The Great American Pixel


Thought Experiment: The Hypothetical Power of “Hypothetical Crowdfunding”

hy·po·thet·i·cal  (hp-tht-kl) also hy·po·thet·ic (-thtk)

1. Of, relating to, or based on a hypothesis: a hypothetical situation. See Synonyms at theoretical.
a. Suppositional; uncertain. See Synonyms at supposed.
b. Conditional; contingent.

The WDET Call To Action program has me inspired on a couple levels. If you haven’t seen it, the idea is to try and encourage 10,000 new volunteer hours in a month, and to make it easy for people to find local nonprofits, block clubs, and service organizations. More than 2 weeks in it’s still approaching 1/2 way on the goal, so we’ll see if it can be met, and either way it’s getting a lot of new people involved and is an awesome step 1 in a new kind of collective action model (if I can say so…LOVELAND developed the online component and we’re super excited about this whole space).

The way it works is super simple, and all based on the idea of promisary pledges. You hit the homepage and can sort through organizations by geography and topic: 

The way to pledge is click Pledge To Help and enter your email address, number of volunteer hours that you pledge to perform, and optionally your name and employer. When you’re done the number gets tallied up top and WDET follows up with you to remind you to perform your service hours however you’d like to:


I really dig that promise model and it’s got me thinking about how useful themes and variations of it might be.

For a while I’ve had this sort of silly sounding idea in my head for a service that does “imaginary crowdfunding”. Maybe a better name as I write this out is hypothetical crowdfunding. See, especially for project ideas that are very large and have complexities to them that need to be thought out before they can be committed to, a form of crowdfunding where people can “pledge” money without actually pledging money can be very useful. Let me explain.

At the moment, all crowdfunding services like Kickstarter, Rockethub, IndieGoGo, etc etc require people to take out their credit cards put actual money on the line. Makes sense, right? While no one is charged unless the fundraising goal is complete, it’s still the real deal: if the goal is hit you’re getting charged.

But what about those cases where you want to gauge the general interest in an idea, work out kinks, attract partners and helpers, and the like, before anything is set in stone. Really what you want is the ability for people to pledge a realistic assessment of what they would pay into or provide for the project if it really happened, along with a way to collect ideas, support, and contact information to give them updates and let them know if it’s ever time to pony up and make their financial pledge for real.

Here are 2 examples of projects where I think this would be the smartest way to go about things, for 2 different reasons.

I recently wrote about an idea for a HUGE (and frightening) fundraiser and project called No Property Left Behind that would crowdfund all unpurchased $500 Detroit properties at this fall’s 2012 Wayne County Tax Foreclosure Auction. Going by last year’s numbers, we can guesstimate that it’s possible that somewhere in the neighborhood of more than 4,510 properties will be left behind. If you wanted to purchase all of those properties the money needed comes out to $2,225,000. Yes that’s 2 million 225 thousand. 

This would not be something to jump into lightly, and the mere “observer effect” of setting this up would likely effect auction processes and ideas for improving outcomes. But why not at least set up a hypothetical crowdfunding site where people are asked to make promisary pledges and suggest ideas for how it could work? If there’s insufficient interest or if a better or different idea emerges along the way, the project doesn’t have to happen. But if things take off and start to seem more realistic along the way, it can move from hypothetical to actual pledges.

The flow would go something like this (excuse the messy mocks, they’re a quick way to visually think out loud):

You’d go to nopropertyleftbehind.com and see an interactive map of all the properties that weren’t sold last year, giving you a sense of the scale and what kinds of properties in particular to expect this year:

Get the short story:

And if you’re so inclined, make your hypothetical pledge and say what you think:

Clearly it’s possible for people to exaggerate, or for future life circumstances to prevent actual payments of the size people say, but that can and does happen in non-hypothetical fundraisers, and the point is to measure interest and refine ideas, knowing live can be different.

As another example, I’ve written some things about what you might do with a newfangled type of credit union. To actually apply to start one with the state or federal government you need to demonstrate demand and show there are enough people ready to put money into the credit union on day one. 

Well, sounds like a case for a hypothetical crowdfundraiser to me. Make it easy for people to see what it is you’re proposing and let them pre-sign up online along with the amount of money they plan to deposit if it actually happens, and what they think. This would allow a core, energized group of people to form around the fledgeling credit union to further develop and support the idea, and it would provide a FANTASTIC demonstration to the regulators that the credit union should be permitted.

So for example, you hit unicorndiet.com and are greeted with a brief outline for what the proposed credit union is about and who should consider joining:

And once again you fill out name, email, city, the amount of your hypothetical founding deposit, and what you think, which all gets tallied up for others to see:

If the demand is there you know it’s something to move forward on, and in this case you zip up all the info and include it with your registration form. When the credit union is green-lighted, you contact everyone and let them know it’s time to move the funds. And if it never happens, no one’s on the line.

Behold, the hypothetical power of hypothetical crowdfunding.

2 years ago

March 12, 2012
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