I’m still trying to understand this whole crowdfunding phenomenon. If you’re not familiar with this term, it means asking a bunch of people for money for something you want (or perhaps need), probably through the use of various internet sites dedicated to this specific purpose.

Certainly there’s a long history of communities coming together to give material or financial support to individuals, such as wedding gifts, baby showers, or graduation presents. But I think the difference is that here we are talking about a voluntary contribution, usually at some sort of life milestone.

This is why when bridal registries first came out they were considered a breach of etiquette because you were essentially giving people a shopping list and telling them what to buy for you. The same argument was used against asking for money; it was considered crass—the equivalent of standing on the roadside with a sign asking for handouts.

Nobody really likes being asked directly for money—think of the dreaded office collection. I once worked in a place that had an “advisory committee” and you were expected to pay dues each month which would in turn go towards birthdays, welcome plants for new employees, retirement gifts, etc. It had gotten out of control and eventually people just stopped paying.

On the flip side, I suppose in a broad sense there’s no harm in asking, and honestly stating your need, as long as you don’t badger people into contributing. (I’m writing this as the local community radio station is having their fall fund drive. I haven’t pledged yet, despite being a regular listener, which I suppose makes me kind of a leech.)

Along with not guilting people into giving is demonstrating why something is of value. I don’t like panhandlers but I do appreciate the street entertainers all over Bloomington. From the Farmer’s Market to the Lotus music festival you will see everything from bagpipes, magicians, juggling, belly dancers, fire spinners, and people composing poetry on the spot. I appreciate their guts and can probably cough up a spare few dollars for their performances.

I also admire entrepreneurs with unique, and sometimes odd, ideas. I have a co-worker who is planning to quit her job next year and travel around, living in a van by herself, making hula hoops and selling them at festivals. She is going to start a blog and a GoFundMe account. I imagine I’ll find a way to contribute something so that I can live vicariously through her experiences.

(I’m totally not making this whole thing up. It’s this kind of stuff that causes me to say that I don’t write fiction because I don’t have to. Sometimes I think of myself as not a very interesting person because in Bloomington I’m up against some pretty stiff competition.)

I have a friend whose high school aged son has been selected into a program as a music ambassador and has the opportunity to travel to Europe. He is a dedicated and talented musician who has worked very hard at practicing his craft. I look forward to being able to contribute to the fund for him to be able to enjoy the honor he deserves.

I guess I don’t mind the internet crowdfunding as much as it can be easier to pass if you’re not feeling compelled to fork over your money. It’s better than those obnoxious home parties you are invited to under the guise of friendship, and feel compelled by peer pressure to attend. Once there, you are subjected to a sales pitch for a bunch of overpriced stuff you don’t really want.

But then you probably feel guilty if you don’t buy something because after all, this is a personal acquaintance. As you might surmise, I intensely dislike this kind of thing. I feel like it’s a bait-and-switch ploy to blur the lines between a personal relationship and a business investor. At least these other situations are up front about what they are asking of you.

In conclusion, I’d say it’s ok to ask for something as long as you are clear about everything up front. After all, if you can get people to give you money, who am I to criticize? But always give someone the opportunity to say no, and respect their decision without questioning them or becoming offended. This will keep the channels of communication open for the future, when the next idea may resonate with a potential donor.