Rodrigo Davies

Thoughts on Neighborly, civic crowdfunding and the future of community development

What does it take to win a $10,000 award for Innovation in Crowdfunding?

17 Mar 2014

What makes an innovative crowdfunding project?

Next month I'm honored to be one of the judges in the Innovation category at the second One Spark crowdfunding festival. As I start to get acquainted with this year's finalists, I'm already amazed by the breadth and depth of people's ideas and ambitions. So how are we possibly going to choose between them?

Here are some of the approaches I'll be working with. Many of these thoughts are as much about design thinking or entrepreneurship as they are about crowdfunding, but to me they're especially relevant when trying to spot innovative crowdfunding campaigns.

One of the first things I look for in a crowdfunding campaign is the question being asked, or the problem at hand that the creators are trying to solve. In some ways inspiring people with a great question or goal is almost more important than showing them a beautiful, finished product. I think this is especially important in the innovation category, and here's why.

Having a clear, well-considered question or goal it helps your audience understand that you're not just bringing them on for a reward – the great product that you're effectively pre-selling to them – you're asking for them to join you on a journey. You're asking them to follow you or your organization while you try and solve a problem or meet a need. That journey might not end as quickly as you expect. It also might not end in exactly the way you expected. What that means is that you have a project that is able to adapt to new circumstances, and backers who are ready to adapt with you. So if your product doesn't ship as fast you want it to and you have to make some unexpected changes to the design, that's ok – and it's ok with your backers.

To most people, innovation isn't about turn-key, off-the-shelf solutions, it's about figuring out what works by doing it, iterating as you go along. Great campaigns make the case for that kind of work and invite their backers to be a part of the the process. That's why, when done right, crowdfunding is a great match for innovation projects.

Another quality I'll be looking for is awareness of the rest of the market. What else has been tried in the space the campaign is operating in, and how is this effort different? That doesn't mean a campaign needs to list all its potential competitors past and present, but it should have learned from them and be able to distill the most critical improvements into a few sentences. In doing so, the campaign answers an important question: why should this campaign be considered innovative? An innovative campaign shouldn't have a hard time answering.

I'm excited to meet this year's innovation finalists in person next month. Good luck to all!

(Cross-posted from the OneSpark blog)