Taking it to the people (one at a time)

Crowdfunding biodiversity conservation

By Eduardo Gallo-Cajiao and Carla Archibald (University of Queensland)

In a world experiencing massive declines in biodiversity coupled with inadequate government expenditure, raising funds from the public is becoming increasingly important for saving species. One new mechanism of funding to emerge in recent years is crowdfunding. It involves fund seekers reaching out to potential donors, usually many individuals each making a small contribution, through so-called crowdfunding platforms. Calls for support might be made through news outlets, email networks and even via Facebook posts. Crowdfunding recently raised over AU$140,000 to enable urgently needed management interventions for the critically endangered orange-bellied parrot.

Because crowdfunding has only recently been added to the conservation finance portfolio, most of what we know is anecdotal. The emergence of a novel financial mechanism requires scrutiny, so that pitfalls and opportunities can be identified. Consequently, we undertook a global empirical analysis to better understand how crowdfunding is being used for biodiversity conservation (Gallo-Cajiao et al, 2018).

We found that crowdfunding for biodiversity conservation has now become a global phenomenon. Since 2009, there have been almost 600 crowdfunding campaigns run that have been associated with a goal of biodiversity conservation. These have successfully raised around AU$6.5 million, with an average value of AU$11,170. While the campaigns were delivered across 80 countries in all continents, proponents developing each project were based in just 38 countries. This pattern signals a potential mechanism for resource mobilisation similar to that of international aid, where funds are transferred from high-income countries to lower income ones (Figure 1). Importantly, some of the countries with the highest inflow of projects include regions containing high levels of biodiversity (internationally recognized as global conservation priorities) that have relatively low financial capacity. Countries in this category include Indonesia and Costa Rica.

Key messages:

  • Crowdfunding is a new addition to the portfolio of conservation finance mechanisms.
  • Since 2009 there have been almost 600 crowdfunding campaigns associated with biodiversity conservation (across 80 countries). These have raised around AU$6.5 million.
  • Crowdfunding raises only a small amount of money compared to other conservation finance mechanisms but its capacity to engage directly with people make it a potentially valuable additional source of conservation resources.

So who is using crowdfunding and what is being targetted? The main proponents of crowdfunding projects include people affiliated with non-governmental organisations (NGOs), universities, or with no affiliation at all (freelancers). Notably, most of those NGOs operate at a subnational level. Activities being funded include research, persuasion (eg, campaigns for threatened species advocacy or raising awareness), and on-ground actions (eg, building captive breeding facilities, restoring habitat, and pest control).

Most projects focused on species and terrestrial ecosystems, with marine and freshwater ecosystems receiving minor attention. In terms of species, over 200 were the explicit focus of crowdfunded initiatives, with a disproportionate number of the targets being threatened mammal and bird species. The species with most crowdfunded projects included those typically considered as charismatic, such as the black rhinoceros and Bornean orangutan. However, other species that are not so popular but may have further potential for garnering public support, also received some attention, such as the fishing cat.

Conservation from the crowd

So what does a crowdfunded conservation project look like? Here are three examples:

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While crowdfunding holds potential for raising additional resources, a word of caution is needed to manage expectations. The generation of millions of dollars from crowd-sourced donors may sound significant but it’s only a drop in the ocean compared with other financial mechanisms for conservation. For instance, the total amount of funds raised through crowdfunding corresponds to less than 2% of the annual expenditure of the World Bank to support national parks in developing countries.

That said, crowdfunding seems to have found a place within the broader context of conservation finance. Crowdfunding may be expanding the potential role of small NGOs, as well as giving a voice to independent conservationists. The process of crowdfunding is likely to be democratizing conservation by allowing more people to be actively engaged. Crowdfunding could also be considered as an incubator of novel, and perhaps risky, ideas that do not fit the mold of traditional donors. Some of these ideas have the potential to be initially funded through crowdfunding, allowing testing, which could subsequently lead to wider adoption. Crowdfunding can also unleash funds at time of urgency when funding from traditional donors is unavailable in a timely fashion due to red tape. Last but not least, crowdfunding is a potent form of public outreach, as fundraising campaigns need active engagement with the crowd to be successful.

DPoint #106 (Oct 2018) (high res pdf for printing)_Page_05_Image_0001

In sum, crowdfunding is unlikely to replace traditional funding sources, but it is a welcome addition to the conservation finance mix. At times where others funding sources dry up or whose entry barriers become too high, crowdfunding may make the critical difference in saving species (and ecosystems) in desperate need.

Figure 1: Where are crowdfunded sources going? A weighted network of project flows for those countries with the highest outflows (ie, USA, UK, and Australia) and inflows (ie, Indonesia, South Africa, Costa Rica, Mexico).(From Gallo-Cajiao et al, 2018)

More info: Eduardo Gallo-Cajiao e.gallocajiao@uq.edu.au

Reference: Gallo-Cajiao E, C Archibald, R Friedman, R Stevens, E Game, TH Morrison, R Fuller & E Ritchie (2018). Crowdfunding biodiversity conservation. Conservation Biology.https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/cobi.13144

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