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Church-worlds are often small worlds. A young man who I know through the Student Christian Movement and my partner’s former housemate are both Unitarian Universalist ministers who work with congregations in their denomination on crowd-source campaigns: online platforms where you can tell a story and reach out virtually to a diverse and geographically widespread group of potential funders.

While I don’t agree that these sites are “democratic” ways of fundraising, my friends were so positive about the enthusiasm and excitement generated by these campaigns that I put the idea forward as a way for Salal & Cedar, a new kind of ministry to raise funds. We chose our most appealing project –Sacred Earth Camp—a two week environmental leadership training for youth and young adults, set a goal of $10,000 and brought together a little team with good social media networks representing several different demographics. With help from the diocesan communications office, coaching from my Unitarian friends, and voice talent from youth members of Salal & Cedar, we put together a video and description of our project that targeted the two groups we thought most likely to contribute: justice-oriented Anglicans and supporters of the wider watershed discipleship movement. Before the campaign began we secured endorsements from some “big names” in Christian environmental justice—Jennifer Henry of KIAROS, Anglican Indigenous Bishop Mark MacDonald and watershed discipleship popularize and spokesperson, Ched Myers, and made sure that we had 25% of our goal already committed.

The campaign ran for a little over a month from early December to early January, targeting both Christmas giving and New Year’s resolutions, and while we were successful, raising $10,400 online and more than $500+ more from offline giving there were a number of surprises along the way. Workload, travel and health issues significantly reduced several key individuals ability to participate. Justice-Anglicans gave a great deal, Watershed discipleship not so much, and I was surprised by how much was given by friends and family of team members—like many kids I went to camp 35 years ago with my seminary Hebrew Bible professor. And there were completely unexpected donations: a few unknowns, a guy I met at a conference and a member of my kid’s teacher’s child-care co-op.

Two aspects of crowdsourcing that I knew about in advance were still jarring to experience. Most people give at the beginning and at the end of the campaign. We raised 25% of our total in the first week and 25% in the last 48 hours, so the final week was pretty tense. Crowdsource platforms take a percent of your total and charge a fee for credit card transactions so the take home amount is about 91% of your total.

Here is my advice if you are considering a crowdsource campaign for your church project. Read the directions offered by your platform and follow them, assemble a team, write for the net, tend your campaign regularly on social media and through e-mail, know your audience, and if you are offering gifts or incentives remember that mailing can be costly and labour-intensive. Crowdsourcing is not a goose that lays golden eggs, it is about real relationships with people who want to be part of something good. For the right project it can be a way to invite participation from people who you would otherwise never ask.

 The video is linked to this story page and here are links to the Unitarians sites: In the US,
and Canada and a link to the actual fundraising page

Image: Salal and Cedar – Elements of the Eucharist Photo Laurel Dykstra