In July 2013, I was asked to come and talk about innovation for the local Wellington City Council. At the time I joked with the organiser that I didn’t actually like the word innovation, I liked the idea of doing things better. That’s probably not the best joke to make to someone with innovation in their title. But, little did I know that my ten minute talk on crowdfunding would turn into a new (and arguably better) model of community engagement for the council.
At the event I shared the story of Blueskin Resilient Community Energy Trust. A group with a very long title, and a pretty big goal.
This community group down in Dunedin want to put up a locally owned wind turbine, to power their community and fund local projects. They decided to crowdfund the money they needed to put a fence around their wind measurement tower. An $8,000 expense, and the next step towards their goal of erecting their turbine. Not only did they raise their money, but they engaged their local community in clean energy in a completely different way. They had their local residents offering rewards for their campaign, from unicycle lessons to pieces of artwork to home killing chickens.
That story resonated with two of the council workers, Zack and Nigel, and they wanted to see if they could replicate community engagement around clean energy here in Wellington.
The Low Carbon Energy Challenge was born
After a few conversations, the council partnered with us and Enspiral to deliver a small matched funded “Smart Energy Challenge”. The pilot was launched in 2014, and has been running every year since.
The basic premise is that each selected participant is supported with workshops as they develop their plans. They are expected to raise money from the community to validate the support of their idea, and that is then eligible for matched funded.
So far organisations like Space Between, Misprint, Switched on Bikes and more have raised over $180,000 in funding. The latest challenge launched last week, with applications closing on 15 August here.
Ideas selected need to focus on waste, energy, housing or transport, and will receive $1,000 as a “start up stipend”. Over eight weeks you’ll be supported through structured workshops to launch a crowdfunding campaign.
What we’ve learned
Along the way we’ve learned a few things about how community crowdfunding works:
Crowdfunding is always scary
Even with the support of a programme, you’re still putting yourself out there publicly asking for support. It’s scary! But, with the support of a programme and community, it’s actually more likely you’ll succeed.
Matched funding increases your chances (to 100%)
Every crowdfunding campaign launched under the Low Carbon / Smart Energy banner has met their crowdfunding goals. The 100% success rate shows that support building and validating campaigns increases your chances of crowdfunding success.
It’s easier when you’ve already got a plan you’re working towards
Getting your crowd engaged with a completely new idea can be hard. Doing the programme shows that you’re committed, but the longer you’ve been working on your plan the easier it gets. So, if you just thought of your idea last week it might be harder to get across the line than someone who has been planning their product for five years (even if that planning was just on nights and weekends).
Do you have a plan you’re working towards? You have until 15 August to get your applications in for the fourth year of the Low Carbon Challenge.