56.
Andrew Hetherington, chief executive of Business to Arts and Fund It, says the site has raised more than €3.6 million, and he doesn't see the bubble bursting just yet. Fund It has a success rate of 71 per cent, making it one of the world's most successful reward-based crowdfunding websites.
“We’re lucky that we have a high success rate amongst comparable websites,” says Hetherington. “It’s nice to see projects come up on the site and then go on to greater things. It’s amazing what a couple of thousand euro can help to happen, and where a film might end up in international festivals, or where a musician might get critical success, or where people who have an idea for an event can bring it to life.” Part of Fund It’s success is the loyal audience the platform has built among the creative community. And it doesn’t just leave its users to fend for themselves.
“We have moderators who give users boot camps and help them craft and present and plan for what can be an intensive time in terms of fundraising and project delivery,” says Hetherington.
Linda Allen, who crowdfunded her book, See You in Two Minutes, Ma!, through Fund It, says: "You have to have an idea that is grounded in reality, because you are making a contract with people who you don't necessarily know, that you're going to produce something, so you have to know that you're going to follow through."
“You’re going to need some level of passion, some level of structure – you have to do the groundwork, because otherwise people could be pulling ideas out of the sky.”
Allen is passionate about her project – the book tells the story of her 15-year-old son Darragh Sherry’s suicide three years ago and its impact, and how music and the solidarity of family and friends helped with the healing process.
“I didn’t set out to become an author and write a book – I was just responding to something tragic that happened in my life, that turned everything upside down.”
Having submitted the manuscript to several publishers, Allen decided to go down the crowdfunding route. When she reached her target of €6,220, she felt “massive relief, because I bravely or stupidly had paid the downpayment to start the publishing process, really believing that I would get the funding”. Allen will launch the book on May 11th in Dublin.
Some Fund It projects go on to greater things. We Banjo 3, who funded their album through the site, performed recently for US president Barack Obama, while the short film Breathe will be screened at the BFI Flare Festival.
But the people who pledge money to these projects are not motivated by the expectation of huge returns on investments.
“We’re reward-based. We’re looking for our users to offer genius rewards. There are other types of crowdfunding, such as equity-based or loan-based, but they don’t have the same traction in the creative industries,” says Hetherington.
It is up to the users to come up with interesting ideas to reward their supporters.
If you had pledged €70 or more to help traditional singer-songwriter
make her debut album,
Carry the Day
, for instance, you’d have got a signed CD plus VIP guest passes to her concert, and aftershow drinks with Scott and her band. If you’d pledged €350 or more, Scott would have hand delivered a signed CD to you anywhere on the island of Ireland and brought tea and biscuits along too. For larger amounts, she would have written a song about you, performed a concert in your house, or taken you on a bicycle tour around her favourite Dublin spots.
"The great thing about crowdfunding is that people feel involved in your project, they feel they made it happen," says Scott, who performed yesterday with her cousins Danny O'Reilly from the Coronas and Róisín O on RTÉ's commemorative programme, Centenary.
Next October, a crowdfunded event, Zeminar, will take place in the RDS, after hitting its funding target of €15,000. Zeminar is the brainchild of Damien Clarke, who is currently studying for a doctorate in counselling psychology at Trinity College. It is aimed at young people aged 15-18 who are looking for inspiration and guidance as they go into adulthood.
“It’s a seminar for Generation Z,” sayss Clarke. “It’s a national youth expo where we’re inviting youth organisations, or commercial organisations who want to interact with young people, inspire them or educate them, to come to the RDS for a three-day event to showcase their products, their people or their services.”
Last September Bank of Ireland rowed in to support Fund It with a three-year investment and partnership deal, which will allow the site to develop its technology and work closely with its entrepreneurs.
“We’re going around Ireland and giving people masterclasses with previous project creators to show people how to go about crowdfunding,” says Hetherington. “We want to see more creative ideas and people’s ideas come to life.”
* This article was corrected at 12.40 on Tuesday, March 29th