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The viral funding model: Sponsume

'Sponsume's Gregory Vincent speaking at RewireLondon', June 2010

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'Sponsume's Gregory Vincent speaking at RewireLondon', June 2010

Viral funding describes the contagious process of raising support and funding through social networks and online media. With the Arts Council facing severe cuts, do these platforms offer an adequate alternative to traditional funding schemes?

More and more artists are utilising the potential of social networking sites to promote and develop their practice. Twitter, Facebook and Ning etc. offer a fantastic opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals and groups at the touch of a button. These shared platforms are a potential source of feedback, collaboration and ideas - all crucial to visual and applied artists. However, can they offer a viable alternative to conventional funding methods?

Viral funding has long precedents in the sphere of charity and is receiving renewed attention from both commercial and social entrepreneurs. This is due to the ease with which social media, online communities and micropayment technology make it to engage and secure donations from a group of potentially interested supporters at very low cost.

A great example of this is Sponsume, founded in 2010 by Gregory Vincent, formerly a fund manager with a major British financial institution in London and an Assistant Tutor at Oxford University. Sponsume makes viral funding easy by offering a free customisable project page, similar to the one you might create on Facebook. Potential sponsors browse through the list of projects, pick the one they like and sponsor it by buying vouchers.

Each project comes with a funding target and a funding deadline. By buying vouchers, sponsors contribute to funding a project, with 2 possible outcomes:

  • The project reaches its funding target within the timeframe. In this case, the project receives the full amount and goes ahead.
  • The project fails to reach its funding target. In that case, the project does not get funding and sponsors get their money back.

However, what do sponsors actually get for buying vouchers, and what control does this give them over an artist's work? Sponsume vouchers act like pre-orders for the product or service that will be produced when the project goes live. Each project brings its own unique rewards. So for example, you might offer backers a discount on your artwork, or a VIP private view. It is about being creative with what you can offer in return for investment.

Crucially for artists, they remain in control of ownership of their idea at all times. Sponsume does not offer any equity, or any ownership rights, in the projects listed. Project owners retain 100% ownership and control of their project at all times. This is incredibly important, and one aspect of viral funding artists need to be careful about. Nevertheless, it should be noted that Sponsume requires the disclosure of an idea for which funding is sought in public. This exposes the promoter of the idea to the risk of the idea being copied and developed ahead of them by better-financed competitors.

Nevertheless, this is a minor criticism of what is a potentially advantageous model of arts funding under the new coalition. Sponsume is completely free to join, and although it retains a 12.5% deposit of the total funds collected, project owners will only lose this if they fail to deliver their project on time.

Sponsume provide the theoretical example of Urban Artists, a collective who hope to raise £2,500 in order to put on a show at the Queen of Hoxton Gallery, London. They are offering 3 types of vouchers, with different benefits attached. Basic investment will give sponsors a free exhibition ticket, whereas higher investment offers a signed print by the artists.

More innovative benefits can be developed, but this provides a template for artists to be positive and inventive with the way they sustain their practice. Viral funding may only be in its early stages but it is something worth taking note of and asking what it can do for you.

Visit the Sponsume website here »

Follow Sponsume on Twitter »

Jack Hutchinson

First published: a-n.co.uk June 2010

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