This week, we brought together 40 local authorities from across Wales, the Midlands and the North of England to share learning around civic crowdfunding.

Crowdfunding is becoming an increasingly popular way for civic and community projects to get funded across the region. Local authorities in Wolverhampton, Sunderland, Leicester, Lincolnshire, Kirklees, Manchester, Tyneside and Liverpool City Region have used the model to incentivise people to turn their civic ideas into campaigns.

Aoife Herr, Spacehive’s Head of Partnerships distilled her experience of running partnerships for 35 local authorities down to the 5 key factors that have the greatest influence the success of a programme. They are:

  • A big enough fund to act as a magnet to bring forward project creators
  • Broad funding criteria to encourage the community to be as creative as possible
  • A strong incentive to crowdfund (eg larger pledge size) rather than stick to traditional application methods
  • Investing enough internal resource to engage community
  • A confident, senior ambassador to promote to the programme

Sarah Elderkin, Manchester City Council and Catherine Perry, Wolverhampton City Council spoke in detail about their respective programmes. Their reflections kicked off an engaging discussion which covered many of the benefits and challenges of crowdfunding. Reflections and learning included:

  • Although crowdfunding was hard work the rewards were worth it – those who ran campaigns found the experience almost addictive and were able to inspire others
  • Crowdfunding was about more than the money – although it’s online it is not detached from the real world – people built new networks and connections
  • Crowdfunding created energy and visibility for projects that a traditional funding application process didn’t
  • Programmes commonly started working with organisations the council knew but this widened over time
  • Working with Spacehive can take the council out of their comfort zone in terms of language and communication – this creative tension was largely seen as a benefit.
  • Councils were worried about a negative backlash caused by asking the public to fund projects but in the main crowdfunding has been received positively. It’s important to engage organisations that have accessed funds by more traditional routes.
  • Engaging businesses had been challenging but many companies had shown an interest in the model and pledged directly to projects
  • Councils were typically pledging around 30% of the project total – but sometimes more if they knew an area had limited funding networks. 
  • A fund that was citywide/county wide fund was seen as a positive but it was also key to have local insight on what areas need funding most

The session ended with a real sense of an emerging body of best practice among councils experimenting with new ways of empowering communities to shape their area – and a strong appetite by delegates to continue sharing knowledge.