Kickstarter’s Great Nonprofit Innovation

Yesterday I was excited to see the announcement of a joint initiative between Kickstarter and The White House: a special Kickstarter campaign intended to raise funds to aid refugees. One day in and they’ve raised over $1.1 million, and still going strong.

This is the first time Kickstarter has done something like this. Right now it’s a one-off campaign, prominently highlighted and heavily promoted, but not currently integrated into the core of the platform.

First, I want to applaud everyone who made this happen, from Josh Miller and the White House to Yancey Strickler and the Kickstarter team! Thanks also to other companies like Twitter, Instacart, and Airbnb for working with the White House to leverage their platforms for good. I’m focusing on Kickstarter because I know it best, but many are helping in these efforts.

Second, I want to urge Kickstarter to run with this idea, and make it something bigger. Because as laudable as this is as a one-off campaign, it’s also a seed with tremendous potential to change the future of philanthropy.

Why this is awesome, and a potentially huge deal:

  1. Kickstarter the product is phenomenal and super easy to use. It also has a significant user base — nearly 10 million have used the platform, almost 3 million are repeated backers. Strong design and user experience makes it both easy and satisfying to donate.
  2. Their brand is great. Kickstarter is highly trusted, and by partnering with world-class charitable organizations, they can share that trust mutually to make users confident that their dollars are making a difference.
  3. Supporting charitable causes is perfectly aligned with Kickstarter’s mission, both as a fundraising platform and Public Benefit Corporation. They already have the infrastructure, and with very little additional marginal costs, can easily have an outsize impact.

What Kickstarter can do to take this idea forward and make it even more powerful:

  1. One simple thing Kickstarter could do is connect “Donations” to the core Kickstarter platform. This should still be a separate section of the site — a clear line between speculative creative projects and charitable campaigns — but by enabling one-click support with users’ existing accounts, they could remove friction and increase donations.
  2. Kickstarter “Updates” are a perfect way to keep people in the loop, not only to let them know where their money’s going, but also get them more invested in a mission or cause. Kickstarter could build on this existing feature to enable organizations to forge lasting relationships with supporters, and keep them connected to their progress.
  3. Kickstarter could even build in a “recurring donations” option. Or similarly, they could enable a call-to-action within Updates to let supporters quickly and easily make additional donations.
  4. Charitable giving is not antithetical to the concept of backer rewards. Using Kickstarter as a philanthropic funding platform opens up interesting potential new ways to incentivize donations, well beyond the thank you email or public radio tote. Kickstarter could partner with other companies, or even existing campaigns, to give supporters of a charitable cause digital rewards as display of gratitude.

Infrastructural philanthropy. Data-rich donations. Piggybacking on an existing platform, enabled by scale.

This could make the experience of contributing to good causes as nice as that of using Kickstarter, or Airbnb, or any other top-notch digital product. And all the building blocks for it are here today! Just get Stripe to continue waiving their fee, assign a small team to this full-time, and build it out.

Kickstarter could become the next great giving platform, practically overnight, all while continuing to kick ass at their current business of facilitating the birth of awesome creative projects. This new fundraising initiative could be the biggest thing they’ve done since, well, Kickstarter. And it could be the most important innovation in philanthropy yet to come about this millennium.

I’m rooting for this current campaign to become Kickstarter’s biggest ever — it’s infinitely more important than a new smartwatch or a fancy cooler, cool as those may be. While I don’t expect this will close the gap in fundraising for important causes like #AidRefugees any time soon, it’s an important step, both for creating an easy way to donate, and setting an example for how companies can make a huge impact in ways that align with their existing business.

As Buzzfeed reports: “While Kickstarter doesn’t plan on changing its rules to allow for regular users to create charity campaigns in the future, USA for UNHCR CEO Anne-Marie Grey hopes that this is just the start of using crowdfunding to help provide for humanitarian needs.”

I do too. And I hope Kickstarter keeps up the damn good work.

Also published to Medium.