Most people associate crowdfunding with raising funds for startups and growing businesses. However, one of the earliest entrants to the space was Crowdfunder, now the U.K.’s biggest rewards-based crowdfunding platform, with its sights set on becoming the most effective social investment platform on the planet.
Launched in 2013, Crowdfunder connects people with community projects and other good causes that use the platform to present their ideas to the public, or ‘the crowd,’ to ask for donations towards their cause. To date, 400,000 projects have been launched on the platform, with around 60,000 successfully funded.
The platform was cofounded by CEO Rob Love, the interactive technology brains behind the Big Brother TV series. Now a committed social entrepreneur, he is enabling people across the U.K. to raise money for projects that matter.
Having created some of the biggest online websites, including the National Lottery online and UEFA.com, Love sold his business and, for his next venture, had what he describes as an ethical epiphany. He says: “I just realized there were better things to do than make Big Brother, which started as a nice social experiment but quickly became car crash TV.”
Love teamed up with celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to launch River Cottage, which ran several campaigns, including Hugh’s Fish Fight, which highlighted the plight of the world’s diminishing fish stocks.
He says: “We were trying to help people to make a difference by getting them to think about where their food comes from. That’s when we started to see that sense of the power of the people, everyone coming together to create a loud voice, which with digital, is very easy to do.”
Very soon, Love’s team was being approached by communities asking for help with local projects, such as installing a wind turbine in their town or saving their village pub, by clubbing together. “Around this time, crowdfunding was starting to take off, so that was the route we went, and Crowdfunder was born,” says Love. “We started crowdfunding wind turbines and various other things that communities needed, and it started to grow very quickly.”
One of the challenges they faced was a lack of understanding about crowdfunding; many saw it purely as a fundraising vehicle for business. “That’s not what we are about,” says Love. “We are raising money from communities. And it’s not just about the money. It’s about validating good ideas and identifying the things that people care about.”
Successfully funded community projects include Furry Tales, which delivers animal-assisted activities to elders in Tower Hamlets in London, and FoodWorks, a food-skills life-skills program to improve people’s health and wellbeing. Others have focused on sports, arts, charity and social enterprise.
The platform and the power of the crowd came into its own during the pandemic, when it helped tackle some of society’s biggest challenges, for example, by helping Manchester United football player Marcus Rashford’s free school meals campaign against child food poverty.
“This was during lockdown when businesses and restaurants couldn’t open, yet they were the ones stepping up,” says Love. “When the community steps up to deal with issues that governments and corporations can’t, it’s pretty inspiring.”
To date, Crowdfunder has raised around £280 million directly through the platform, which has unlocked millions more offline. Increasingly, the platform is starting to unlock money from governments, corporations and other organizations, including those from the public and private sectors.
With inflation and energy prices soaring in May this year, Crowdfunder launched a Donate the Rebate campaign after the then Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that every household would receive a £400 energy bill discount. The campaign encouraged people to donate their energy rebates to those most in need.
Love says: “The rebate was going to an awful lot of people who don’t necessarily need the £400. They had a choice to put that back into their local community or to charities on the frontline, and collectively, make a huge difference.”
The platform has also become a marketplace for companies, including some major corporations, to fund projects directed by their staff. It is expanding the corporate offer to be able to redistribute and level up more wealth.
“At Aviva, for example, 70% of their staff are now using that mechanism to choose where they want the money to go,” says Love. “And they’re choosing the things they care about in their communities, often their local branch of a national charity because it helped one of their family members.”
Crowdfunder has also worked with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on a vaccine campaign. “When you start getting funding from government and major corporations and recognition from the Gates Foundation, you know you’re on the radar,” says Love. “Those guys have the money, but trying to channel it at a local community level in a way that makes a difference, is a real challenge.”
Love is passionate in his belief in the power of the crowd and excited about what’s possible. “I see crowdfunding as the ultimate meritocracy; having an idea and finding out if everyone agrees with it, and I think that’s going to become even more significance going forward,” he says. “Whatever the problem, there is a growing confidence and belief that if we all come together, we can fix it, and that’s what I find exciting.”