Crowdfunding: what are you paying for?

Few examples illustrate the complexities of crowdfunding better than Shane Bauer‘s Beacon page to crowdfund $75,000 for a year-long investigation into US prisons. It includes a number of options for “backing” Bauer (a usefully generic term) which fall into 3 broad categories and are worth learning from:

1. Are you paying for content?

crowdfunding subscriptions on Beacon

The most obvious thing to charge for in a crowdfunding operation is content. And so, the most basic options in Bauer’s project (and in most Beacon projects) are subscriptions: monthly, six-monthly, and annual.

Beacon, cleverly, ties this in to the site as a whole: supporting one journalist gives you a subscription to all journalists using the site. But content is not the only ‘output’ of journalism…

2. Are you paying to support something specific?

sponsor subscriptions on BeaconBauer takes a lesson from charity fundraising in some of the higher-price options, with the accompanying label ‘sponsor‘.

Here you can pledge to support specific newsgathering activities:

  • $200 to pay for his legal document costs
  • $300 to pay for his airfare
  • $400 for his postage
  • $3500 for equipment costs for audio and video reporting

There’s even a $500 option for “court fees for one Freedom Of Information Act lawsuit” – now that’s planning ahead.

3. Are you paying for patronage?

patron subscriptions on Beaconpatron subscriptions on Beacon

The final category of support is patronage – available for either $1000 or $5000. A patron gets a signed copy of Shane’s book to reinforce that warm, fuzzy feeling of having made a difference somehow.Jon Bounds backing options

That small element of personalisation opens up a number of other opportunities. Jon Boundscrowdfunded project Pier Review, for example, included options where backers received postcards from the stops on his journey, among others (see right).

As journalists we often obsess over the value of content but the internet is showing us the value of other aspects of journalism: its civic role; our ability as citizens (not just consumers) to feel that we are supporting a ‘good cause’; to feel part of something bigger, and of course the ability to have some fun along the way.

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