The Trust Map

This 12-month development study aimed to scope the heterogeneous field of online UK crowdfunding whereby platforms such as the US-based Kickstarter or UK’s Crowdfunder, connect those seeking funding for a given cause or commercial initiative (‘fundraisers’), with those wishing to give to or invest in it (‘funders’). Thousands of new products, services and social innovations are being facilitated by combining multiple micro-payments from ‘the crowd’ – enabled by the Internet and fuelled by social media.

The initial phase of the research involved a search and review of individual crowdfunding platforms available to project founders in the UK; the small amount of (primarily US-focused) related academic literature; and relevant reports and documents produced in the UK by the charitable innovation sector, businesses, policymakers and regulators. Subsequently we performed semi-structured interviews and launched an online survey to capture the experiences of UK crowdfunding platform owners, users and other stakeholders. In addition, our contextual enquiry was reliant on knowledge exchange with research stakeholders; we ran a series of crowdfunding workshop and roundtable events in the North East involving local business and professional bodies, such as the North East LEP and FSB, a multitude of smaller voluntary sector and cultural organisations and SMEs.

As of August 2015, we are in the final stages of the research and analysing the several hundred responses to the detailed survey which focused on issues of trust. Meanwhile, from the qualitative study we found that crowdfunding is a disruptive tool for groups, organisations and businesses that brings both intended and unintended consequences. According to the testimonies of interviewees and the feedback in workshops from participants, messaging and ‘soft’ marketing skills are essential to crowdfunding success, perhaps even its greatest determinant. However, even for the ‘unsuccessful’ campaigns we spoke with that didn’t reach their goal, the  sometimes overwhelming generosity of the people who did fund projects was usually reported as surprising and moving for the people who ran the campaigns.