Four types of crowdfunding for startups – and how to choose one


Start your company in a few clicks and get ready to charge customers, hire your team, and fundraise.

Learn more 
  1. Introduction
  2. What is crowdfunding?
  3. What are the benefits of crowdfunding for startups?
  4. Types of crowdfunding
    1. Reward-based crowdfunding
    2. Equity-based crowdfunding
    3. Debt-based crowdfunding
    4. Donation-based crowdfunding
  5. How to choose which type of crowdfunding to use
  6. What are the alternatives to crowdfunding?
    1. Debt financing
    2. Equity financing

Searching for funding is challenging but necessary for startups. Multiple sources of capital are available to today's entrepreneurs. Crowdfunding, which has grown in popularity over the past decade, democratises the financing process and provides access to capital where traditional funding options may fall short. As of 2023, the global market for crowdfunding was estimated to be worth over $1.4 billion, a figure that's projected to double by the year 2030. Kickstarter, a leading crowdfunding platform, had hosted more than 592,000 projects as of May 2023.

Crowdfunding stands out for its versatility and reach, allowing entrepreneurs to raise funds from a broad audience. Aside from securing the necessary financial resources, crowdfunding also helps startups gain valuable market validation, establish a community of early supporters and build an exciting engagement platform for potential customers, early adopters and even investors.

Below, we'll discuss the characteristics, advantages and drawbacks of the main types of crowdfunding. Understanding these various forms is the first step in determining whether crowdfunding could be the right strategy for financing your startup.

What's in this article?

  • What is crowdfunding?
  • What are the benefits of crowdfunding for startups?
  • Types of crowdfunding
    • Reward-based crowdfunding
    • Equity-based crowdfunding
    • Debt-based crowdfunding
    • Donation-based crowdfunding
  • How to choose which type of crowdfunding to use
  • What are the alternatives to crowdfunding?

What is crowdfunding?

Crowdfunding is a method of raising capital or funds through the collective effort of friends, family, customers, individual investors and others. This approach relies on the collaborative efforts of a large pool of individuals – primarily online via social media and crowdfunding platforms – and accesses their networks for greater reach and exposure.

Crowdfunding is the opposite of traditional financing methods, where a project or business raises funds from a small, select group of individuals or institutions. Instead, crowdfunding broadens fundraising efforts to include anyone who has an interest in the project or business and is willing to contribute money to support it. These contributions can range from very small to very large amounts, depending on the nature of the project or business and the potential return.

Through crowdfunding, entrepreneurs or project initiators can harness the reach of the internet to raise money for various purposes, such as starting a business, developing a new product, supporting a social cause or helping individuals in need.

What are the benefits of crowdfunding for startups?

Crowdfunding is an innovative way for startups to raise the funds that they need to launch or grow their businesses. And by turning to the crowd for funding, startups can reap a variety of additional benefits beyond the acquisition of funds.

The rise of the internet and social media has made it easier than ever to reach a large audience of potential investors and backers, each contributing a small amount towards a funding target. This approach not only makes the investment process more accessible, but it also provides several distinct advantages to startups.

Here are some of the key advantages:

  • Access to capital
    Crowdfunding provides startups with access to capital that they might not have been able to secure from traditional funding sources, such as banks or venture capitalists.

  • Market validation
    By presenting your idea to the public, you can gauge their interest and see if your product is something that people would actually want. A successful crowdfunding campaign can demonstrate that there is demand for your product or service and act as a proof of concept for other investors and stakeholders.

  • Audience building
    A crowdfunding campaign allows you to reach a large number of people, helping you create awareness and build an audience. Those who contribute to your campaign are likely to become your most passionate customers and vocal advocates.

  • Feedback and insights
    Through the process of crowdfunding, you can receive feedback on your product or service before it officially launches. Backers can provide valuable insights and suggestions for improvements.

  • Less risk
    Compared to traditional funding methods, crowdfunding can be less risky. You're not giving up equity or taking on debt; instead, you're exchanging your product or service for funding.

  • Publicity and marketing
    A successful crowdfunding campaign can lead to significant publicity, through social media shares and likes and traditional media coverage.

  • Partnership and networking opportunities
    Crowdfunding campaigns often catch the eye of industry leaders, potential partners and even other funding sources. This visibility can lead to strategic partnerships and further investment opportunities.

Types of crowdfunding

There are four main types of crowdfunding that startups can choose from, each with unique advantages and specific use cases that the given type is more suited to supporting. Here's an overview of what startups need to know:

Reward-based crowdfunding

With reward-based crowdfunding, backers contribute funds to your startup in exchange for a "reward", usually a product or service that your company offers. This model is typically used by startups that are launching a new product or service and need funding for development or production. Examples of reward-based crowdfunding platforms include Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

Reward-based crowdfunding is a popular method for raising funds, especially for creative projects or new product launches. Below are some of the key pros and cons.

Pros of reward-based crowdfunding:

  • No equity sacrificed: Unlike equity-based crowdfunding, reward-based crowdfunding doesn't involve giving up ownership in your company.

  • Market validation: Reward-based crowdfunding allows you to assess market interest in your product or service. If your campaign succeeds, it's a good sign that there's a market for what you're selling.

  • Pre-sales and marketing: Crowdfunding campaigns can also act as a pre-sale of the product, generating publicity and providing an initial customer base.

  • Community building: Crowdfunding platforms provide a way to communicate and engage with backers. This can help build a community of supporters who might help spread the word about your product or service.

Cons of reward-based crowdfunding:

  • All-or-nothing funding: Many crowdfunding platforms operate on an all-or-nothing basis, which means that if you don't hit your funding goal, you don't receive any money. This isn't always true, but it's not uncommon.

  • Fulfilling rewards: It's important to deliver on promised rewards, which could be more time-consuming or costly than anticipated. Not fulfilling rewards can lead to reputation damage or even give supporters grounds to ask for their funds back.

  • Unpredictable success: Not all campaigns succeed, even if your idea is good. Success can depend on many factors, including the quality of the campaign, timing and sheer luck. A startup might invest considerable time in launching a campaign, only to have it fall flat. Additionally, an unsuccessful campaign might erroneously give founders the impression that their business idea isn't viable or that there isn't strong market demand.

  • Public exposure: Your idea is shared publicly, which could lead to someone else copying it. You need to balance the need for publicity with the risk of revealing too much.

  • Fees: Crowdfunding platforms typically charge a percentage of the funds raised as a fee, sometimes with additional processing fees.

Equity-based crowdfunding

With equity-based crowdfunding, backers receive shares of your company in return for their investment. This form of crowdfunding is used most often by startups with high growth potential, as it allows them to raise larger amounts of money in exchange for a stake in their company's future profits. SeedInvest and CircleUp are popular platforms for equity-based crowdfunding.

Pros of equity-based crowdfunding:

  • Larger amounts of capital: Since investors are purchasing a stake in the future success of the company, they may be willing to contribute larger amounts than in reward-based crowdfunding. This can allow startups to raise significant funds.

  • Long-term investor relationships: Unlike reward-based crowdfunding, where the relationship typically ends once the reward has been delivered, equity crowdfunding can result in long-term relationships with investors who have a vested interest in the ongoing success of the company.

  • Access to expertise and networks: Investors often bring their own expertise, experience and networks, which can be valuable resources for early-stage companies.

Cons of equity-based crowdfunding:

  • Loss of ownership: By offering equity in your company, you are giving away a portion of your ownership, which might mean sharing control and decision-making.

  • Regulatory complexity: Equity-based crowdfunding is subject to more complex laws and regulations than other forms of crowdfunding. This may require legal counsel and can result in substantial legal costs.

  • Increased reporting requirements: Companies with many shareholders often have to provide regular updates and financial reports to their investors. This can be time-consuming and require additional administrative resources.

  • Pressure for returns: Unlike reward-based crowdfunding, where backers are happy to receive the product or service, equity investors seek a financial return on their investment. This can increase the pressure on the company to perform and provide returns.

  • Potential for dilution: If you raise more equity funding in the future, the percentage of the company owned by earlier investors (including crowdfunding investors) may be diluted. This can lead to dissatisfaction among investors if not handled correctly.

Debt-based crowdfunding

Also known as "peer-to-peer lending" or "P2P lending", debt-based crowdfunding is similar to a traditional loan. Instead of getting a loan from a bank, you'll be getting a loan from a crowd of investors. The startup agrees to pay back the loan with interest over a specified period of time. LendingClub and Prosper are well-known platforms for debt-based crowdfunding.

Pros of debt-based crowdfunding:

  • Retention of ownership: Unlike equity crowdfunding, debt-based crowdfunding means that you don't have to give up any ownership stake in your company. Once the loan is repaid, your obligation to your investors ends.

  • Faster process: The process for securing a loan through debt-based crowdfunding can be faster than through traditional banks. The qualification requirements may also be less strict.

  • Fixed repayment schedule: You'll have a fixed repayment schedule, which can be easier to plan for than the unpredictable nature of equity investments.

  • Potentially lower costs: Depending on the interest rate that you secure and the length of your loan, debt-based crowdfunding can sometimes be a cheaper form of finance than equity-based crowdfunding or other types of loans.

Cons of debt-based crowdfunding:

  • Obligation to repay: Unlike other forms of crowdfunding, the money that you raise through debt-based crowdfunding must be paid back with interest. This is a fixed expense that you'll need to plan for, regardless of how well your business is doing.

  • Interest costs: The cost of the loan includes not just the principal amount that you borrow, but also the interest that you'll pay over the life of the loan.

  • Risk to credit score: If you're unable to make your loan repayments, your credit score may be affected, which can impact your ability to secure financing in the future.

  • Secured loans risk: Some debt-based crowdfunding might require collateral or a personal guarantee. If the loan isn't repaid, you risk losing the assets that you've pledged as collateral.

Donation-based crowdfunding

This model is commonly used by non-profits, social entrepreneurs and startups, where the "return on investment" is not financial, but a social good or some form of community benefit. Backers donate money to the project because they believe in the cause, not because they're expecting a financial return. GoFundMe is a well-known platform for donation-based crowdfunding.

Pros of donation-based crowdfunding:

  • No repayment or equity exchange: Backers donate the money to your project or cause, so you don't have to worry about repaying a loan or giving up a share of your business.

  • Support for social causes: Donation-based crowdfunding is particularly effective for projects or causes that have a social, charitable or community focus. People are often willing to donate money to support causes that they care about.

  • Community engagement: This form of crowdfunding can be a good way to build a community of supporters who are emotionally invested in your project or cause.

Cons of donation-based crowdfunding:

  • Limited appeal: Donation-based campaigns often rely on the emotional appeal of the project or cause, which might limit their appeal to a wider audience. These campaigns may be less successful for commercial projects.

  • Lack of guaranteed funding: As with other forms of crowdfunding, there's no guarantee you'll reach your funding goal. And on some platforms, if you don't reach your goal, you won't receive any funds.

  • Public exposure: As with other forms of crowdfunding, your idea is public, which could lead to someone else replicating it.

  • Platform fees: While the money you raise doesn't have to be paid back, most platforms charge a fee based on the amount of money you raise.

How to choose which type of crowdfunding to use

Choosing the right type of crowdfunding for your startup largely depends on the nature of your business, your goals and your ability to meet the demands of each crowdfunding method. Here are some factors to consider when making your decision:

  • Nature of your business or project
    If you're launching a new product or service, reward-based crowdfunding might be the best fit. If your business has a strong social or community-oriented mission, donation-based crowdfunding could be a good choice. If you're scaling a business that already has some traction and you're willing to give up equity, then equity-based crowdfunding could be the best option. If you're confident in your ability to repay a loan and want to maintain full ownership of your company, debt-based crowdfunding might be the best path.

  • Financial needs and objectives
    Different crowdfunding methods can generate different amounts of capital. For larger amounts, equity or debt-based crowdfunding may be more suitable. If you need a smaller amount, reward or donation-based crowdfunding might suffice.

  • Market validation
    If you need to test your product in the market, reward-based crowdfunding can provide valuable customer feedback and validation.

  • Ownership and control
    If maintaining full control and ownership of your startup is important to you, then reward crowdfunding, donation-based crowdfunding or debt-based crowdfunding would be preferable over equity-based crowdfunding.

  • Ability to fulfil obligations
    Can you produce and deliver rewards in a timely manner for reward-based crowdfunding? Are you confident in your ability to repay a loan for debt-based crowdfunding? Can you manage a large number of shareholders for equity-based crowdfunding?

  • Legal and regulatory considerations
    Equity-based and debt-based crowdfunding can involve more complex legal and regulatory requirements than reward or donation-based crowdfunding. Make sure that you understand these obligations.

What are the alternatives to crowdfunding?

Startups have several crowdfunding alternatives, which can be grouped into two main categories: debt financing and equity financing.

Debt financing

  • Bank loans: Traditional bank loans are a common way to finance a startup. They usually require a solid business plan and collateral.
  • Lines of credit: Banks or credit unions also offer lines of credit, which give businesses flexible access to funds.
  • Microloans: Non-profit organisations and online lenders offer smaller loans that are often easier to get than traditional bank loans, especially for businesses with little credit history.

Equity financing

  • Angel investors: Angel investors are wealthy individuals who invest their personal money in startups in exchange for an equity stake. They may also provide expertise and industry connections.
  • Venture capitalists (VCs): VCs are firms that invest in startups and early-stage companies that they believe have high growth potential. In return, they usually require an equity stake and often a degree of control over the company.
  • Private equity firms: These firms invest in mature companies with the aim of increasing their value and then selling them at a profit. They usually require a significant stake or outright ownership.

Aside from debt financing and equity financing, here are other common ways that startups finance their operations:

  • Grants
    Grants from government agencies, foundations and corporations are free money that doesn't need to be paid back. They can be a great source of funding, but are often highly competitive and may require certain conditions to be met.

  • Self-financing
    Many entrepreneurs initially fund their businesses out of their own pockets. This might involve savings, credit cards or home equity loans.

  • Friends and family
    Entrepreneurs often turn to friends and family for financial support. While this can be a good way to get started, it's important to treat it as a business deal to avoid misunderstandings and strained relationships.

  • Business accelerators and incubators
    These programmes provide funding, mentorship and resources to startups, usually in exchange for a small equity stake.

  • Strategic partnerships
    Some startups form strategic partnerships with larger businesses, which provide funding and resources in return for something valuable, such as access to innovative technology or entry into new markets.

Crowdfunding is just one of many ways to fund your startup – most startups don't fully depend on just one funding method. Make sure that you understand the benefits and drawbacks of each method and choose the one that best fits your business model, financial needs and long-term goals.

Ready to get started?

Create an account and start accepting payments – no contracts or banking details required. Or, contact us to design a custom package for your business.