Did you know that a crowdfunding campaign was created last month to help make Kylie Jenner a billionaire? (Right now, she has about $900 million to her name.)
We at ioby do not dispute that variety is the spice of life, and we love that crowdfunding can help so many types of individuals and organizations achieve their goals—even if those goals can sometimes seem, um, a little silly? But we have to admit, we get more excited about some crowdfunding possibilities more than others.
In the most literal sense, crowdfunding is about raising money. ioby does that–in fact we’ve raised over $5 million!–but our kind of crowdfunding goes further. At ioby, we build on that foundation to help local leaders raise awareness, volunteer hours, in-kind donations, and other resources their grassroots projects need to succeed and be sustainable long after the money is spent.
Happily, in the 10-plus years we’ve been doing this work, we’ve learned that the story doesn’t end there. When grassroots crowdfunding reaches its full potential, it fosters community resiliency. It moves the needle on big projects. It helps “everyday” residents—non-elected, non-wealthy people across the country—change their daily lives, and those of their neighbors, for the better. At its best, crowdfunding is a vehicle for building civic strength.
Crowdfunding’s civic superpowers
How does it work?
One way to understand how this chain reaction works is to peel a successful crowdfunding campaign apart to reveal its layers, and note how they build upon one another (a concept we explore more fully in our Memphis Impact Report):
- Project Level. Local projects build the fabric of their neighborhoods. Even projects with small budgets—like buying a new lawnmower for a volunteer green space steward—can make a significant impact on a community.
- Personal Level. Spearheading a project requires leaders to learn new skills and earn trust with their neighbors. These activities build confidence and help people see the power they already possess to be agents of positive change.
- Neighborhood Level. Now expand that individual mind-shift to a whole neighborhood. When there are visible signs that neighbors are invested in a community’s improvement, the whole place can begin to shine with possibility.
- Civic Level. When neighbors come together to take ownership of positive change where they live, policy makers, elected leaders, and the philanthropic sector pay attention—and often adjust their priorities to follow suit.
[Bikers looking over the historic route of the Georgia Railroad, where the Firefly Trail will run through.]
What does it look like?
Back to variety being the spice of life: we’ve seen ioby leaders’ civic power take so many forms, there’s no one way to describe it. But here are three standout cases that help illustrate the point:
- Crowdfunding can lead to government support.
When he moved to Atlanta, Binh Dam noticed that most of the bus stops downtown didn’t post route maps or schedules. Through his 2016 ioby project Timely Trip, Binh raised about $500 and recruited a team of volunteers to install temporary schedules at several bus stops.
His good work attracted the attention of the Metropolitan Atlanta Regional Transit Authority (MARTA), and helped convince the agency to form an official citizen group called MARTA Army, in which riders themselves are empowered to identify and address needs within the transit system. Last year, as a direct result of pressure from MARTA Army, MARTA announced plans for service expansions, more security cameras, mobile-ticketing technology, and other improvements.“
The fact that MARTA responded to me personally and encouraged me to pursue this opportunity really means that they’ve passed a maturity point where they want to try new things out and be innovative,” Binh says.
- Crowdfunding can lead to a ballot option.
After working for a decade to construct a 39-mile multimodal rail trail from Athens to Union Point, Georgia, the nonprofit Firefly Trail, Inc. saw an opportunity to get more miles of this public amenity built.
In spring 2017, Ivette Lopez Bledsoe led her fellow Firefly Trail board members in raising over $62,000 on ioby for a Model Miles Project. They knew that come November, voters in their county would decide whether to approve the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (TSPLOST), a one percent sales tax that funds local transportation projects.
Their super successful crowdfunding campaign proved the trail’s widespread support—but they still had to get it included on the ballot as a TSPLOST option so residents could vote on it.“When we went before the project selection committee and the Mayor and Commission, our donors gave us tremendous credibility,” Ivette says. “We believe that our ioby crowdfunding campaign really helped elevate awareness for the need to have the Firefly Trail, thus influencing that it be part of the TSPLOST initiative… It was a landslide [win] in November.”
$16 million is now being dedicated for more trail construction.
- Crowdfunding can lead to major public works investments.
Hike the Heights, an annual community hike through a series of public parks in hilly Northern Manhattan, began in 2005. The family-friendly event invites New Yorkers to explore and celebrate their city’s natural treasures by combining physical activity, art, fun, and civic participation. Since 2011, the Hike the Heights team has enlisted ioby to help them fundraise and receive grants.
At approximately the same time Hike the Heights was celebrating 10 years of getting thousands of neighbors outside and active together, the neighborhood’s epic pedestrian High Bridge—which had been neglected and closed for more than four decades—reopened to great fanfare. The following year, its earthbound sibling Highbridge Park received $30 million from the city for much-needed improvements. Coincidence? We think not.
As one Hike the Heights veteran says in a collection of the group’s essays, “We have been building the strength of a collective muscle and we have built collective muscle memory for carrying out necessary tasks. The nerves that trigger the collective muscle are the relationships we have built over the years. This is, in part, how communities accrue social capital.”
Next time you think about crowdfunding, we urge you to remember that this versatile tool can be used to achieve super simple goals—even silly ones (hi, Kylie!)—but it can also lead to much more: tangible wins of civic proportions.
Have an idea to flex YOUR civic muscle and make your neighborhood a better place? Tell us about it!