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Showing your face while helping Providence

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02 October 2021

Crowdfunding to raise funds and support communities


History teaches us that unforeseen natural phenomena have always moved waves of solidarity, even in the form of donations.  During the plague in the fourteenth century, bequests in Wills increased; the Covid emergency made us discover crowdfunding, the collection of micro-financing through digital platforms.

Today, these phenomena are defined with English terms - crowdfunding, fundraising – and have their roots in the history of the Church. Even elements that seem connected to the use of the internet, such as mutual visibility among donors, find a historical precedent, for example, in the widespread practice in many churches of affixing a scroll to the backs of pews with the name of the family or person who contributed an offering.

Crowdfunding has been widespread in Italy since 2013 and, since the early years, there have been numerous projects promoted by parishes and religious congregations, mainly for the restoration of religious buildings or works of art.

What is new in these recent months are the campaigns promoted by nuns, who live off Providence, to support their communities. The nuns of Sant’Angelo in Pontano have turned to Gofundme to raise the funds needed to expand the guesthouse where they have lived since 2016, when the earthquake damaged their monastery. So far they have collected almost 10 thousand euros from 78 donors but the goal is ambitious (300,000 Euros). A solidarity campaign was launched on Produzioni dal Basso directed to the cloistered nuns of the Santa Chiara Monastery in Oristano; a group of friends of the Monastery produced a book of photographs documenting the life of the Poor Clares. The project has exceeded its goal of 10 thousand euros, thanks to the contributions of 186 supporters. In France, CredoFunding, a crowdfunding platform dedicated to Christian community projects, with funding in donations and loans, was founded with 48 thousand members. Since 2014, it has funded 700 projects, with a total of 12 million Euros donated and 15 million on loan. Among the successful projects is the one promoted by the Apostolic Sisters of Saint-Jean, which poses a particularly pressing problem for women's congregations, which is the care of elderly and sick sisters. They collected donations of 174,654 euros from 1,598 people, exceeding the goal of 150 thousand euros needed to adapt the building and create an infirmary. This project is also characterized by a particularly creative and entertaining communication video, the effectiveness of which is confirmed by the appreciation shown by donors in the comments.

 “To show who we are” is one of the basic rules of crowdfunding. Project promoters must involve supporters around an idea and reveal themselves in the first person. This can be done through a video which facilitates the construction of a fiduciary relationship, especially in the absence of a direct relationship between donor and recipient. In any field, due to the established cultural norms and resistance to asking for help, this is perhaps the characteristic of crowdfunding that creates the most difficulty for anyone launching a project. Add to this a peculiar trait of the third sector, whereby good projects are expected to speak for themselves, with the consequence that doing [good] seems to exclude letting people know. If we add to this the fact that the daily life of nuns, especially cloistered nuns, is characterized by retreat, in order to devote themselves to prayer and work, the distance from the world of the Internet and from the forms and workings of crowdfunding is evident. Yet, as we have seen, there are numerous congregations that are trying their hand at this new means of communication and its rules.

We must also remember that these are campaigns initiated by women. Research into crowdfunding shows that interesting dynamics are at play with respect to the gender of campaign promoters. Researchers wondered if crowdfunding allowed them to circumvent the discrimination in access to credit that is prevalent in traditional channels. The results show that women outnumber men among both crowdfunding campaign designers and funders. As designers, they are generally focused on the most “feminine” sectors, the majority of which in the dance, fashion, and food sectors, while they are absent in the video game, comic book, and technology areas. In crowdfunding, homophily is widespread, with the “you look like each other” that leads male backers to favor designers of the same sex. There is, however, an interesting exception, the so-called “activist homophily”. When a woman presents a project in a typically male domain, other women may decide to support her. This is demonstrated, for example, in technological projects. We do not know if the nuns’ projects have been supported (also) by women, it would certainly be a nice form of female solidarity.

by Ivana Pais
Professor of Economic Sociology in the Faculty of Economics at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart.