Crowdfunding as a Community Development Tool
It's been a pleasure to spend the past few weeks in Kansas City learning more about how non-profit organizations are using crowdfunding in their work, and are shaping how communities understand what crowdfunding represents and what goals it can help them achieve.
CCF has been pioneering the use of crowdfunding as part of the mix of funding it offers to community organizations. Grantees are asked to crowdfund 10 percent of their total budget of $20,000, as an exercise in both fundraising and community engagement. Last year all six grantees met their targets, and are in the process of building a community garden, training young leaders, rehabilitating a block, creating a new group to revitalize an historic neighborhood, starting reconciliation workshops and building a community center.
Several of this year's grantees – many of whom were at Fund Camp – presented their projects at the event and will soon open their crowdfunding campaigns. This year CCF grantees will host their campaigns on Neighborly, which is also based in Kansas City and recently was admitted to the Tumml Civic Accelerator program.
At the workshop I shared a stage with Denise St Omer of the Kansas City Community Foundation, who asked me to explain how civic crowdfunding works and how it fits alongside the work and fundraising community organizations are already doing.
It's a very important question. Organizations who are already doing great work are concerned that crowdfunding might cannibalize their existing revenue, or confuse supporters who are used to a different mode and style of communication. My perspective is that community organizations should, as CCF KC does, see crowdfunding as another tool in the toolkit – not a replacement for their existing activities. It's likely that crowdfunding will not appeal to everyone, and it may not even make sense to some existing supporters, at first. But it creates an opportunity for a dialog with lots of other community members or interested parties who don't respond to traditional fundraising practices.
Crowdfunding is useful for community development in as much as it creates an opportunity for that dialog to happen: a chance to have a conversation about the issues that matter to the community in a new way, by saying 'here's a chance to contribute in a way that be more meaningful to you'. Making the outreach and the opportunity meaningful is, of course, the hard work. But through crowdfunding, community development groups now have the option of enabling people to contribute money or time in a way that is transparent and acknowledged. With that in mind, I'd love to see more crowdfunding platforms offering the ability to volunteer time as well as funds, as IOBY and Spacehive do.
The next step for my work in Kansas City is the development of an open-source toolkit for civic crowdfunding, which I'm working on with BikeWalkKC and CCF. More on that in a few weeks.
(Cross-posted at civic.mit.edu.)