Politicians turn to crowdfunding for campaign cash

Forget the rubber-chicken lunches and campaign cheques. A Coquitlam politician has turned to the crowdfunding site Indiegogo to raise campaign funds for the upcoming Coquitlam council byelection. But while Coquitlam candidate Bonita Zarrillo reached her funding goal in a few weeks, she was seeking only a modest $3,000, making her campaign a small one in an arena where tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars can be raised in a matter of hours.

For Zarrillo, though, it was more than just the dollars: She sees crowdsourcing campaign funds as a way of creating community and reaching young people. “It’s a good way to get young people involved and potentially to the polls,” said Zarrillo. “It’s an easy way to get your campaign message across. I’m also doing fundraising in more traditional ways, reaching out to key stakeholders in my community. This was another vehicle to raise funds.”

So far 40 backers have contributed $3,315 since she launched the campaign at the end of August. It remains open until Oct. 25, the day before the Coquitlam byelection to replace councillors Linda Reimer and Selina Robinson, who won seats in last May’s provincial election.

Zarrillo said crowdfunding allowed her to reach friends and family both locally and around the world and she found that friends of friends also contributed.

“I believe it will grow in popularity,” she said of crowdfunding for political campaigns. “The whole idea is to create a connection, where somebody feels connected.”

It’s a trend that has taken hold in the United States; but while crowdfunding has been used in Canada by public interest and advocacy groups to raise money and awareness around issues, politicians haven’t been as quick to follow suit.

In Edmonton, city council candidate Nita Jalkanen has launched an online campaign at, a crowdfunding website created by Vancouver’s ConnectionPoint Systems.

Bret Conkin, Connection-Point’s vice-president of marketing, said he expects next year’s civic elections could see many more politicians turning to online crowdfunding. “The NPA (Non-Partisan Association) and Vision have both talked to us about using it for their next campaigns locally and a likely mayoral candidate is looking at it as well. I would absolutely anticipate this is something you are going to be seeing.”

Crowdfunding for politicians can also be a way of building grassroots support. Recently Oakland mayoral candidate Bryan Parker used a fundraising campaign on Crowdtilt. com to launch his candidacy, raising almost $60,000 US. In Australia, Cathy McGowan used online crowdfunding in her successful grassroots bid to oust Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella from what had been considered a safe Liberal seat. Conkin said has had hundreds of political campaigns that have each raised $200 or more, mostly in the U.S. Just as with Zarrillo’s campaign, a major motive often isn’t just money, but marketing.

“Our political campaigns tend to be two, three, $6,000 but they’re getting that market validation piece,” said Conkin. “You are building a community and a following.

“The funding is one benefit, but there are others.”

Conkin said for politicians who are trying to figure out how to make social media work

for them, crowdfunding can be a boost that has a much greater impact and reach than a simple Facebook page. While a politician can post content that is seen by followers, a crowdfunding campaign on FundRazr lets supporters share their comments and donations to multiple social media platforms. “It’s like a virtual lawn sign for the candidate, with the bonus of showing financial support,” Conkin said. “In the case of FundRazr, that supporter activity is then seen by their friends, creating a viral effect. A post or share by the politician on a Facebook page is only seen by current fans and posts by other supporters are often hidden.

“In our case, we’ve been able to determine that you get 300 per cent more visibility (with a contribution) than a Facebook share alone.”

Mike Volker, director of Simon Fraser University’s Innovation Office, said crowdfunding, which has been successfully used for a range of purposes, from start-ups and products to charities, could work well for politicians.

“I think far more people will start using them,” he said.

Source: Vancouver Sun