We know that crowdfunding is having a significant impact in the business world, particularly for smaller businesses; and in the charity-voluntary sector, as entrepreneurs and not-for-profit organisations seek funding from the general public for projects that banks or formal funding bodies are not prepared to take a risk on. But a growing number of people are using crowdfunding websites to achieve ambitions that have nothing to do with their day jobs. Here are a few of their stories.
Hannah Engelkamp, donkey walker
Hannah Engelkamp, donkey walker
I thought 'donkeys are sweet how hard can it be?'
In 2013, travel writer Hannah Engelkamp completed a 1,000-mile circumnavigation of Wales with a donkey named Chico. As you do. That epic
journey, which she originally thought would take three months but actually took more than five, was not crowdfunded, but the book and film of the adventure she is now working on have been, following a kickstarter.com campaign that overshot a £28,000 target to raise over £35,000.
She hit upon the idea of walking all the way round the country when the Wales Coast Path was completed and opened to the public in 2012, using the Offa’s Dyke Path national trail to complete the circuit. She then decided it would be more interesting to do the journey with a donkey. This created a number of problems: donkeys can’t negotiate stiles or kissing gates – there are several hundred on each of the paths – and are not permitted on the coastal path, so she would have to pick out a route as she went along, using Ordnance Survey maps. She had very little money to spend and no plan of where she and Chico would sleep each night. She also had no experience of dealing with donkeys at all – she has never even owned a pet. “I definitely thought ‘donkeys are sweet – how hard can it be?’” she says.
They set out from Engelkamp’s home in Aberystwyth at the end of May 2013 and completed the journey on 9 November, having covered an average of 15 miles a day along the improvised route, trekking through the worst that the Welsh weather could throw at them, and sometimes forced to walk along busy roads as well as through the gorgeous, but often soaking, Welsh countryside. Her partner Rhys is a film-maker, so filmed parts of the journey, while Engelkamp also had a smaller diary-cam that she used when alone.
The crowdfunding began in the late autumn of 2013. Engelkamp had raised some money to go towards production of the film and publication, but the journey had battered her finances. Using kickstarter.com was a logical step, as she had already set up a website, Facebook page and Twitter account to raise awareness of the adventure and her book and film plans. But, she says: “£28,000 still seemed like a lot of cash.”
She ended up working “more than full-time” on promoting her crowdfunding drive, managing to secure press and radio coverage, but a majority of the pledges she received came online. She discovered the website upworthy.com, which tries to draw attention to interesting, important or amusing things online. Her story appeared about 12 hours before the kickstarter.com deadline and helped ensure she swept past her target.
Although kickstarter.com forced Engelkamp to widen her audience, so increasing her chances of raising the money needed, she’s not sure she would put herself through the experience again. “If you’re using it to do your own thing, relying on people believing in it to the extent that they pay you money to make it possible – that’s very exposing,” she explains. “Every day the money didn’t go up it felt like no one liked it; and there were times when someone would make a pledge that was so generous that I would be sitting there in tears.”
She has just received a first draft of the book back from the freelance editor she has hired to help her self-publish the book, is hoping to get both book and film launched at the same time in the new year and is planning a series of screenings.
Andrew Cotton, extreme surfer
The day before we speak, Andrew Cotton successfully surpassed his crowdfunder.co.uk target of £10,000, raising (to date) £11,424 towards travelling around the world, trying to find the perfect sea conditions that will allow him to beat the world record for the highest wave ever successfully surfed. He needs to fund not just travel, but also the equipment and safety costs for a whole team to document his efforts. Wave measuring is not an exact science and experts use film footage to decide the exact height of a wave, sometimes weeks or months after the event.
Cotton has already surfed on waves thought to be over 80 feet high, a new record if verified. For half of the year, Cotton is a plumber and part-time lifeguard in north Devon. Then, every winter, he becomes a professional surfer, travelling the world to compete in surfing competitions or, this year, looking for the biggest wave he can surf.
Andrew Cotton, extreme surfer
It's dangerous so your approach has to be quite calculated. You can't be too gung ho or you're going to die
“I’ve always been really confident in the water: it’s just a state of mind. I’ve got the basic surfing skills, but with the really big waves a lot of it is to do with fighting your fears,” he says. “You’re trying to paddle into some of the biggest waves ever, where most people would be paddling away. So it is a psychological battle.”
How does it feel when he’s riding a really big wave? “At that point I’m so focused, I’m not really thinking about anything else. There is an element of adrenaline, but I wouldn’t describe myself as an adrenaline junkie. It’s dangerous, so your approach has to be quite calculated. You can’t be too gung ho or you’re going to die.”
Last year his search was focused on Europe, but the money raised using crowdfunder.co.uk means he will now be able to travel much further afield, to locations such as Hawaii and California, if forecasts suggest the really big waves are about to roll in there.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have received all the support I’ve had so far,” he says. “There are not that many companies at the moment that have the money to sponsor this sort of thing. I didn’t know anything about crowdfunding; I didn’t really understand the concept.
“I’ve got to keep focused and make it happen. We’re going to go and surf some really big waves. It is exciting: you’re in the hands of the Gods, hoping that the right swell and the right winds and the right conditions will come.”
Lucy Benson-Brown, theatre diva
Lucy Benson-Brown has kickstarter.com – and perhaps a lucky coincidence – to thank for one of the biggest successes she has enjoyed in her theatre career so far: Cutting Off Kate Bush, her one-woman show about a young woman using the music of Kate Bush to survive a personal crisis.
It was after failing to land a major theatre job at the end of 2013 that Benson-Brown started to plan a show she could take to the Edinburgh Festival, and teamed up with a producer to create it. The problem they faced was the high production cost.
Their fundraising events fell well short of the £10,000 needed. So they used kickstarter.com. They also decided to keep the target they were chasing fairly low, at £1,500. They emailed everyone they knew and tried to engender some interest among Kate Bush fans online. The £1,500 target was reached in just two weeks.
With the kickstarter.com page pulling in £2,576, they could apply for funds from elsewhere. The Old Vic theatre in London gave them £1,000. They then managed to convince a sponsor (a client of an advertising agency where Benson-Brown works between theatre jobs) to make up the shortfall, ending up with the £11,500 which allowed them to turn Benson-Brown’s script into a production.
Altogether they were in Edinburgh for around four weeks. “It went really well, we got a few nice reviews,” says Benson-Brown. “And we were really lucky that this was the year Kate Bush decided she would go on tour again, so there was a lot of Kate Bush coverage everywhere.”
Once the Edinburgh run was over the show was performed at Hackney Downs Studios, London, and will run again at the Winterville Festival in the capital’s Victoria Park in December, as well as at the Out To Lunch Festival in Belfast in January. These shows should generate some revenue.
“Because we have now made some money, the plan is to put it towards the next project,” says Benson-Brown. “Once we do the shows in Belfast and London we’ll abandon that show for a bit and have a go at something else.”
Carla Burkitt, karate champion
Carla Burkitt, karate champion
I got donations from people who'd seen the appeal in the papers. It was overwhelming
Carla Burkitt is 24 and has been an English and British international karate competitor since the age of 18, winning both the English and British championships and silver and bronze medals at past European Championships. She has been using the crowdfunding site hubbub.net to raise the funds that will allow her to compete at the World Championships in Bremen, Germany, during November. By the time you read this, she may be the new world champion.
Karate is not an Olympic discipline, so competitors do not have access to the same streams of funding as those competing in more mainstream martial arts. The national federation requires national team members to pay their own expenses when travelling abroad to compete.
When Burkitt won her silver European medal at the age of 19, she attracted the backing of a business based near her karate club in Luton, Bedfordshire. It paid for transport and accommodation for Burkitt and her coach, allowing her to compete in karate World Series tournaments abroad, but was forced to end the arrangement during the recession.
“Once the funding cut out, doing the World Series competitions just wasn’t possible,” says Burkitt. She couldn’t afford to spend around £500 per month getting to the competitions, particularly as she was also studying sports rehabilitation at Middlesex University while working in a local gym as a personal trainer, massage therapist and receptionist.
She is now the manager of that gym, but still couldn’t pay the £975 needed to fund the trip to Bremen. Burkitt had come across examples of other sportspeople using crowdfunding, so decided to give it a go. She raised £544 of her £950 target on the site. But the way hubbub.com works means that, as she has surpassed a minimum target of £250, she will get the money that has been pledged.
With this money behind her she has been able to secure an agreement from her national federation that it will lend her whatever costs remain (if any) once the deadline has passed.
Burkitt has been tweeting about her crowdfunding campaign, reactivated an old Facebook account to help raise awareness and has benefitted from fundraising at her home karate club. But she also enjoyed a stroke of luck when the London Evening Standard ran an article about British sportspeople needing to raise money to compete. The newspaper approached hubbub.net for information about individuals in this position and ended up featuring her.
“I got donations from people who’d just seen it on the underground, which amazed me,” she says. “I found it overwhelming.”
So Burkitt will be going to Bremen. “Hopefully I’ll be coming back with a medal round my neck,” she says. “To be honest, I would be happy with a medal of any colour, but hopefully I’ll have won.”