For their final-year college project, mass-media students and film lovers Aniket Dasgupta, 21, and Swati Madhavan, 20, needed to make a short film.
They wanted their 10-minute work to shine, but they needed funds for equipment and software. So, in August, they decided to reach out online.
If they received enough funds, they decided, they would expand the 10-minute film project into a 90-minute feature film on their chosen topic — independent filmmakers in India.
Applying for a two-month slot on crowd-funding website wishberry.in, the duo collected Rs 38,000 by day 57, most of it in the form of small sums donated by friends and relatives.
Then a blogger interviewed them and donations began pouring in. By the end of their 60-day timeframe, they had collected Rs 1.01 lakh — Rs 21,000 more than their target.
“When we did our final tally, we found that 60% of our funds had come from strangers,” says Dasgupta. “The blog gave us the extra push, establishing our cause as a cool one.”
A total of 49 people donated sums ranging from Rs 200 to Rs 20,000.
Fellow mass media student Apoorva Gavarraju, 19, for instance, donated Rs 1,000 from her pocket money because she feels strongly about the cause of independent films.
“People in our country are so stuck on Bollywood. They don’t even know about the interesting indie projects out there,” says Gavarraju. “I donated because this film aims to increase that exposure. I wouldn’t have donated for a work of fiction.”
Thanks to their windfall, Dasgupta and Madhavan now plan to turn their film, The Other Way, into a 92-minute documentary.
Elsewhere, similar appeals on crowd-funding websites are helping youngsters achieve personal goals and fulfil missions ranging from sailing expeditions to art projects and eco tours.
“After charitable causes and public events such as gigs being successfully crowd-funded, individuals are now financing personal goals through the same medium,” says Pratik Gupta, co-founder of social media consultancy FoxyMoron.
With high disposable incomes, other youngsters are likewise willing to donate to a cause that they strongly feel about, adds Sarla Bijapurkar, associate professor of sociology at KJ Somaiya college. “Donating to such projects gives them a sense of fulfillment.”
Raking it in
The concept of personal crowd-funding has always existed in India. “We have a tradition of approaching friends and family members to help finance a wedding, a start-up venture etc,” says Gaurav Gupta, VP of insights, innovation and social media for MSLGroup India.
“But earlier, there was a stigma attached to asking for help. And seeking help to travel would have been considered frivolous. With the advent of social media, it is now considered cool to get funds via crowd-funding.”
An important aspect of making this model work is the efficient use of social-media platforms. “You can’t run a campaign on a crowd-funding site and think that will be enough,” says FoxyMoron’s Pratik Gupta. “You have to reach out to as many people as possible and brand your campaign.”
That’s exactly what Dasgupta and Madhavan did. “We bombarded people with e-mails, tweets and Facebook messages asking for support,” says Dasgupta.
The branding helps potential donors identify with the cause enough to donate money.
“Your sponsors have to be able to relate to your campaign,” says Pratik. “I have noticed that most crowd-funders fund activities and campaigns that they aspire to undertake but haven’t been able to. Hence they identify with the personal goal.”
This aspirational and vicarious motive, for instance, helped Adrienne Thadani garner funds for a community urban farm at Mohammed Ali Road in Mumbai.
A total of 133 people, Indians and foreigners, donated a total of $6,510 (Rs 3.58 lakh) to her campaign, which ran on kickstarter.com for three weeks in May.
“When people sponsor your project, they also learn about it, so crowd-funding is also a great way to promote awareness,” says Thadani, 25, founder of Fresh & Local, a non-profit organisation that works to promote organic food in Mumbai. Thadani eventually also conducted urban-farming classes for interested donors.
Off the wall
Hapgood usually solicits contributions from friends and acquaintances. She is also beginning to seek funding from art foundations, the government and private companies. “This project, however, has broad public appeal,” says Hapgood.
“So I thought it would be a good time to see whether people I did not know would contribute to a project that interested them.”
Hapgood adds that she loves the concept of crowd-funding and, even if she does not succeed in raising much money in this first attempt, will beef up her appeal and try again.
So far, Shinde has funded his own sailing expeditions. For this race, however, he needs a large sum and tried for corporate sponsorships but was turned down.
“I was told that they could sponsor a Class 2 cricketer for less than half the sum I need and get much more mileage from him,” says Shinde. So, he decided to use crowd-funding “to get India to help me take part in this race”.
Chakyar had tried to raise funds for his project by appealing to his network of friends and relatives via e-mail and SMS, but realised that he needed to reach a larger audience if he wanted to raise enough funds.
So he logged on to wishberry and is also using e-mail and Facebook status updates to spread word about his campaign.
"The aim of the program is to educate as many people as possible about the benefits of planting trees," he says, "and I realised that reaching out online would also help achieve this objective."