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Kerry is a Global City Futures consultant who has worked to support the establishment of Exeter City Futures by running a number of pilots to help develop models and mechanisms for community engagement.

Between October 2017 and October 2018 Exeter City Futures piloted its #EveryonesExeter movement on the crowdfunding platform Spacehive. Through this pilot we sought to test and evaluate crowdfunding as a tool for engaging communities, changemakers and businesses in the city change process.

In this blog we review this pilot and explain how crowdfunding is developing as a powerful platform for communities to build financial and collaborative support to develop and create their own projects.

What is crowdfunding?

There is a lot of information about crowdfunding available, through the internet, invitations to crowdfunding workshops etc. But what is crowdfunding and how can it support local communities to build change?

Crowdfunding is a form of fund-raising, that is based on the theory that if lots of people are willing to donate a small amount of money towards a project, then the project is likely to be successful. This is an old idea, that has been revolutionised by the Internet and is now a common tool that is used to help fund a project, collect money for a good cause or raise investment in a business.

Using an online platform supported by social media, Crowdfunding is an effective way to share and market your fundraising initiative to as many people across a wide network (the crowd); family, friends, local businesses and investors  – with the aim of attracting them to your idea. If they like it, and it resonates with their own values, they can support your project by making donations via the platform.

This fundraising method can be used for anything from funding charitable trips and healthcare to the launch of new books and tech products and there are many platforms to choose from depending on the idea, project or businesses you are trying to raise finance for. Here are a few examples:

  • Spacehive is a civic-crowdfunding platform and is the UK’s dedicated platform for ‘places’ specifically focusing on supporting projects that make local places better. Spacehive link projects to local councils, businesses and grant makers willing to fund them.  Spachive operates an ‘all or nothing’ model, meaning that if a financial target is not hit, none of the pledges from the crowd are collected.
  • Crowdfunder is the UK’s No. 1 rewards-based platform convening personal, community, business and commercial projects in one place. Extra funding can be accessed from their creative and culture, community and social enterprise, innovation, business and local authority partners. Crowdfunder offers two options; all or nothing or keep what you have raised.
  • Kickstarter is a crowdfunding platform solely for the use of raising funds for creative projects from producing a film, creating an album, to staging a play or designing a comic book. It is rewards-based and an all or nothing platform.
  • Indiegogo is a crowdfunding platform for entrepreneurs designing new tech projects in different stages of development from concept to full product. It is also a ‘marketplace’ platform where new innovation products can be sold.
  • Crowdcube is a platform for entrepreneurs to raise funds and grow their business.

Crowdfunding is particularly powerful for funding projects relating to development within a specific place or community. Both the SpaceHive and Crowdfunder platforms support these types of projects. There are many examples of where Crowdfunding has been used to realise projects that ultimately benefit the people who have contributed funding: For example:

  • Pop – Up Compost successfully raised funds in their local community to help raise more awareness about the benefits of composting food waste on their estate thus reducing the amount going in to landfill, offering a community composting space and providing nutrient rich soil to local urban gardeners.
  • Mill Hill East Community crowdfunded for a community garden, their aim to bring the community together in a shared, open, nature filled space.
  • Outdoor Learning through Greenwood Construction was backed by the crowd to support the young people, not fitting into a traditional educational system, to gain practical skills to use hand tools, woodwork and learn about team working.
  • Street-Factory United fundraised to open a community venue for all young people to attend dance programmes to ‘feel physically, mentally and spiritually safe – & free to express, respect and learn together’.
  • Exeter Bike Workshop A team of bike mechanics and employment specialists in 2017, successfully crowdfunded to enable homeless and excluded individuals back into work.

Why is this form of funding a good option for communities who have local project ideas?

Crowdfunding is a great tool for empowering communities to propose ideas and projects that can create change on a local level, raise awareness of social challenges and inspire communities to participate and engage with local projects and get involved!

It can provide a mechanism for communities to be public decision makers and engage with citizen-led change; to take the lead on implementing ideas or projects that could benefit local communities and build communities that they and other people want to live in and be a part of.

Alongside providing a platform where innovative grassroot ideas can be realised, Crowdfunding supports a democratic process to realise them. Projects get backed by micro-donations, only if the ‘crowd’ like it, see that it can create local impact, or if it resonates with them and their values. This offers a truly democratic approach to fundraising and a process of validation for the needs of the community. Crowdfunding also enables a project creator to see how many backers are willing to invest in the project and can help them assess how large the demand/interest is in the idea/project.

Crowdfunding can also help local project creators reach out to local businesses and companies to garner further support. Platforms often offer project creators the potential to unlock match funding from their partners who hold ‘funds’ on the platform. These are usually local, county and city councils alongside local and national grant giving organisations and businesses, who will typically have a criteria and theme of what they would like to financially support. This can lead to local projects developing partnerships with organisations, councils or other public services – building a more connected, sustainable and collaborative approach to community development.

Alongside financial backing and building investment in local projects, Crowdfunding can motivate a whole community to support an idea and see it come to life.

Exeter City Futures Crowdfunding Pilot – #EveryonesExeter

Exeter City Futures believe that the best way to make change is to involve the entire City, residents and business, in creating changes that meet local need. In 2017, Exeter City Futures began to investigate the potential to use a crowdfunding platform in Exeter. Our aim was to learn about whether a platform could be used in Exeter to incentivise communities to take ownership of projects and drive local change, and build community capability to propose, fund and then deliver local projects. We wanted to gauge if such a platform would sit alongside other means of financial support such as Exeter City Council community grants or other local and national community grant givers, to provide a sustainable method for communities to identify and deliver transformational change projects that would satisfy the need of local communities.

Exeter City Futures considered both Crowdfunder and Spacehive as the two platforms that support place-based projects. We selected Spacehive as the pilot platform largely because of its ethos and sole focus on supporting projects that are civic minded and improve or transform local places. Exeter City Council committed funding to the pilot and, in October 2017, the #EveryonesExeter movement on Spacehive went live.

#EveryonesExeter enabled anyone with project ideas that addressed Exeter’s urban challenges to make Exeter a more energy-efficient, congestion-free and sustainable city. Exeter City Futures role was to manage and market the delivery of #EveryonesExeter and support individuals and community groups to use #EveryonesExeter to crowdfund, with the aid of a team from Spacehive.

Engagement with potential project owners was offered through hosting three crowdfunding workshops reaching up to 60 individuals and seven drop-in ‘Crowdfunding Surgeries’, running over a period of six months. Exeter City Futures produced a downloadable toolkit that instructed readers on how to set up a project on the platform and walk through steps to create and run a successful crowdfunding campaign.

What we learnt through the  #EveryonesExeter Pilot

During the pilot, we met with many groups and individuals who had excellent project ideas for Exeter. Unfortunately none were made live on the #EveryonesExeter movement.

Through our engagement workshops and 1-2-1 meetings with potential project creators we identified barriers that prevented crowdfunding campaigns to be initiated.

We learnt:

  • There are many project creators with fantastic ideas and community based projects across the City, but the ideas needed more structure before being able to launch a crowdfunding campaign.
  • There is a gap in the support offering for community groups and individuals that can help build skills in planning, project management and communications, to formalise their project ideas, ready for delivery.
  • Many project ideas do not consider the long-term financial sustainability of the ideas (how to keep things running after the initial delivery funds are gone).
  • A successful crowdfunding campaign requires a large amount of engagement and communication, which takes time and resource. This time commitment and the required resource often isn’t well understood in advance.
  • There is benefit in sharing and showing inspirational examples of projects elsewhere to  incentivise communities to consider implementing a similar project in their local area.
  • Partnering with stakeholders furthers engagement with grassroot communities.

What are our next steps?

Exeter City Futures are working alongside strategic partner Exeter Velocities to develop and pilot a new skills-based programme called Origin. This programme supports Exeter’s community groups and individuals to plan and initiate their local projects, and supports social entrepreneurs and enterprises to develop and test their concepts – as well as working towards meeting Exeter City Futures 12 Goals for the City. If you want to know more please contact Exeter Velocities at hello@exetervelocities.com.

Since we have completed our pilot we are excited to see that Exeter City Council alongside other Devon district authorities, and Devon and Cornwall Police with Devon County Council, have launched #CrowdfundDevon to support communities to get their projects off the ground by unlocking grant funding.  As part of the initiative, Exeter City Council will offer match funding for community projects that are based and delivered in Exeter and that support communities to be healthier, active, happier, greener and more connected and demonstrate an impact.

Exeter City Futures are sharing our learnings from running the pilot with Exeter City Council, and are proud to support their participation in Crowdfund Devon initiative.