The crowdfunding world was abuzz this past week. After an amazing start to their month of February, Kickstarter announced that they are on track to distribute more funds in 2012 than the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). This is undeniably great news for the industry at large, but it got me thinking: What does this mean for the role of government in a future where crowdfunding has really taken off?
Crowdfunding as an industry is growing rapidly. A process that was once reserved for charity is now being applied to everything from artistic projects, to small businesses, and even to billboards. As crowdfunding continues to expand into new industries, it is increasingly reaching into areas that were traditionally reserved to the government or high net worth individuals. Oftentimes, as is the case with Kickstarter, they are doing amazing work (dare I say better?).
It isnâ€™t just about the amount of money raised; Kickstarter allows for quicker turnaround and for more and smaller projects than the NEA could handle. Donâ€™t get me wrong; Iâ€™m not suggesting that the NEA is outdated, nor do I think that the government should cease grants for art programs. The NEA does incredible work, and if anything there will never be enough funding for the arts.
What I am suggesting though is that crowdfunding can and will step in where governments cannot. Be it because of partisan politics, corruption, or simple inefficiencies, we canâ€™t always count on our elected officials to achieve everything that weâ€™d hoped for. In these instances, crowdfunding can become a powerful complementary tool for government. It can be a workaround of our oftentimes dysfunctional system. It allows us to choose what it is that we care about and to see it through start to finish. In the near future, donâ€™t be surprised to see controversial scientific advances like stem cell research forego government grants in favor of a crowdfunded approach or to see NYC residents band together block by block to finally remove the potholes in this city (some NYC residents are already crowdfunding a park).
The possibilities for what we can crowdfund are only limited by the imagination of the people doing the funding and those proposing the projects. As the industry grows, the lines between what is â€śgovernmentâ€™s responsibilityâ€ť and what we can do ourselves will be increasingly blurred. In the same way the Internet made us citizens of world, it is now making us better citizens in our respective countries and communities. The result, I hope, is that we will no longer wait for elected officials to get their acts together and instead do it ourselves: one micro-pledge at a time.