Micropatronage is where individuals directly support the work of others through voluntary monetary contributions. It is in essence crowdsourcing funds, gathering small amounts from a large group of people rather than relying on sponsorship from a few. The individual makes a judgement of value on a service, product or event and then contributes finances according to the value and/ or benefit they attach to it – which may be dependent upon experience, quality, social or professional value, or even simply what is affordable at that moment.
My first experience with the concept of micropatronage was approximately 5 years ago at the restaurant Lentil as Anything in Melbourne. In this restaurant the customer decides what they want to pay for the food and drinks they’ve consumed. The customer then puts their donation anonymously into a box at the counter. I have been to Lentil as Anything a number of times over the years and more often than not patrons are generous and often pay above the perceived worth – primarily due to the social good and community values the restaurant promotes.
Another very recent example of micropatronage was Trampoline held last weekend where post event people were asked to donate to assist in covering costs for the event (and incidentally received more than they required and donated the rest to continue other socially minded projects).
A different example is Joanne Spain who has started a personal micropatronage campaign on her website to raise funds for an iPhone (with validated reasoning!). After just one day Joanne has raised 12% of the funds she requires.
The examples of Trampoline and Joanne’s iPhone are open to all to contribute, not just to participating or personally invested people but to all those who believe in the cause, regardless of personal benefit.
The world of finance and payment systems is obviously changing – where people are courageous enough to ask for support via voluntary monetary contributions and where individuals and/or the community determine value and perceived worth by what they pull out of their wallet (or more appropriately what they transfer online!).
These ideas appeal to the good in all of us – it is mutually beneficial. We get something out of it, either a tangible or intangible return on investment but in addition we also get the added value of warm fuzzies that we have done something socially good.
I have to admit these concepts have been on my mind in the last week or so as I have been conflicted with wanting to return to university to study a Masters in Design (Communication Design) at Swinburne University. The cost of the degree is $22 000 which makes feasibility an issue as my current HECS debt already resembles the most part of a house deposit! In brainstorming potential finance opportunities I worked out that if all of my Twitter followers (including spam bots!) donated $35 the cost of my degree would be covered. Per semester it sounds even nicer, just $5.50 per follower.
This brings me to the real issues and questions of micropatronage in this kind of circumstance:
1. Value: Why would people give money to me?
2. Ethics: How could I ask people to donate money to me rather than a more community focused, social and charitable cause?
3. Courage: Do I have the courage to ask?
I had lunch with Joanne Spain yesterday and discussed these ideas with her. Her responses were thought provoking and insightful.
Value: why would anyone give me money?
Joanne argued that she would be happy to pay a small sum of money in return for a ‘personal subscription to me’ and also as support for the value she has found in my content (ie tweets and blog) to date. Another friend said that they would also be happy to invest, saying if they got to benefit from my experience and learnings whilst studying – in whatever form that may be – it would be a worthy investment. And so the concept shifts – it does not become giving money to me but a transaction in which you contribute according to the value you put on my content. If you like what I share and write then it is in your interest to support my journey in learning as your investment will no doubt be returned with considerable (albeit intangible) interest. The question becomes what value would you put on having a ‘subscription to me’?
Ethics: Me or a charity?
This is the really hard justification for me. For example current worthy causes on Twitter I saw yesterday: Movember, supporting Andrew Blanda in his Sydney to the Gong Bike Ride for MS and supporting Inspire Foundation by buying The Perfect Gift for a Man book by Gavin Heaton and Mark Pollard. All are very worthy of support.
How could I ask for financial support when there are worthy causes like these? After all I am a middle class DINK with a good job, mortgage and great people around me. That does not seem like a charitable cause – but is it worthy of investment instead? Joanne and I discussed how much time you naturally give away to others sharing knowledge, giving advice, helping in everyday circumstances. As well, the community value and social good may not be immediate but the future intention to give back is there. And so the investment is to support past and future practices. This returns to the notion of investment over charity or donation and your perception of return on investment for a subscription to me.
Courage: Will I ask?
The idea that micropatronage is more about investment makes me feel more comfortable with the idea that if someone provides some financial support to my education they will benefit from my learning experience. From supporting me they can get some return through observing and participating in my journey via social avenues (both on and offline).
The idea that my education would be for the collective rather than just personal good also sits well. It would increase the motivation for studying being accountable to a group of people rather than just myself.
So from a value prospect and from an ethical viewpoint (keeping charity and investment very separate) the idea of micropatronage for my degree seems sound. But courage? I do not have the courage to ask. I cannot reconcile myself with competing against much worthier causes out there.
Applications for the degree close in February so I have three months to consider options. And so I ask you:
What do you think of micropatronage?
What are you willing to contribute to?
What do you think of crowdsourcing contributions for my further study?