Wednesday 30 May 2012

Christchurch Kickstarters

Why not use Kickstarter to help preserve heritage buildings in Christchurch? I'd take the "Save the Cathedral" folks more seriously if they put up a Kickstarter page listing the donations already committed and the target they need to achieve to have the Anglicans onside for a rebuild.

Kickstarter, for folks who've not been watching, is an excellent mechanism for solving a very particular problem. Suppose that you have some project, like saving the Cathedral, that can only really work out if you have a set amount of money. And, suppose further that there are lots of small donors, like me, who'd be happy to chip in IF it would make the project work out, but aren't happy to throw money into the pot and not get it back if the project doesn't raise enough money. Kickstarter lets people pledge funds that are only charged against their credit cards IF enough people have pledged enough money to make the project viable. If you don't get sufficient pledged funds by the deadline, nobody pays.

For the economists: you can view this as an assurance contract. Or, if you give a few cheap perks for pledges that go through to pledged donors even if the project fails [maybe like a bumper sticker with a picture of The Wizard on it], it's a dominant assurance contract.

This really can work. For projects where folks get fired up, you can even get massive oversubscription. When a video game maker wanted to remake an old favourite, Double Fine, he raised $3.3 million when he really only needed $400k. If rebuilding the Cathedral would cost $50m, you need a million people in New Zealand each putting up $50. If you net out the large pledges the "Save the Cathedral" folks say have already been promised, it'll be less than that.

Set pledge level perks like:
  • $5:          You get a Wizard Cathedral bumper sticker, even if the project doesn't go ahead.
  • $10:        All prior perks PLUS Your name goes into the big book of donors.
  • $50:        All prior perks PLUS Autographed copy of the Wizard's excellent "Upside Down Map of the World With NZ In The Middle"
  • $100:      All prior perks PLUS You get a piece of the old cathedral that couldn't be used in the rebuild in a nice box, like the old bits of the Berlin Wall they used to sell.
  • $1000:    All prior perks PLUS You get your name carved into one of the stones for the rebuilt church.
  • $25,000: Your face is carved as one of the gargoyles [I have no clue what it costs to carve a gargoyle; scale this one up if needed].
They'd need to have the Cathedral's owners on-side to be able to promise some of those perks. But since Kickstarter only activates once enough money is raised to make the project viable, I don't see this being much of a problem. Surely there's some amount of pledged money that would make the Bishop change her mind. 

I know weekly protests are fun and feel like doing something. Kickstarter could actually work though. Wizard: you start the Kickstarter, I'll put in $50 to help get things going. It isn't much, but I don't have strong preferences between having a rebuilt old-style cathedral in the Square and whatever the Anglicans otherwise wind up doing with their property. 

Really, heritage fans ought to be setting up Kickstarters for all their favourite properties. Could be that there's sufficient demand out there to help fund more preservation than we'd otherwise get. There are a few places around town I'd be happy to chip in to help save, conditional on knowing that I'm only chipping in if it makes the project proceed. That's Kickstarter. I don't know whether we're not seeing Kickstarter used in the Christchurch rebuild because people don't know about it, or because they fear deep down that most people really don't have strong enough preferences to put money on the line. Here's helping to let people know about it so that we can rule out that explanation.


  1. The kicker I was waiting for came in the last sentence.

    A project like Kickstarter is ideal to gauge interest and enthusiasm in a specific project.

    I wouldn't be interested in putting anything up.. like most of the rest of NZ I just want to see the rebuild underway with a semblance of unity and competence on display, and I see the Cathedral as a distraction and a symbol of muddled incompetence and disregard for the essentials.


    1. I like finding mechanisms that separate cheap talk from effective demand.

  2. You mean Grotesques? Gargoyles have water spouts.