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How crowdfunding inspires creative ministry by Adam J. Copeland

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Sociologist Robert Wuthnow tells the story of Glenn D. McMurry, a young man born in 1917 who wrote an autobiography about his life in rural Kansas. McMurry writes about his Methodist church and describes a method of raising money used by the congregation when a particular need arose. The leader of the finance committee would explain how much money was needed. The secretary would write the financial goal on the board, and then the chair would ask, “Who’ll give 25 dollars?”

When hands went up, the secretary dutifully noted the names of the donors and subtracted the total pledged from the goal. “Now who’ll give 20 dollars?” the chair would ask. “Usually,” McMurry said, “they were able to get what they needed.”

For congregations, this was a pre-Internet version of Kickstarter, a crowdfunding website where an individual or group raises money for particular purposes by asking for financial backing from those who support the cause.

We can trace crowdfunding back through history to the time when Bach, Brahms, and Beethoven each had wealthy patrons. Today many musicians still rely on commissioned work for reliable income. But because of crowdfunding, the historic, reliable patronage system has gone viral: today anyone can become a backer of any project. Last fall, for example, the South Carolina Philharmonic commissioned a new work by Dan Visconti. Using Kickstarter, the group raised $7,150 from 93 backers and exceeded their goal. The piece will debut this year.