Civic crowdfunding is a type of crowdfunding that is focused on funding projects or initiatives that benefit the community or society at large. These projects may include initiatives to improve public spaces, support local enterprises or non-profit organizations, or provide resources or services to underserved residents. It is used by numerous local authorities throughout the country. It allows them to gauge the strength of local support, or the lack of it, and prioritise candidate projects. It also provides an opportunity to increase local authority budgets by borrowing from local residents on a peer-to-peer lending basis.

Local residents and organisations can also develop skills to pilot their own civic crowdfunding projects outside of their local authority’s agenda. A well-communicated project can help to raise awareness about important issues and needs and propose solutions. A good level of local support then puts pressure on local authorities to take notice of addressing those issues, and the fundraising element can generate funds towards undertaking early stage feasibility studies. It means pro-active individuals can take a positive role to support their community on a single-issue basis, without having to put themselves forward for the wider responsibilities of being an elected council member.

Civic crowdfunding is typically organised through online platforms, which allow individuals and organisations to propose projects and set fundraising goals. Members of the community can then contribute funds to support these projects, sometimes in exchange for perks or rewards. Some civic crowdfunding platforms may also allow individuals to offer in-kind donations or volunteer their time to support a project.

Let’s get straight into some examples that bring these benefits and opportunities to life.

High street regeneration and tackling climate change - London Borough of Camden

Working in partnership with the Spacehive crowdfunding platform that specialises in developing local ideas, Crowdfund Camden is a council-led initiative for local residents with ideas to improve their community through raising funding. Co-created by Camden Council and the central government’s Future High Streets Fund, the aim is to support initiatives that create more inclusive, sustainable and vibrant town centres and high streets in the borough. 

Camden Council allocated £360,000 to Crowdfund Camden, with up to £5,000 available per project to help them reach their crowdfunding target. For larger projects with a more significant impact the funding could be up to £35,000.  The deadline to submit a 2023 project was 14 December.

Projects could be as simple as planting greenery, painting murals, and organising events and activities. The council has previously supported the creation of a free bicycle refurbishment service, and a current project seeking funding is a pop-up music performance studio to give budding singers and musicians some experience.

In a similar fashion, Camden Council has also used the Abundance Investment crowdfunding platform to give local residents and organisations an opportunity to invest in the council’s plans to reduce carbon emissions and tackle climate change in the borough. Additional money provided as loans enables the council to accelerate its efforts to install more solar panels on public buildings, provide more electric vehicle charging points, and upgrade its own diesel and petrol-powered vehicles to electric ones.

Crowdfunding by Camden Council enables them to accelerate the installation of electric vehicle charging points throughout the borough. Image source:
Abundance Investment.

Helping homeless people in to jobs - Fareham Borough Council

Fareham Borough Council in Hampshire set up a project with online platform Beam. Beam uses crowdfunding to pay for training, travel, and rent deposits to help homeless people turn their lives round by getting jobs and homes. 

Beam was launched in 2017 by founder and CEO Alex Stephany, an entrepreneur who used equity crowdfunding to sell shares and raise an investment budget for JustPark. JustPark is an app that introduces people who want to realise an income from their privately-owned car parking space(s) with motorists who want to pre-book a safe and secure space. Their 2019 round of crowdfunding raised over £7 million from 5,253 investors. 

Beam creates a dedicated crowdfunding project for each person they help, and donors can then contribute to help them get the work training, rent deposit, or whatever else it is they need, to enter employment. Beam’s donors and supporters have so far changed the lives of over 1,200 people. Alex Stephany’s book “The Business of Sharing” gives great insights in to the sharing economy, including crowdfunding.

Crowdfunding community creativity in North East Lincolnshire

It’s not only local authorities that use crowdfunding to support community efforts. The “Spark Grimsby” business support programme is supported with public funding from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. It provides a “Grimsby Creates” crowdfunding opportunity for people who submit creative ideas to transform Grimsby into a vibrant town centre where heritage and creativity can be better enjoyed.

The selected project teams receive 1-2-1 coaching and help to market their idea and launch it on the Crowdfunder crowdfunding platform, potentially making the idea a viable reality. Projects also receive support from Arts Council England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Up to March 2023 they are offering match funding of up to 50% towards initial crowdfunding targets, to a maximum of £5,000.

Also on Crowdfunder, Sport England, British Cycling and the financial services provider Aviva offer matched funds for non-arts projects. 

Grimsby Creates is a scheme supported by the local authority that distributes funding to community arts projects. Image source: Crowdfunder

Crowdfunding adds half a million £££ to Cotswold District Council’s budget

Crowdfund Cotswold, Cotswold District Council's online crowdfunding platform managed by Spacehive, has raised over £540,000 in less than two years through support from local residents, community groups and businesses. Three notable projects that have been supported include a skatepark in Fairford, a resident-led Bledington Playground Appeal, and a Cotswold Friends Connecting Community project. 

Fairford Skatepark. Image source: Spacehive

Swimming pool refurbishment - Chester Council 

Chester City Baths was out of action and needed extensive repair work during Covid. The Chester Swimming Association set about raising the money, which in the end came from 65 individual donors and contributions generated by Cheshire West Crowd.

Cheshire West Crowd is a crowdfunding initiative that Chester Council runs in partnership with the Spacehive platform, and the Council contributed to the Chester Swimming Association’s project through the Cheshire West Crowd Fund. Swimathons in the pool now raise money for other community causes.

Other Cheshire West Crowd projects include installing a ramp for less-abled parishioners to attend church services, better insulation and ventilation at a community centre, and solar panels installed on a village hall roof.

Chester City Baths. Image source: Spacehive

Success is far from easy or guaranteed - Winchester City Council

Anyone who thinks crowdfunding is a case of post some details online and come back a few weeks later to see how much has been raised is in for a shock. We’re not suggesting that’s what happened in Winchester, through a three year contract with the Crowdfunder platform was not renewed after it expired at the end of 2022. Among other issues, Winchester City Council said it was taking up too much of their officers’ time. 

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