Viewpoint: Crowdfunding for the Public Good Is Evil
Emma Hofman, A kindergarten teacher in New Orleans, needs your money. In the past two years, she has set up six fund-raising campaigns on the website DonorsChoose.org. Her goal isn’t to fund expensive field trips or even a new computer. She just wants her kids to have books, pencil sharpeners, and a few blocks to play with.
Scrolling through your Facebook feed on any given day, you’re bound to find friends and colleagues asking for cash. If it’s not a creative project or a revolutionary new gizmo, it’s someone beseeching you to sponsor their dream trip abroad. But something different is going on when teachers have to resort to crowdfunding to pay for basic school supplies.
Constricted education budgets being what they are, the explosion of Kickstarter-esque platforms might seem like a welcome bit of salvation. Certainly these services have proved useful for people like Hofman, who’s now able to ask for help to keep her classroom functional. But crowdfunding is not the answer. In fact, when it comes to supporting the public good, crowdfunding will only make matters worse.
In a new study, Daren Brabham, an assistant professor and crowdsourcing consultant at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, compared the language used in the press to describe crowdfunding with the rhetoric of politicians who support cutting funding to “superfluous” programs in areas like the arts. He noticed a disconcerting amount of overlap: Both were chock-full of buzzwords like empowerment, bootstrapping, and efficiency. “If you want to cut funding to something,” Brabham says, “what better way is there than to point to a Kickstarter that made it and say, ‘If the people really want it, they’ll pay for it’?”