With numerous crowdfunding websites today, it’s not a stretch to say that a large number of people you come in contact with on a daily basis have donated to a project before on one of these sites. Crowdfunding, which is a form of crowdsourcing, is a popular aspect of internet community today. Countless musicians, artists, filmmakers (and even this couple looking to have a child) have sought out crowdfunding websites in order to receive the monetary needs to fund their projects.
By its nature, crowdfunding seeks out donations from nameless strangers (crowds) in order to fund a specific project or organization. Many people think that crowdfunding is a new phenomenon but the concept has actually existed for centuries. The integration of the internet, however, came into existence more recently with the term itself being coined in 2006 by Michael Sullivan and his failed website called “fundavlog”. The idea gained momentum once Kickstarter entered the public sphere in 2009. Yet, these types of websites existed even in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Bands started to reach out to their fans, asking them to help fund albums, seen in 2006 with SellaBand. The site JustGiving demonstrated an early form of charitable crowdfunding in 2000. However, the one thing that was lacking from these websites was the power that we have today with social media platforms.
“The working principle is the same: a large group of people can pool their money to help fund an idea. The real novelty that they brought in was that when one contributes to these projects, they should not expect to get money back. Depending on the level of pledges, the applicant can get rewards but no money.”
These sites are based on a peer-to-peer model. The most powerful aspect of them is that backers can fund projects that they feel a personal attachment to. They may feel inspired or empowered by the project that someone is presenting and then want to contribute to it. For their contribution, they often receive a reward depending on the size of the donation. These can range from album downloads to T-shirts to even VIP meet-and-greets.
With that background knowledge, I would like to focus now on the idea of charitable crowdfunding. I have run into countless of these on social media platforms. Many times on Facebook I see friends posting links to pages to donate to service trips, Relay for Life teams, or even sometimes to raise funds for medical reasons. However, I think that the most interesting form of crowdfunding for charity I have run into on the internet is an organization called The Box Scene Project.
The Box Scene Project was created by two fans of the television show Glee. The show is known for its celebration of LGBT storylines yet often gets flak from the fans for underrepresenting their LGBT characters and couples on the show. These couples often get less airtime and less developed storylines than the heterosexual couples on the show. So, when word got out that an emotional and romantic scene featuring the show’s most popular and ground-breaking gay couple, Kurt and Blaine, was cut from the Christmas episode in season 3, fans were up in arms. This provoked two fans, Heather Kirkpatrick and Tamila Gresham, to take matters into their own hands. Fans donned the missing scene with the name “The Box Scene” since it involved the exchange of a ring box between the two characters as seen in a released still. The two women discovered that the script for the episode, with the deleted scene, was to be released in an upcoming charity auction. They then took to Tumblr and word spread quickly of their efforts. Within a matter of a month, they had raised over $14,000 for the charity Project Angel Food which works to deliver meals to people affected by HIV/AIDS. They won the script and released the written scene to the fans. The hype even prompted the show’s creator to release the cut scene clip on YouTube:
The Box Scene Project has since gone on to raise over $130,000 for many different charities. Since their first auction, the two women have won several other scripts for fans as well as made many giveaways. The way that The Box Scene Project works is not much different than sites like Kickstarter. They set out tiers of donation amounts and the monetary level of the donation determines the reward. Often times, the reward is a PDF download of the script they are auctioning for (sometimes there is more than one script available for higher donations). During their giveaways, they have signed items from the cast of Glee and other memorabilia. One charity that The Box Scene Project has worked closely with since its inception is The Young Storytellers Foundation. One of the creators of the show, Brad Falchuk, has close ties with the charity. The goal of this charity is to provide young children with mentors who help them craft stories and scripts and spur creativity in them. The Box Scene Project has been able to host two charity events with The Young Storytellers Foundation, both of which have had actors from Glee putting on live performances of select scripts that children involved in the program have written. New scripts from Glee were released online with these events so that the money people donated for their copy of the script went to The Young Storytellers Foundation.
According to founder Kirkpatrick in her BuzzFeed interview:
“Our vision for the box scene is to be something that is taking that fan activism and doing something positive with it. If, within the Tumblr world, 5,000 people who want the same thing, if everybody can get their voice together, it’s more powerful than one person.”
Not only has The Box Scene Project raised over $130,000 for several different charities in the matter of three years, but it also upholds a mission statement, found on its website, devoted to equal representation in the media for minority groups:
“The Box Scene Project works to harness the power of fans in order to reach equal media representation for the LGBT* community, people of color, women, people with disabilities, and those that live at the intersection of those identities.”
The Box Scene Project has resonated powerfully with the fans and even with the creators of the show. The women who started it are merely fans, originally starting the organization on a whim. They are adamant to this day about their status as fans. Kirkpatrick states that:
“I like the fan activism part, I’m just a fan. If we’re affiliated with Fox then we’re kind of under their guise and that takes the fun out of it.”
This quote really drives home the grassroots feeling that internet crowdfunding has. Through crowdfunding and social media, Kirkpatrick and Gresham made and continue to make their voices heard. Fans want to participate in this project, not only because they receive a reward from it, but because it is very genuine. They feel like they are personally involved in these charities and efforts because they see that these women are just like them. They have skillfully and effectively mixed fandom and crowdfunding in order to produce an astounding outcome. As someone who is a fan of Glee and has donated to these efforts, I have been impressed by the impact that has come out of this organization. It truly embodies the idea that it doesn’t take a wealthy or powerful person to make these things happen – really anyone can.