If you believe Wikipedia (which I sometimes do, but only once I’ve cross checked the sources) “Crowd funding in the film industry was pioneered by French entrepreneurs and producers Benjamin Pommeraud and Guillaume Colboc from company fr:Guyom Corp. when they launched a public Internet donation campaign in August 2004“.
Actually wily producers like Scotland’s own cigar-toting maverick David McWinnie were at it in the mid 1990s when he offered anyone who could stump up a grand or so a vanity credit and the generous offer of being an (unpaid!) extra.
But Jean Renoir was way ahead of the game back in 1938 when he used public subscription to finance La Marseillasie. It seems (according to Bert Hogenkamp in his book Deadly Parallels): “A two franc share entitled the holder to a deduction of the same amount on the price of a ticket after the release of the film“.
So the moral of this tale is, as with so much else, don’t believe the hype about the ‘newness’ of the new. The internet may make it faster, easier and more visible but original ideas are few and far between…