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People, Money, and Power: Civic Crowdfunding and Decision-Making

by David Weinberger on November 8, 2017
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Until recently, residents and grassroots coalitions of neighbors had no mechanism for funding, creating, and generating attention to their own civic projects. Civic crowdfunding, when implemented in a way that centers residents as creators and catalysts for their own neighborhoods’ transformations, has the power to transform the top-down power dynamics that have traditionally dominated city planning, policymaking, and philanthropy.

Democratizing Discourse

Cities’ institutions have historically served as the de facto arbiters and moderators of civil discourse. Governments engage communities in decision-making processes that they control, and foundations invite proposals from communities and approve grants to organizations based on a set of criteria that they have devised. These institutions assume most of the responsibility of designing and delivering civic goods and services for the benefit of the publics they serve.

Institutions, even the many that are genuinely committed to pursuing equity and inclusiveness in their programs, often limit the community’s input on a plan to feedback on an already-formed plan or strategy. While it is important for governments and funders to create means to solicit stakeholders’ complaints and concerns with existing programs, institutions might consider looking to the public for new, possibly untested ideas on which to base future programs. At a time when Americans’ trust in institutions is at a historic low, municipal governments nationwide are increasingly looking for new ways to serve the public more responsibly and equitably and build trusting relationships with historically underserved and disenfranchised residents.

The Ideas Marketplace

From New York City to Los Angeles, over 30 city agencies and mayors’ offices have used ioby's crowdfunding model and platform to invite, invest in, and accelerate residents’ ideas. In its 2015 NextGeneration NYCHA strategic plan, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) laid out an ambitious set of goals to ensure safe, healthy, and connected homes and communities across its 326 developments. As the nation’s largest public housing authority, NYCHA is responsible for serving the needs of about 400,000 residents, or 4.6 percent of New York City’s population. To help reach its goals of more deeply connecting to and engaging residents and promoting sustainability on developments, NYCHA partnered with the Fund for Public Housing to establish the Ideas Marketplace.

The Ideas Marketplace, launched earlier this year, leverages ioby’s crowdfunding platform to build the fundraising and organizing capacities of grassroots sustainability initiatives. Here’s how that works:

  1. NYCHA invites community-based organizations and groups of residents to post their ideas at the Ideas Marketplace.
  2. If an idea involves hosting an event on or physical alterations to NYCHA property, the group works with a NYCHA representative who speaks to them about the project’s feasibility, scope, timeline, and approval process.
  3. Every group that posts an idea on ioby’s platform is paired with one of ioby’s Leader Success Strategists, who serve as one-on-one fundraising coaches and mentors. The Strategist offers the group ioby’s materials, tools, and best practices for grassroots fundraisers.
  4. When the ioby campaign is complete, NYCHA and the Fund for Public Housing assist the group as appropriate to implement the project.

The first initiative funded through Ideas Marketplace was “Ocean Bay Community Gardens,” two community gardens in the Ocean Bay NYCHA development in Far Rockaway, Queens, a neighborhood that experienced widespread damage from Superstorm Sandy in 2012. The Rockaway Youth Task Force and RDC Development joined forces to raise over $28,000 for this project on ioby’s platform, and the ribbon cutting for the gardens occurred in October, on the fifth anniversary of the arrival of Superstorm Sandy in New York.

Catalysts of Their Own Transformations

By intentionally inviting and supporting crowdfunding campaigns from residents and grassroots groups, city agencies like NYCHA are proving that they are ready to share power with the people whose lives are most directly affected by government decision-making. Civic crowdfunding programs like Ideas Marketplace offer residents access to free technical assistance, the attention of government leaders, and a replenishable source of timely and right-sized funding for their neighborhood projects. Together, governments and ioby are making neighborhoods more resilient, more sustainable, and more inclusive.

 

djw full headshot.jpgAbout David: David is the City Partnerships Director at ioby, a national nonprofit organization that operates a powerful civic crowdfunding platform for neighborhood-scale projects at ioby.org. See ioby.org/gov for more information on how ioby partners with governments to create powerful crowdfunding programs that work for their cities. Follow David on Twitter at @dwnbrgr. Follow ioby on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Further Resources

Want to know more about crowdfunding? We have an introductory article that covers the basics. Read post.

Want to know more about where the image above was taken? It was a joyful moment captured at a Hike the Heights community party, an event funded through ioby. Read post.

Image courtesy of ioby

Topics: Grant Articles & News