Keeping the Charity out of Kickstarter

While Googling Kickstarter recently, I stumbled across a blog post that sported the title, “Is Kickstarter Evil?” Now that is a very provocative question, so I skipped off and read the article (well, honestly, I skimmed it because it wasn’t as provocative as it sounded) and the gist was about how Kickstarter doesn’t allow charities. The question being debated was (loosely paraphrased here), “Isn’t it evil to be giving millions of dollars to art when there are starving children in Africa?”

My first thought was, “Well, when you say it like that…” And my second thought was, “No, making art and asking our society to support those who make it isn’t evil. How did art and¬†eleviating¬†human suffering become mutually exclusive objectives in the world?”

And then I remembered an awesome video I’d watched on Youtube with Kickstarter creator Yancey Strickler. The video is a presentation he gave at the Sheffiield Doc Fest in England in 2011 and is over an hour long, but has some great stuff in it.

Apparently, Yancey gets that question about evil and suffering and art and charity a lot, because he addressed it in the video, and I couldn’t say it better than he does. Here is what Yancey says:

“People ask why we don’t allow charities or projects that do actual good in the world, versus just creating art, though I would argue that art does actual good in the world. Well, let’s say we started allowing charities on Kickstarter and your project is trying to save Haiti, and my project is trying to write a book of poetry. If my project and your project sit side by side on the same platform, you make me look like an asshole without even trying.”

Yes, this is a brilliantly said and poignantly true. He goes on to say:

“Charity has a way of framing things in purely moral terms that art does not stand up well against. So, rather than force people to negotiate that guilt in their minds, to ask ‘How can I help this indie rock band when there are starving children in the world?’ we decided just to make it about art.”

Kickstarter is a space dedicated soley to championing creativity, and I have to say I consider that the opposite of evil.

Finally, Yancey says, “We wanted to create a place where artists didn’t have to be afraid of being frivolous or silly because it’s all that, really, to some degree.”

Art frivolous? And silly? Maybe. And wonderful? Yes. And deeply important to the human spirit. Certainly all that and more.

I, for one, am refreshed to have all the religious and humanitarian guilt banned from Kickstarter.

Uncharitable of me, I know, but a mite better than looking like an asshole for writing poetry.

What are your thoughts on Kickstarter and the crowdfunding movement? Do you think it is a threat to charity, or an expansion of what charity can do and look like?

Read my other post in my Kickstarter Series: 8 Reasons I Didn’t Back Your Kickstarter.


5 Responses to “Keeping the Charity out of Kickstarter”

  • If I want to support creativity I can go to Kickstarter. If I want to be charitable I can go to, say, Kiva.
    People who try to emotionally manipulate me about how I allocate my money that I earned are rather more likely to turn me off their cause, and it’s not the poor old poet who will look like an arse.

  • Ripley:

    Thanks for weighing in, and I agree with you. There are all kinds of places to give to charity but Kickstarter is one of the few places (but they are growing in number) dedicated to artistic funding.

  • Sure, charity is a good thing. There are lots of venues for funding charities. That is as it should be.

    Stories, art, music, films, books–all the arts–are also inherently good things. Beauty and truth and self-expression are essential to being good human beings. There should be lots of venues to support the arts, and Kickstarter is a step in the right direction.

    I think the best reason to keep Kickstarter and charity separated is different, however. From what I’ve seen, Kickstarter works best as a way to sell a creative product that hasn’t been made yet. You’re not giving away your money for karma or the hope of heaven or even social justice. You’re paying an artist for a product that you expect to enjoy, whether it’s an album, a film, a book, or something else. As you noted in your “8 Reasons” post, projects that don’t offer good thank-you rewards are less likely to be funded, and I would argue it’s because an artist is asking to be treated like a charity.

    Art has value. Treating it like a charity shortchanges artists, especially in this world where how much income you make is considered an inherent measure of worth.

    Kickstarter’s separation of charity and the arts might be a step in the direction of our society regaining respect for artists and the value of their work. What I see in kickstarter is that people aren’t supporting artists because they would starve otherwise, they’re supporting artists because they value their work.

    And I think that’s a good thing.

  • Ripley:

    Yes, I like the distinction you draw between art and charity. Thanks for your input and glad you are liking the Kickstarter series.

  • Greg:

    At CharityKick we agree with Deirdre, thats why we launched actually, very recently…
    Kickstarter is a great launching platform for artists, however the idea of crowdfunding for charity in a similar way, had always struck us as a great idea, that clearly deserved to live on it’s own. Much like Kickstarter, CharityKick allows people to browse the different fundraisers available only the twist is the fundraisers are dares, or challenges for charity. So it encourages the participation of existing artists (the ones not starving) and clearly sets itself apart from project funding by ensuring donations can only be made to registered charities; and instead of the first step to a good action being taken by a willing artist or celebrity, the first step is a volunteer to dare them for a good cause…
    Users dare each other, friends, family, teams, local communities, colleagues, or bosses, and as explained, even celebrities. We hope to make a great platform for change and for good!
    Keep the Kickstarter series going Ripley!


Ripley Patton lives in a 22-foot camper in the woods of Southern Illinois with a cat named Lemmy. Her two young adult children, a daughter and a son, are her favorite people. When Ripley's not out exploring nature and getting her hands dirty, she's usually reading or writing a book.

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