What is the Risk of Being a Patron?

One of the complaints I have heard against patronage is that the people you support may trick you.

Let’s consider that scenario. Let’s say we start by giving $1 per month, and we do that for the next 12 months. After 12 months, we’ve realized that the person you have pledged to has not done much. We feel tricked and decide to stop your $1 pledge.

How much have you lost for taking that risk?
We have lost a “huge” amount: $12.
Just to put things in perspective, $12 in Boston is 3 beers or a 1-day subway pass.

Question is: are we really going to cry about 3 spilt beers over the period of one year?

In terms of beer, people probably throw a few folds over just by spilling, not drinking to the end, or drinking themselves into oblivion. Let’s not forget that we waste/throw away 33% of the food we buy.

But, there is the other question: what if it succeeds, and you become a part of something big and good?
Often, we are so afraid we will be fooled that we are missing the chance to make a real difference.
In a way, that is the interesting part about crowd funding: the overall success, even when it is rare, will greatly outnumber the risks a single individual will make.

In a post about “Patronage,” I will gave a simple example of how to be a patron: by dividing $20 a month into 10 to 20 chunks. Now, consider: if only one person of those you support succeeds, you’ve already created an immense change that is much larger than your personal donation.

For example, imagine you are supporting an independent news researcher or whistle blower to write about corruption in our society. Even without being on the field, just by putting those electronic letters on the screen, using nothing more than an inquisitive mind, s/he will become a thorn in the eye of some government agency, shadow group, or crime syndicate, basically risking his or her own life.

Think about Snowden for a moment and the amount of valuable information he has disclosed. He risked his own life, but the impact he made is immeasurable. In contrast, you will risk only a few dollars, and if, after one year, you lose it all, your loss could be refunded by abstaining from drinking coffee for one day.

If you want to lower the risk even further, every six or twelve months, you could try to evaluate their progress. Have they done what they’ve told you they will? Is there any progress?

If you are not satisfied with their results, change, and switch to someone else, but don’t stop supporting others, thus “punishing” them for things they have not done.

It is not worth throwing away the entire basket because of a few rotten apples. Even if 99% of the basket is rotten, the one that is not may grow into a tree that will yield many more baskets’ worth in the days that to follow.