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Are we at the cusp of a new, more democratic model of funding the arts?  Several weeks ago, Joe Kluger wrote about Pepsi and other corporations that are using social media to crowd-source grantmaking.  Power to the people?  Not so fast, says our friend and colleague John Shibley. “I admire the faith you place in the masses.  I wish I shared it.”  Shibley argues that crowd-sourcing might be good for rating restaurants, but might not be an effective approach to solving complex social problems.  ”If popularity proved quality, then TV ought to be full of masterpieces.”  Personally, I am less interested in the application of the American Idol principles of audience engagement to grantmaking than I am in exploiting the potential of web-based technologies to drive new approaches to fundraising.  Last year, I followed with interest several news stories about online fundraising initiatives.  The Community Foundation for Southeastern Michigan’s one-day Community Foundation Challenge-Arts and Culture on August 18 generated over $4.9 million for 75 arts groups, leveraging $1.6 million in matching funds from the foundation, well surpassing the original goal of $3 million.  With just $500,000 in matching funds, GiveMN, a Minnesota fundraising campaign, raised $14 million through a 24-hour “Give to the Max Day” event via the Internet, donated by 39,000 people.  Check out the next-generation fundraising site,, funded by the Minnesota Community Foundation.  And The Pittsburgh Foundation through its Match Day in October, raised $1.5 million in online gifts in 22 minutes and 11 seconds.

What fascinates me most about all this is the power of the ‘limited-time’ event to capture the attention of the public.  What would explain why tens of thousands of people flock to a website at the same moment in time to donate?  While I would like to think the matching incentive is a motivation, as well as the immutable deadline, this alone doesn’t explain it.  Most certainly there are other, more subtle, psychological factors at play, both altruistic and selfish.  The emergence of community-wide online fundraising “events” underscores the critical importance to arts groups of being able to mobilize their constituents electronically.  New technologies are reshaping the giving patterns of ordinary people who understand that they can play a small, meaningful part in changing the world, or at least their own community.



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