The Playgoer: Micro-Donors & Crowd-Funding: Coming to a Theatre Near You?

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Micro-Donors & Crowd-Funding: Coming to a Theatre Near You?

I have been mulling for a while if what could save nonprofit theatre from the clutches of corporate and plutocrat philanthropy would be to copy the Obama-campaign model of massive internet-fueled "micro" donations.

Well, looks like B'way may get there first!  Thanks to young maverick producer Ken ("Altar Boyz") Davenport, who announced he will take just such an approach to the financing of his projected B'way Godspell revival.  As he announces on his blog this week:
Thanks to entrepreneurs like Guillaume Colboc and Benjamin Pommeraud, as well as my bloggin' hero Seth Godin and his book Tribes, the guys at and, of course, the King of Crowd-Funding himself, Barack Obama, a new era in bringing people with a common vision together has been born.

We've even talked about it on this blog on several occasions . . . and we've even wondered, "Can we apply this to Broadway?"

Well, guess what?  We can.  It just took a few extra lawyers and a few extra hours to figure out a new way of doing things.  (I even had to pass a Series 63 Exam to become a Securities Agent!)

So, it is with great pleasure that I officially announce to all of you first, that my upcoming Broadway revival of Godspell will be the first-ever Crowd-Funded, or as I like to call it, "Community-Funded," Broadway musical. 
True, as incentive he promises billing for each and every donor as "producer," threatening to only exacerbate the current "above-the-title" producer clusterfucks that already mar every Playbill and Tony night.  But still, small price to pay, I think, for a worthy experiment.

And I hope the nonprofits are watching.  Davenport is simply creating a very large "limited liability company."  But imagine a small 501C3 company truly owned and financed by a community of theatregoers.  I'm worried philanthropy (as evidenced at Lincoln Center now) only encourages and lionizes immense concentration of wealth in few hands--and inevitably gives undue influence to such individuals.

I've already seen promising signs.  Last December--at that desperate end-of-year fundraising time--I was glad that a few theatres started soliciting just $10 donations.  How much more included I felt in such a mailing when being asked only for that--as opposed to being huckstered into thinking I'm getting some great value of perks for becoming "only" a $50 of $75 "Friend of..."  Note to development dept's: You ask me for "only" $50 and you immediately alienate me.  I know people of my income level are not your target audience...but then why am I on your mailing list?  Presumably as a frequent ticket-buyer and theatregoer, I may potentially be supportive of your endeavor.  So why tell me right off the bat my money doesn't matter?

Upshot is: I gave $10 to any company that explicitly welcomed that amount. All others I tore up.

Now I'm not promising the same this year, folks.  But I bet there are others out there who might be similarly inclined to help if you humbled yourself to ask for their help on terms possible for them.


isaac butler said...

I think this Ken Davenport thing is making a lot of noise over what's really a very small thing. You still have to pony up at least $1,000. The shares still have a fixed price. Crowd funding in part relies on the funder determining the amount that they provide. This is traditional broadway funding at a discount dressed up in internet speak to make it sound sexy.

SnowWolf Productions said...

I think its very interesting that this has become a new way of raising money. Its fascinating to see all sorts of different artistic projects being funded. Its a great way to make people aware of the amazing projects that are out here, big and small. We are among those artists who need that funding as well. Any kind of information on the subject is extremely helpful.

RLewis said...

I'm not really sold on the "crowd funded" thing, but to each his own; however, I do not see how the idea translates to 501(c)3s. For-profit and non-profit are very different, and being that the non-'s can't provide a return on investment, I don't see your connection. Or rather, there are better ways to go than copying such commercialism.

And as for the $10 donations - I can't justify asking for such a small amount. If that's all you can afford, then I don't want your money, because you need it too much for yourself. And the time it takes for me to process your donation, hand-write the thank you letter (cuz that's how we roll) and mail it, update my database, etc., well, by then my company has lost money on your donation.

So, "...but then why am I on your mailing list?" Because, like our current donors who were once like you, you too will grow up one day. And hopefully, if you stick with us that long, you'll want to make a donation, and it'll be something we can afford... and it will mean more to both of us.