Sure, bug-zapping tools and T-shirts with an image of Miley Cyrus twerking are perfectly fine projects for the crowdfunding set.
But why not use sites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo and others to help a dog get that lifesaving heart surgery? Or to save endangered Samoa's little dodo bird from extinction? Or to solve the feral cat epidemic in the streets of Bangkok?
Well, animal lovers here and abroad are embracing these social-teamwork tech tools like never before, using crowdsourced fundraising to save, salvage and simply celebrate our four-legged, fine-feathered and scraggly toothed friends around the planet.
"Nonprofits that work with animals are always understaffed, under-resourced and underfunded," said Sarah Timms, who launched Denver-based LoveAnimals.org two years ago to connect donors with animal-specific projects in need of cash. "Crowdfunding's an important new tool in their tool belt. It will help prevent animal-welfare groups from getting left behind as more and more people discover the power of combining your dollars with others and seeing the impact it has."
This is personal tech at its most personal, connecting hundreds or thousands of strangers together behind a common cause while providing a personal entree into do-good projects that a single individual could never pull off on their own. And that explains why sites like San Francisco-based Indiegogo are chock-full of opportunities for you to put your animal-loving dollars to work.
"Oh my gosh, we were all shocked," said Christina Ingraldi with the Toronto Wildlife Centre after its Indiegogo drive to raise $24,700 for a new X-ray machine ended up pulling in more than $60,000. "We never dreamed in a million years we'd go over our goal. But people really came together because they were giving money for something very specific."
While the big-name sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter have various pricing methods, usually taking a small cut from the money raised in a campaign, nonprofits like Ingraldi's are discovering that crowdfunding does more than bring in funds -- it also serves as a marketing tool to raise awareness of a group's mission.
"The most important thing is keep everyone who's donating engaged," she said. "Give people stories on your site every few days about the animals that come in and really need that new X-ray machine. This way, the people giving feel like they're part of this bigger story."
Ingraldi adds that having something specific to donate to "makes people prone to giving. People want to know where their money is going."
The charitable consumer has a whole range of options to put their donated money to work as part of a crowd in the cloud, including fundraising sites like Fundly, CauseVox and Fundraise. Sometimes, the campaigns can get very personal and emotional. For example, a Fundly campaign in Florida called "Saving Ash" has raised more than $600 from 11 donors who want to help the organizer pay for cancer surgery for his cat.
Cats, it turns out, are quite popular among the crowdfunding crowd, if perhaps not quite as popular as dogs. A nonscientific Kickstarter survey showed that campaigns with the word "Dog" in them have raised $3.6 million compared with $2.2 million collected for cat-related projects.
Campaigns on Indiegogo support a whole range of animal-welfare causes. A group called BARC raised $21,000 to build an adoption center for abused and abandoned puppies and kittens in Bali, while donors can currently help a group in the Caribbean island of Grenada support efforts to provide a mobile spay and neuter service. And EthicalPup.org, billing itself as "the UK's first whistle-blowing charity," has raised more than $9,000 to support its efforts to help people report tortured and neglected animals.
Some of the projects on Kickstarter offer an indirect way for donors to crowdfund, featuring projects like documentaries and books that help raise awareness of animal-welfare issues. And other projects, while profit-motivated, do things like help owners bond better with their pets.
Take ICPooch. The Spokane-based startup is about to go to market with a device that COO Chris Martin says "let's you have a video-chat and even feed your pet from anywhere you are in the world."
He said when his daughter was 12, she wanted to figure out a way to spare her golden retriever Kayla from the agony of separation anxiety whenever she was home alone, a condition that Martin says afflicts 13 million dogs in the United States.
The contraption his daughter came up with, and that now sells online for $149, is a dog-treat-dispensing device with a built-in video screen that allows an owner to communicate with his pet from a smartphone app. After an initial Kickstarter campaign that failed to reach its goal of $70,000, Martin tried again. And this time, thanks to a more focused message and a shorter pitch video, he met his goal of $20,000. That, in addition to $200,000 in private backing, enabled the startup to design and manufacturer the ICPooch device and distribute it.
"Crowdfunding works when animals are involved because there's that emotional connection people have with their pets," he said. "And it's just fun for people to be part of a process and see something like a startup actually become a reality."
Martin said the crowdfunding aspect of this startup really touched a nerve.
"We get emails everyday from our donors so excited because they genuinely feel like they're an integral part of this startup and they got in for only paying a few bucks," he said. "So it's that feeling of inclusion without all the downside risks."
But Martin also had a word of caution for animal-loving donors.
"You should do your homework first and make sure the group you're giving money to has credibility,'' he said. "Check out their website and any other social-media presence they may have, just to be sure someone's not fraudulently taking money from people.''
Contact Patrick May at 408-920-5689 or follow him at Twitter.com/patmaymerc
Here are some crowdfunding sites where you can team up with other donors to help animals:
Here are some tips from experts for a successful crowdfunding campaign:
1. Engage donors with a steady stream of real-life "stories'' on your website about the project, showing their donations in action.
2. Always post a video and keep it closer to two minutes long rather than five.
3. Be very specific about where the money is going, i.e., a particular building or piece of equipment being purchased with donations.
4. Encourage donors to share the story of the project with family and friends.
5. Use big and compelling photos to tug on donors' heartstrings.
Source: Mercury News reporting