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Does Your Community Have a Crowdfunding Platform Yet?
by Mike Vallano
I’ve been traveling in Central and South America for the past two years, and seeing many different places in various countries has shown me the importance of doing good on the local, community level. In talking with world-changers at different NGOs in my travels (for my blog writing about people doing goodin the world), I’ve seen that while getting support from afar certainly helps, nothing gets done without the support of the local community.
Since I’m lucky enough to have a job that allows me to work remotely, my wife and I decided to get rid of all of our stuff and work really remotely--from other countries--these past two years. And though I’ve been far away, I’m still connected to my home in Denver and I’m still able to support good projects going on there, at least online. Like most people in Denver, I wasn’t born there but chose to make it my home. There’s something unique about a place where so many people choose to live, and I’m continually impressed by the amazing work people are doing there.
One of the ways I stay connected is through the people I know at the Mile High Business Alliance, a nonprofit that has been leading the local charge in Denver for the past six years. The organization runs a number of different initiatives aimed at connecting and strengthening the local economy. As a membership-based organization with nearly 300 members, MHBA provides a network and a voice for the collective local business community with workshops, events, and forums. Their Local Food Summit earlier this year brought together over 500 local food business owners and community members in a day-long discussion about making our local food networks stronger.
Another focus of MHBA is the variety of campaigns and programs they run that increase the awareness and demand for locally owned, grown, and made products and services with campaigns such as Colorado Local First that reach hundreds of thousands of people with billboards, stickers, bus advertising and various other methods of spreading the word.
In addition to building community and raising awareness, MHBA has recently launched a locally-focused crowdfunding platform that just rolled out called Neighborhood Catalyst.
In bringing crowdfunding to the local level, Neighborhood Catalyst offers a unique opportunity for neighbors to discover and invest in projects that have impact in their own community. Built into the platform is the ability for the community to get more involved in local projects by volunteering, donating tools and supplies, and lending knowledge and expertise, bringing local resources together on local projects.
Mercado De Al Lado was the first project launched by The GrowHaus, a local non-profit urban farm and education center in northeast Denver’s Elyria-Swansea neighborhood, which is considered to be a food desert. Access to fresh produce is limited or non-existent. Mercado De Al Lado employs an innovative model of food distribution that supports local farmers, keeps costs down, and ensures that the communities they serve have access to healthy, affordable ingredients at prices that are lower than WalMart. The $8,000 raised in their Neighborhood Catalyst campaign will help the organization bring fresh, local food to many more people in Denver, helping to improve the very city where people are investing in the project.
In addition to supporting The GrowHaus with financial donations, the organization is always on the lookout for professional services such as skilled electrical, plumbing, and carpentry skills, event planning, and design services such as graphic design and architectural renderings.
A current project up on Neighborhood Catalyst is by Cedar and Sage, an organization that takes buildings slated for the typical demolition, and diverts useful building materials from landfills by systematically disassembling buildings by hand. This maximizes the materials (lumber, doors, cabinetry) that can be reused, recycled and sold at discounted rates to the community.
In addition to diverting tons of solid waste from landfills, the process creates living wage jobs with benefits, and also funds the organization’s efforts of creating a community space for education and collaboration. In addition to cash, the Neighborhood Catalyst platform enables supporters to donate other items vital to the organization such as power tools, safety equipment, or heavy equipment.
This type of varied support enables multiple levels of community integration, allowing more people to do more good on the local level. And possibly most importantly, it facilitates people taking ownership in their communities by connecting them directly with projects that they care about while enabling smarter "fund" raising by opening the door for volunteering and in-kind contributions.
Now that they have completed the first campaign on the platform, and they have many more in the queue, Mile High Business Alliance has goals to make the platform available for other local business networks across the country so that they can replicate the process in their communities as well. But, all their operating costs remain investments to local Denver civic hacking.
Whether or not your area has a local crowdfunding platform yet, it’s always good to get out and get involved with other people doing good in your neighborhood. It’s really nice that I can contribute to my home community while on the road by kicking in some funding and writing about the good things people are up to, but when I return back to Denver in the spring I plan to do more hands-on volunteering in these awesome projects.
This project is part of GOOD's series Push for Good—our guide to crowdsourcing creative progress.
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