Whether you’re the driving force behind a new grassroots movement, or are helping your neighbors achieve a simple project on your block, one thing is almost certain: you need money!
Grassroots initiatives large and small require good ideas, serious dedication, and adequate funding to succeed. ioby has worked with hundreds of grassroots groups to get funding, get resources, and get off the ground. Below, we discuss four common funding strategies for the grassroots: their benefits, limitations, and our recommendations for getting the most donor bucks for your fundraising bang.
1) Host an event that supports your mission
Throwing a fun event to publicize your grassroots group can be an awesome publicity-builder, memory-maker, and people-convener. But if it’s unrelated to your mission, it can fall flat.
Example: If you’re starting a youth chorus, like Elizabeth Chitester in Pittsburgh, think about raising money for it by holding a benefit concert instead of a bake sale. While cookies are delicious, they don’t have much to do with kids singing. If you give potential donors the chance to see (and in this case, hear) your work in person, they’re more likely to feel an emotional connection to it and support it.
2) Getting grants for the grassroots
Many government agencies and foundations award small grants to grassroots initiatives. Such cash infusions can be very helpful, but they do come with strings attached.
Example: Winning a grant can feel like a quick win, but doesn’t do much to broaden your base of individual donors or project participants. Grants often come with lengthy application processes and strict reporting requirements. Many funders don’t (or can’t) take the time to give constructive feedback on proposals, so you might lose out without knowing why—and without a clue about how to improve. This piece we wrote for Strong Towns discusses the pitfalls of grants in more detail.
3) Using social media for your cause
The internet and social sites have revolutionized the ability of grassroots movements to spread the word of their mission—and their catchy hashtag. But rarely will social media alone deliver the results you need.
Example: Less than one percent of people who see a social media post about a fundraising campaign will donate just because they saw it. This is likely because, though social sites have great reach, they can also feel impersonal. Plus, viewers can get rushed on to the next topic (or distracted by clickbait) in the blink of an eye.
4) Crowdfunding for grassroots movements
An ideal way to fund any grassroots movement, crowdfunding can be a people-powered money-maker. Crowdfunding allows neighbors to invest their own money (and time, and expertise) in making the changes they want to see, right where they live. This model of “change from the grassroots up” creates a sense of pride, buy-in, and stewardship in donors and grassroots leaders alike, helping to ensure that projects are appropriate, appreciated, and long-lasting.
In addition, crowdfunding plays well with other grassroots fundraising methods. Going this route doesn’t mean you have to leave events, grants, or social media on the table—they can easily be incorporated into a winning crowdfunding campaign.
→ Events example: “Winter Composting in North Brooklyn”
NYC project leader Kate Z. on how her grassroots group used events to keep people engaged, even in winter: “[Compost] drop off season doesn’t begin until May and so in the meantime we want to do a series of hands-on workshops focused on indoor composting. … For every $100 we raise, we can provide an indoor vermicomposting bin, a pound of red wiggler worms, and an hour-long session in vermicompost setup and training for local classrooms, offices, and kitchens. Help us meet our goal of 10 sessions this winter!”
→ Grants example: “Art in the Garden”
Pittsburgh project leader Emily Carlson on the role of grants in her grassroots team’s work: “It wasn’t working for us getting grants at first. [This led her to explore crowdfunding, which had initially seemed like a last resort.] Then, that kind of flipped around and I started seeing the positive, and crowdfunding was actually building community for us. It was really spreading the word about our project in ways that just getting a grant wouldn’t have. So all sorts of people felt invested and involved; it was a way to build more community, which was really amazing. Then, the crowdfunding became a way for us to get grants! The Heinz Endowments called us because they saw our crowdfunding campaign and they were able to support us, too, which was huge. It’s brought us community and it’s also brought us more funding from other sources.”
→ Social media example: “Crosswalk Flags”
Memphis project leader Sarah Newstok on leading a grassroots movement to make street crossings in her neighborhood safer—with a little help from social media: “I was able to raise all the money I needed in a day or two by pinging people on Facebook who I knew were frustrated with the same situation. ‘Hey fellow PTA mom—how do you like not being able to cross the street to reach the park?’ Appeal to people first who you know have had the same problem. Then, as soon as they donate, shout them out on social media and ask, ‘Who’s next?’ Keeping that process up is pretty easy, and it works!”
Ready to try? Let us know!
If you’ve got an idea for a project that could make your neighborhood a better place, tell us about it! We want to help you launch a smart crowdfunding campaign that will bring your neighbors together, collect the funds you need, and help ensure your project’s long-term success.