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LIVE LOCAL, LIVE SMALL: Gwenyfar dishes on fundraising platforms and community support

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Things were heating up after the HVAC kicked out at Gwenyfar’s future B&B—but she realized she can crowdfund for the expense without it being a “hand out.”

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“I need a shot of whiskey.” I heaved a sigh. “There is some news you just can’t take sober.”

“Where would you like to get your whiskey?” Jock inquired.

“And pizza. I want whiskey and pizza. And a hug. I need a hug.”

“Anything else?” Jock chuckled.

“Yes, a kiss. I need a kiss, too.”  I sighed again. “But first I want a drink.”





I do not drink often and never at home. We do not keep any alcohol I am interested in at the house. But the events of the day had derailed me to the point of really wanting a drink.

It began with the cabinet door sticking:  the first sign something was off.
Apparently, the air conditioning wasn’t working downstairs. In the dead heat of summer, it’s hard to continue renovating my childhood home, which is scheduled to become a literary-themed bed and breakfast in three months.

“It lasted twice its life expectancy!” The nice HVAC repair man shook his head in disbelief as we both stared at the outside unit.

“Can you have it working by bed time?” I asked.

“Uh … no. This needs to be replaced.”

“No Band-Aid to get us through the evening?”

I have had doctors deliver terminal diagnoses with less tact and concern. He informed me there was no hope to save this A/C system and I needed to start thinking about the next step.

“How much will it cost?” I asked.

Someone else would come out to measure and write up the estimate, but he estimated $4,000 to $6,000 as a good starting point.

“Oh. Wow.”

I recounted it all to Jock after my second shot of whiskey. Considering I drink hard liquor approximately twice a year, I was feeling it pretty quickly—probably slurring my words badly.

The next morning it was time to face reality. I put on my grubby clothes and went back to plaster repair in the dining room.

I first learned about crowdfunding via the internet when I got assigned to do a story on Ruby Assata, a local design company run by Alisha Thomas. She was raising capital for equipment via Kickstarter. At the time it was an eye-opening idea: Small start-ups, artists and creative projects could bypass banks, venture capitalists and go directly to their customer base to raise support.

Probably the two big crowdfunding sites are Kickstarter (launched 2009) and Indiegogo (launched 2008). Go Fund Me, launched in 2010, is similar but it raises donations for charitable causes. There are many notable fundraising campaigns that have extremely high success statistics—and also many campaigns that have failed miserably. A straw poll in the highly scientific form of asking people standing in the same room with me, yielded these two observations:

1. Backing a project on Kickstarter or Indiegogo is not really the same as shopping, and it shouldn’t be presented that way. Product development is more difficult and involved than product fulfilment.

2. Trying to raise money for a play or film online is pretty difficult, and the excitement seems to have diminished. “Cusped” as it were.

I was very taken with Dresdon Dolls pianist Amanda Palmer’s book, “The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help.” It is in many ways an expansion of her Ted Talk about raising money on Kickstarter in 2012 to fund a record when she split with her label. (It is actually much more but that’s another column.) I was particularly fascinated by it because, over the last few years, I have watched multiple attempts to raise money for producing the documentary/reality TV show/special (it kept evolving and changing) about Jock and his work. None really succeeded the way the filmmakers hoped.

In April of this year, reported Indiegogo expects to exceed $1.5 billion in money raised on their platform. But they still do not show a profit, even though they report revenue up 50 percent since last year. The piece goes on to compare Indiegogo with Kickstarter—which has raised $3.2 billion and apparently has shows a profit since 2010, only a year after they launched.

This is a bit of a lead up to what happened next back in the dining room:
Elise suggested we start an online fundraiser for the A/C situation. I dismissed it out of hand. “There is no way I am going to ask for help. This was my problem to figure out.”

Then the idea got floated rather than ask for a handout, the “perks” function of Indiegogo could be used to pre-sell nights at the B&B, in the Loft above the bookstore, and for trips on the Literary History Walking Tour.

“So, to be clear: Not asking for a donation, but rather utilizing the tools of Indiegogo to pre-sell our services, and collect the money in advance to pay for the A/C?”


Mmmmm. It seemed possible.

Before I knew what had hit me, our resident millennial had swept me up in the excitement of taking pictures, making a video and putting a campaign together. (Though she did pick a still that makes me look like I just wandered out of a Stephen King novel.) She wanted pictures of before and after to demonstrate how far we have come on the project—and we are genuinely and legitimately on the road to opening the B&B. I love the “after” pictures: the stained-glass window in the Maya Angelou Room and the pictures of the book-page wallpaper, and the velvet lamp shade in the Tom Robbins room. I know how long it took to get to those milestones. The “before” pictures, though they show growth, are hard for me to see.

The estimate for the A/C came back at just under $8,000.

“So we need to try to raise $8,400 to account for the charge that goes to Indiegogo,” Elise suggested.

“No,” I shook my head. “That seems disingenuous. If we can pre-sell $8,000, I can come up with the finance charge. I can’t face asking people for that.”

Elise gave me a quizzical look (a common occurrence) and shrugged her shoulders.

When we pushed the button to launch the campaign. I thought I was going to have a stroke I was so stressed out and worried.

Perhaps no one will notice and I can go die quietly under a rock over there, I thought. That seems like a good solution.

Then my email started filling with questions and requests from people in regards to the B&B. They asked if theycould just go through us (the bookstore) directly rather than Indiegogo.

“Yes! Yes we will happily take your reservation—no problem!”

“You have a great track record with The Loft and it’s a good way to get the pictures of the B&B out there for people to see,” Jock noted when I showed him the campaign.

“You are actually offering something real.”

“Well, I would rather not play the Ponzi game with the bank. If you think about it, this is a more advanced version of the ‘borrowing from friends and family’ rung of the raising capital ladder.”

I paused.

“It’s just more formalized and reaches a wider circle of friends and has a specific repayment attached to it.”

Perhaps it is part of the allure—the faces, the names and the handshakes of the people you owe a debt to, rather than a computerized voice on the other end of the phone line.

Taken together, it is a pretty powerful zeitgeist.

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