Earlier this year my friend Sabrina, Doer at Brown Paper Tickets, contacted me because her friend, Nathaniel, was traveling the country studying new forms of giving and was going to be near St. Louis.
"Is there anything exciting in grass roots funding going on in St. Louis?" she asked.
Little did I know just how ahead of the curve her question was. Since the end of July (when she and Nathan came through and I gathered a small group of community doers for a discussion), three separate crowd funding initiatives have launched and one has re-launched. All very distinct and different in their structure and purpose.
*clears throat* Is this mic on? St. Louis: you have no excuse to not get a bunch of stuff done.
St. Louis is one of the most charitable cities in the country. The past few years has seen a notable focus, from multiple directions, on making the region more supportive of entrepreneurs and innovation. So it's not really a surprise that there's an abundance of creative grass roots funding initiatives popping up. It was only a matter of time.
The most traditionally grass roots, and oldest (and by "old" I mean approaching 3 years) initiative is Sloup. In person (at local establishments), monthly events where people pay $10 to have soup (provided by local chefs) and listen to pre-submitted proposals. Attendees vote on the proposal that excites them the most, and the take from the door is handed over to the winning project on the spot. Projects tend to be artistic or communications-based and awards tend to be in the hundreds of dollars, depending on attendance.
In the space of "community meets technology," OverFundit is the most innovative. While it runs on a digital platform, the platform is designed as a tool for Doers - people in real communities with real networks who have a track record of accomplishments and impact in their community - and Catalysts - people who support those Doers and bring along their networks to do so as well.
OverFundit will launch in Frenso and St. Louis.
InveSTL is innovative from a community development angle and because it intersects crowd funding and institutional giving. Focused on granting to community development or community focused organizations, they raise money in small (though they will take large) donations. Anyone giving $100 or more in a giving cycle becomes eligible to vote on the grant recipients. So, if you know your neighborhood association is applying for a grant to fix some potholes, you can rally your neighbors to put into the fund and you all get a say - but so do all the other neighborhoods. The money goes into a fund that lives at the Greater St. Louis Community Foundation. So while a good deal of the small donations are raised at happy hours (throughout the region, in order to help everyone branch out and get to know other neighborhoods), the Community Foundation gives institutional street cred for traditional philanthropists, corporations or foundations to feel comfortable taking part.
InveSTL from Jarred Gastreich on Vimeo.
The most traditional and splashiest effort is the recently launched Rally Saint Louis. Both crowd sourcing and crowd funding, Rally is a digital platform that invites St. Louisans to submit their ideas for making St. Louis more awesome. Ideas are voted on publicly and the top five go to their board (see column on the right) for a resource and funding plan. Then back out to the public for crowd funding. Ideas that are funded go into implementation. Funded, organized, supported and run by the same institutions that were called out in the article that inspired it a year ago, it's struck a nice balance between bottom-up thinking and institutional buy in. Gotta build a bridge, y'all.
If anyone knows of a local crowd funding effort I've missed, please let me know. But with these four efforts alone, St. Louis should once and for all rid itself of the Eeyore-like attitude that nothing gets done.
Because, really - with options like these, we have no one but ourselves to blame.
Now get out there and DO!