• A sign announces the arrival of the Purple Line, a temporary train station designed to show Miamians the benefits of public transportation. Project leaders exceeded their $2,000 fundraising goal using www.kickstarter.com.

    Credit: Nicole Estevez

    A sign announces the arrival of the Purple Line, a temporary train station designed to show Miamians the benefits of public transportation. Project leaders exceeded their $2,000 fundraising goal using www.kickstarter.com.

When a bond issue, rate increase, tax hike, special referendum, sponsorship, or public-private partnership are political no-go’s, consider using the Internet to raise money from anyone anywhere at anytime.

Also called crowdfunding, crowdsourcing is when people pool their money online to support other people or organizations. Crowdsourcing websites enable users to explain how a project would benefit a community and how much it would take to make that happen. Visitors to a project’s website see a list of giving levels and associated incentives such as a shirt, formal recognition, or sometimes, nothing at all.

Crowdsourcing can be used to fund anything from a new album to a new type of software, and civic projects are gaining popularity.

UrbanMatters CoLab (http://purplelinemiami.blogspot.com/) a nonprofit created by Anna McMaster, Nicole Estevez, and Marta Viciedo while grad students at Florida Atlantic University’s School of Urban and Regional Planning, used www.kickstarter.com to raise $2,116 for a two-day Build a Better Block installation in Miami. Build a Better Block is a demonstration program that invites residents to participate in a build-out process and provide feedback in real time.

UrbanMatters CoLab built a faux train station called the Purple Line, with vendors, cafes, and street performers, to show Miamians how public transportation improves quality of life. “We chose Kickstarter because it’s one of the most popular sites,” says Estevez, who adds their fundraising goal was $2,000. “It provided a central location to manage donations.”

Crowdsourcing is a viable funding source, she says, if you or someone else has time to manage your project’s website, including entering project details, providing updates, and sending out any promised thank-you gifts.

The sites are generally easy to use and don’t require knowledge of blogging software. But they aren’t free. Most retain a percentage of the total amount raised.

As crowdfunding gains popularity, more platforms are springing up.

Great Britain’s www.spacehive.com is dedicated solely to civic projects such as green spaces, sports facilities, and public space makeovers. Although not available in the U.S., public agencies have other alternatives:

  • www.citizinvestor.com (“invest in the public projects you care about most”) is for projects that have been permitted and approved but have yet to be designed and/or built. Cost: 8% (5% administrative fee plus 3% to the website’s payment service provider).
  • http://neighbor.ly requires local governments and civic organizations to submit a proposal for approval before posting to the site. Cost: 5% of contributions.
  • www.ioby.org (short for In Our Back Yard) is an environmental nonprofit organization that connects neighbors with projects in their area. Projects must have 501(c)3 status or a fiscal sponsor. Cost: 3% for credit card payment processor; projects more than $1,000 pay $35 to cover materials and labor.

New platforms are coming online all of the time. Whether they’re the future of public works funding remains to be seen, but could help raise awareness of your community’s infrastructure needs.

—Kelley Lindsey