Many attribute the formation of Crowd Funding to the British rock band, Marillion, around the year 1997. But theirs was not the first foray into what would become what we now know as the most dynamic form of e-commerce on the planet. Early forms of crowd funding pre-date the efforts of 1997, with a wonderful example laying quietly in the woods of Hereford in south-west England.
The Queenswood Café was once the Essex Arms in Wildemarsh Street in Hereford, and the adjoining Hereford Countryside Centre was once the Tannery Building on the banks of the Tenwater in Leominster. Both were shifted to their current site in Hereford in 1990, and all of the work was funded through an early form of crowd funding.
A public appeal was launched by Lord Lieutenant of Hereford and Worcester, Captain T.R. Dunne on October 30, 1987. Back then the internet was not what it is now, so the word had to be spread manually, the old fashioned way, using telephone, door knocking, and a lot of shoe leather. But the word did spread, and the funds quickly came rolling in.
The concept of having a community centre on the edge of the woodlands was appealing to the locals, and the project was enticing enough for businesses, individuals, and neighbourhood organisations to want to support the cause. The people that were out collecting pledges for the campaign told of their vision with passion, and the same applies today in modern crowd funding – a good story told well will always get the attention of the crowd.
And then there were the rewards – the inducements for people to pledge their support. Many of those who supported did so purely out of a passion to achieve the goal of a community centre. However, as added incentive, the project owners offered those who contributed a chance of immortality. No, not by way of endless life, but to have their names inscribed forever on the main wall of the café.
Visitors to the centre are greeted by a huge painting of a wonderfully colourful oak tree. The tree is a picture of autumn, with leave of many colours and hues, and small animals foraging for nuts and shelter. Upon closer inspection, it is evident that the leaves, the animals, the ribbons on the tree, and virtually every item in the picture represent a contribution or pledge by some member of the local community.
The key is subtly found at the bottom of the tree. Red leaves with the contributor’s name in black represent a £50 contribution, while red leaves with yellow writing represent a pledge of £300. Green leaves indicate a contribution of £25, and an acorn signifies support of £500. For those who were particularly generous, there are small animals and birdlife that commemorate contributions of £1,000 or ribbons that signify a £2,000 pledge. Overall, the quilt of contributions shows a tree of many colours and many components that all come together to form a magnificent and vibrant tree, somewhat symbolic of the community that enabled the project to come together.
This successful campaign demonstrates not only the early forms of crowd funding, but the ability for project creators to go out and share their passion with their crowd (in this case, a very local community), and engage their support. It showed that rewards are not essential, and that they do not need to be of great material value to entice people to contribute to the campaign. The rewards in this case cost virtually nothing, but were priceless in the eyes of those who gave money to the cause.
And the very same principles apply today. A great story told well and communicated broadly to the crowd, with relevant rewards, all driven with enthusiasm remain the keys to crowd funding success.