Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Crowdfunding for a Cause: Rhetorically Oriented Action Research with Christian Organizations
by Copeland, Adam John, Ph.D., North Dakota State University, 2018, 192; 10978520
Abstract (Summary)

When it comes to fundraising, many congregations and faith-related organizations struggle to keep up in the competitive charitable giving landscape. In recent years, online crowdfunding platforms (e.g. Kickstarter, GoFundMe, Indiegogo) have grown to a multi-billion-dollar industry, supporting fundraisers for diverse causes both charitable and for-profit. Does crowdfunding offer faith-related organizations potentially valuable opportunities for fundraising? If so, how should faith-related non-profit organizations best ask for money online?

To engage these questions, I employed a participatory action research framework to accompany, coach, and learn with organizations launching crowdfunding campaigns. This partnership resulted in meaningful engagement with nine would-be crowdfunders. Three of these organizations eventually launched crowdfunding campaigns. Though none reached their goal, crowdfunders secured over $36,000 for their organizations’ aims. Significantly, all campaigners reported positive mission-related benefits in addition to funds raised. I analyzed data using a cross-case replication study design with three individual case write-ups. Additionally, I rhetorically examined the crowdfunding pages themselves seeking to understand how crowdfunders engaged the multimodal possibilities of the genre. Theories engaged include multimodal rhetoric, audience awareness, genre theory, and Christian giving rhetoric.

This project found that crowdfunding pages serve as a place for compact, powerful invitations to give. Yet, in their digital design template and scope of projects, crowdfunding methods also limit fundraisers’ rhetorical choices. Existing scholarship from multiple fields has sought to discover factors related to crowdfunding success and failure. What has not been considered sufficiently, however, is the process potential crowdfunders go through as they discern whether to launch a campaign, how they imagine the audience of a possible campaign, and how the rhetoric of the resulting crowdfunding pages may be shaped by the expectations of the genre. My study identified new terminology to describe rhetorical phenomena of the campaigns including hidden friction, the audience paradox, discrepant rhetoric, as well as visual aids such as an explanatory action matrix. The action research methodology of the study brings the work of crowdfunders, previously behind the scenes, to the forefront. Ultimately, it shows that while the aims of the crowdfunders may be multiple, and even in conflict, crowdfunders can reap rewards beyond money alone.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Brooks, Kevin, Sassi, Kelly
Commitee: Burt, Sean, Platt, Carrie Anne
School: North Dakota State University
Department: English
School Location: United States -- North Dakota
Source: DAI-A 80/04(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Religion, Rhetoric
Keywords: Action research, Audience awareness, Case study method, Crowdfunding, Media and religion, Multimodal theory
Publication Number: 10978520
ISBN: 978-0-438-73152-3
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