Know Your Crowdfunding Platforms: Missions, Fees, And Rules

You have an idea, or you have an urgent financial need, and you want to turn to the Internet to make funding happen. Or let’s say some acquaintance is asking for money on Facebook for what seems like a cool project or worthy cause, but you wonder: what the heck is an “indie go go?” Why is the site itself asking me for a donation, too?

These are the major sites you’re likely to see in the categories of fundraising for business and creative projects, and in personal fundraising for a need. Crowdfunding is a growing category, and there are entire sites dedicated to the topic of keeping track of what’s going on at different crowdfunding platforms. You can even pay a crowdfunding consultant to help you sort through it all.


What it’s for: Kickstarter projects need a defined scope and have to result in some kind of tangible project. That can be a book, a new website, a beloved public television show, or some potato salad. Backers are supposed to receive some kind of reward in return, even if it’s just a Twitter shout-out or “good karma.”

What it isn’t for: Charity fundraising, political fundraising, personal fundraising, or funding the development of a new invention when you don’t already have a prototype.

Forbidden rewards: Among other things, you can’t promise backers financial rewards (like stock in your company or cash once the project sells), energy drinks or food, alcohol, porn, genetically modified organisms, contest entries, tobacco, drugs, weapons, or any product condoning hate speech or violence.

Who can pay? Anyone on Earth who has a major credit or debit card.

What if a project doesn’t reach its goal? The project isn’t funded, and backers don’t have to pay.

What’s their cut? Kickstarter takes a 5% fee off the total, and Amazon Payments takes about 3% if you live in the United States, and up to 5% if you don’t.

What if the rewards never show up, or are terrible? That’s an ongoing controversy. Kickstarter says that it’s officially out of their hands once the person behind a project receives the money, but that people who run campaigns have an obligation to their backers.

Where you’ve heard of it: Here on Consumerist, for starters, when project backers are left empty-handed or during that whole potato salad thing. Lots of big-name projects that could have used traditional funding models have also used Kickstarter, like the reboot of the public television program “Reading Rainbow,” or Zach Braff’s latest incredibly self-indulgent movie.

Can you fundraise for a nonprofit? Anyone can set up a campaign for a creative project, but charity fundraisers aren’t allowed, and tax receipts for backers aren’t available.


What it’s for: Like Kickstarter, Indiegogo is intended for a defined project, but the definition of “project” is looser than Kickstarter. It’s hard to mistake a campaign for a store when you get, for example, a keychain for sending $50 to support a school in Chile, or a drawing of a dog if you donate $50 toward his surgery. “Perks” for backers are not required.

What it isn’t for: You can’t raise money to scam people, to do anything illegal, to make something impossible, or to harm other people.

Forbidden perks: Alcohol’s out, but vouchers that can be exchanged for it are allowed. No drugs, weapons, or hate speech. Equity, capital, money, and lottery entries aren’t allowed. The ban on air travel as a reward must have an interesting story behind it. GMOs are apparently okay, though.

Who can pay? Anyone with a major credit or debit card or a PayPal account.

What if a project doesn’t reach its goal? There are two funding models. With fixed funding, the goal must be raised before the deadline. With flexible funding, the campaign owners get whatever is money is raised by the deadline. There’s a catch to flexible funding, though…

What’s their cut? For a fixed or flexible funding campaign that reaches its goal, Indiegogo takes 4%. If the campaign raises less than the goal, they take 9% of what you did raise. On top of this, credit card or PayPal fees will take 3-5% depending on method and where you live. There’s a $25 wire fee if you want money wired to you instead.

What if the rewards never show up, or are terrible? Indiegogo will provide backers with a campaign owner’s contact information, but there are no refunds.

Where you’ve heard of it: Cartoonist Matthew “The Oatmeal” Inman of used Indiegogo to raise $1.37 million to build a Nikola Tesla museum, and over the summer one controversial campaign raised $2.2 million to pave some roads in Idaho with solar arrays.

Can you fundraise for a nonprofit? Yes, registered 501(c)(3) nonprofits can verify themselves on the site and run their own campaigns. Verified charities get a fee discount to 3%.


What it’s for: They bill themselves as a fundraising site rather than a crowdfunding site. It’s simple: you set a goal, share the URL, and people send you money. You can withdraw the money whenever you want.

Who can pay? Anyone with a major credit or debit card or WePay account. You can withdraw into a PayPal account, but the site doesn’t accept PayPal for donations.

What’s their cut? GoFundMe takes 5% of all donations, and there’s also a processing fee that varies by country, from 1.75% to 2.9%. There’s also a 30 cent fee for each donation. Verified not-for-profit donations go through FirstGiving, which charges 4.75% on top of GoFundMe’s fees.

Where you’ve heard of it: GoFundMe campaigns tend to be personal, aimed at people who know the recipient. Your cousin or neighbor or friend has probably set up a campaign and posted it on Facebook. You may have heard of a young girl who raised money there to make a prototype intravenous infusion backpack for children with cancer.

Can you fundraise for a nonprofit? Yes, but you have to pay 4.75% in processing fees to FirstGiving to make your campaign tax-deductible.


What it’s for: They’re a site for personal and nonprofit fundraisers. Donations go straight into recipients’ PayPal or WePay accounts.

Who can pay? Anyone with a major credit or debit card or WePay account.

What’s their cut? YouCaring has a unique business model: it doesn’t charge recipients any fees, but instead asks donors for a “suggested donation” of about 5% of the total they’re giving ($1 minimum) to run the site. These are optional, but the site adds them automatically.

Where you’ve heard of it: Campaigns asking for money tend to be personal and aimed at people who know the recipient. One large campaign with thousands of donors raised money for a trust fund for the children of an Army officer killed in Afghanistan.

Can you fundraise for a nonprofit? Charities can set up campaigns, but there’s no process for verified or registered nonprofits.

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