The Big Issue launches Thundafund crowdsourcing campaign

The Big Issue has launched a Thundafund campaign to finance the costs of publishing its first three issues of 2014. A non-profit organisation, the Big Issue publishes a quality general-interest magazine which is sold through a vendor force of unemployed, homeless and socially-excluded adults. The organisation’s operating budget is already behind for the year, hence the campaign. Here’s why.

The Big Issue self-funds half of its operating budget through magazine sales and paid advertising in the magazine. Traditionally, the shortfall in funding has come from a combination of provincial and local government departments, the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund and corporate sponsorships.

Last year we ran a column about the triple whammy of financial difficulties facing the Big Issue: lower sales figures due to the recession hitting consumers’ pockets; the decrease in advertising spend throughout the magazine industry; and the drying up of donor funding. In order to keep The Big Issue’s doors open to the vendors, the Board of Directors implemented various cost-cutting measures, enabling the organisation to continue producing the magazine during 2013.

In line with the ethos of ‘a hand up not a handout’, vendors are micro-entrepreneurs. They buy copies of the magazine from the Big Issue’s distribution centre for roughly half the street price and then sell them to the public, earning the difference as profit.

However, at the end of every year the organisation’s management faces a dilemma. Like all South Africans, our vendors need to earn more at the end of the year to cover their Christmas and holiday season costs. Several years ago, the Big Issue started publishing a special Collector’s Edition printed on premier quality paper. This edition has double the usual content and includes articles, photographs, poetry and comics from South African thought leaders and trail blazers.  Each one of them creates a piece for the Big Issue based on their ‘big issue’ of the year.

Because the edition is of such a high quality in terms of both presentation and content, the cover price is higher than usual. This extra income is vital for vendors who need the extra cash for trips home to visit family, Christmas gifts for their children, school fees and school uniforms.

Usually, a sponsor pays for the cost of producing this special edition. However, as Big Issue MD Trudy Vlok tells us, 2013 was different. “We asked every corporate sponsor we’d ever dealt with, and then some, but couldn’t secure sponsorship. We faced a real dilemma: to print an ordinary edition (which fitted our budget but denied the vendors their ‘Christmas bonus’) or to produce the Collector’s Edition without sponsorship.”  After much soul-searching and consultation with the vendors, they decided to print the Collector’s Edition, continuing to search for a sponsor even after it had gone to print.

The vendors were thrilled and had a successful festive season selling period. The organisation, however, is suffering financially. Finding corporate SA unresponsive, the innovative Vlok conceived the idea for this Thundafund campaign as a way to involve individual Big Issue supporters in funding the costs of the first three editions of this year. “Each person can choose their level of donation and feel like they are part of this campaign, as far as we know the first of its kind in our industry.”

The levels of participation start at R250 to become a Champion of Change with your name on the Roll of Honour. The corporates who would like to donate can choose to become Champion World Changers for R5 000 or Kings of Champions for R10 000. Each level comes with its own benefits and recognition.

“We chose this route to reach out those people who support the Big Issue, are familiar with our brand and believe in the work we do” explains Vlok. “The benefit of crowd funding lies in its ability to raise a relatively large amount of money from a pool of people, each of whom gives according to their own budget. We know there is a groundswell of goodwill for The Big Issue and we hope this will reflect in the contributions to the campaign.”


First published on The Media Online here.