CivicSponsor wants to change the traditional way we fund our public spaces. Here, its three co-founders outline how their new venture aims to help citizens and public servants think outside the taxpayer box.
Give us the 140-character elevator pitch.
CivicSponsor opens channels in your local government so that you can directly, transparently crowdfund public projects in your community with tax-deductible dollars.
What problems does CivicSponsor solve?
As local governments face massive budget cuts, they leave constituents with only two choices: pay more taxes or get no more projects (likely get cuts). CivicSponsor offers a third option: make elective (not forced) contributions that are earmarked, transparent and audited and that only can be used for new, discrete physical projects. We only work on projects that have no other options: either the local government raises new money, or the projects simply can’t be built. CivicSponsor markets the projects, collects the funds, brings corporate sponsors to the table, and provides the tools to offer transparency and measurement of use of funds in clear terms: square feet of public space built, hours of education funded, etc. Our first project is live on our site at www.civicsponsor.org, where we are raising the necessary funds to build athletic facilities at four middle schools in East San Jose.
What are its key features?
We work with the governments directly. Folks can raise money on other platforms; there are plenty around. But none of the others are officially connected with local government. That makes all the difference when you need to offer a tax deduction (we’re for profit) and you need the funds to be earmarked for specific projects. You can’t simply hand funds to government and tell them how to spend it; general fund contributions won’t work that way. You need governments on board from the start, and we know how to close them. Also, we have a corporate sales function that brings big companies on board with these projects in visible, positive public/private partnerships. Companies are more and more realizing the power that investing in their community can have for recruiting, sales, marketing and other efforts. We sell these projects not as philanthropy, but as crucial community outreach that affects the bottom line in a number of ways. No other site does all of the above.
What’s the story behind starting CivicSponsor?
Our three co-founders had been thinking individually about how to save our home towns ever since the recession hit in 2008. Local governments control the public assets we interact with on a daily basis: the park next door, the school our children attend, the streets we bike on. And as grants and subsidies dry up at the federal and state level, the projects that get cut tend to be the local ones, the ones we see and touch and use every day. It didn’t seem appropriate to stand by and watch this happen, so we put together a plan to bring new, private sector dollars to public projects. We knew that to get more money from individuals and businesses, we needed to offer something more, and it turned out that folks we