An Evolution of Purpose & Goals
The site envisioned by USA Projects (“United States Artists”) began as a social network for artists to connect and interact. It evolved into a crowdfunding site for artists to connect their projects with organizations and individual donors to obtain the necessary monies to bring them to fruition. Or as the mission statement so eloquently puts it, “Hatchfund was created to stimulate support for artistic projects and to foster direct and ongoing interaction among artists and supporters.” (Hatchfund.org is where the site now resides after a transfer and rebranding by AIM).
Just as the resulting crowdfunding site is unique, so too was the development process. It wasn’t the usual scenario of client has crowdfunding site idea, engages web developer to make it a reality followed by planning and execution stages with goal of going live as soon as possible. Instead, the web developer was initially brought in to build a social network, but during the planning stage it evolved into a crowdfunding site to connect donors with artists. Along the way organizational consultants (The Propellant Group) and a branding agency (Distinc_) were added to the mix to collaborate in the design and launch of the site.
Besides being a hybrid of crowdfunding with social network functionalities, there would be additional wrinkles. Whereas most crowdfunding sites allow campaigns to go live without prior approval, Hatchfund.org campaigns would be vetted before going live. Additionally that review process might be done by Hatchfund.org itself, but alternatively projects could be vetted by approved arts organizations (e.g., Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, Film Independent, et al.).
Another departure from most crowdfunding sites would be an ability for philanthropic organizations to match donations by individuals to a project. The matching organization would have the ability to designate financial parameters and set eligibility criteria (e.g., the discipline(s) of qualifying projects, geographical parameters, dollar amounts that would be matched, et al.). So “matching” would not only apply financially, but also to an artist and their project with a philanthropic organization.
Since Hatchfund.org would cover artists’ projects in a wide range of disciplines (e.g., visual arts, music, film et al.) there could be a potential for intense spikes in visits to the site. For example, a crowdfunding campaign by a musical artist with an intense following or a performance art project becoming a viral sensation due to controversial subject matter. So the potential for the site loading slowly or even crashing existed.
Suffice to say that a somewhat standard social networking site at the outset had evolved into the epitome of a project “with many moving parts”. Fortunately the team involved with developing Hatchfund.org was experienced in all aspects of both social networking and crowdfunding sites and the database applications required for them to work effectively and efficiently.
The Art of Customization: Symfony
Once the evolutionary dust settled and a clearer view of Hatchfund.org came into focus, it was also clear that it wasn’t feasible to use a preconceived framework (i.e., for a standard social network or crowdfunding site). The customization required made Symfony the go to choice. It’s ease-of-use, flexibility and numerous timesaving features are why numerous developers use it for developing websites and applications. With Hatchfund.org being a non-profit entity, the lack of licensing fees that result from Symfony’s open source nature was also a benefit.
The development, design and build of the Hatchfund.org within a Symfony framework accomplished the following:
- A workflow process was put in place to handle the vetting of artist’s projects prior to their campaigns going live for crowdfunding. Such included two tracks since submissions could be made directly to and reviewed by Hatchfund.org or by an arts organization partner that had already reviewed the artist’s project.
- A multifunctional “Match Fund Engine” was built to handle the various aspects of matching involved. To start, the matching philanthropic organization would designate the required criteria for a project to be eligible (e.g., geographically such as New Mexico artists, artistic discipline(s) such as visual arts, et al.). Additionally, the organization could designate how the financial aspect of matching would occur (e.g., 50% of an individual donation until an eligible project reached matching funds of $5,000 or an aggregate of $100,000 for all eligible projects).
- Social Networking functionalities were implemented for “exploring” the Hatchfund.org community (“Hatchfund Roost”). Site visitors and users can connect with artists and projects (e.g., artists posting updates on their projects), participating arts and philanthropic organizations, and fellow community members.
- Since Hatchfund.org was brand new, a database was built from the ground up. That was no small feat due to the multi-functionality of the site (e.g., crowdfunding, social network, philanthropic donation matching) as well it’s highly searchable nature. One visitor might search for California literary projects that are also eligible for donation matching, while another visitor searches for artist updates on projects affiliated with a particular arts organization.
- To handle potential intense periods of heavy traffic due to an artist’s project becoming a “hot property”, scalability was implemented. For those times, Hatchfund.org is temporarily scaled up onto additional servers via Amazon Web Services (“AWS”). When the traffic tapers as the attention on a project wanes, the number of servers is correspondingly scaled down. This scalability not only avoids problems if a Hatchfund.org project goes viral, but also is a cost savings. Hatchfund.org only incurs additional server charges for the periods when they are necessary.
In the End, Perfectly Matched
The collaboration of USA Projects, EnderTech, The Propellant Group and Distinc_ resulted in a well-designed and developed Crowdfunding site with Social Network functions. It effectively connects artists, arts groups, philanthropic organizations and individual donors on various levels. From matching the parties at the campaign funding stage to subsequently connecting donors and artists for updates on how the project is progressing. And for the non-profit Hatchfund.org, much needed economic efficiencies were realized by the use of open source technology (Symfony) and scalable server space (Amazon AWS).