Community Projects, Ethical Investment — by Christian Shearer July 20, 2012
WeTheTrees.com has just officially launched their permaculture crowd funding platform, bringing a new and exciting tool to the permaculture world, and an ability to easily and creatively raise funds. This platform helps organizations and individuals around the globe gather the resources needed to meet their goals.
Effort, desire and passion do not tend to be limiting factors for the students and practitioners of permaculture. The ability to dream, design and use information and imagination does not hold back the permaculture community. The greatest limitation almost across the board is often that of economics. With access to the right resources, including those in the form of dollars and cents, the individuals, and the movement as a whole, could be achieving much more and be that much more effective at achieving their goals.
With this in mind, the launch of permaculture’s first and only crowd funding platform brings renewed optimism to many in the movement. WeTheTrees was designed specifically to bridge the gap between idea / design and the resources needed to make it happen.
What exactly is crowd funding, and how does it work?
Crowd funding is a means of networking and pooling economic resources from a wide range of people, generally to support an idea or initiative from an individual or organization. It involves a campaign creator who posts her idea to an internet crowd funding platform, like WeTheTrees, sharing what her plan is, how much she needs to make it happen, and requesting that the reader consider making a contribution. The campaign creator then shares the URL for their crowd funding efforts with their contacts, colleagues, family and friends, via social networking, e-mail and word of mouth, and asks them to visit their fundraising campaign and to share it with their contacts. In this way, news of the campaign can spread far and wide, and whoever feels excited about helping to make the idea a reality can contribute towards it by contributing to the campaign at whatever level they like. If the campaign reaches its goal, then the campaign creator receives the money and has everything she needs to bring her idea to fruition. In return for their contributions, contributors may receive some sort of reward from the creator of the campaign. Often it is something related to their project, and usually the reward gets bigger and better relative to the amount of the contribution.
Crowd Funding really started to gain steam in 2009 when Kickstarter, a crowd funding platform focused on artistic endeavors, quickly became the most visited crowd funding site. Since that time, the platform has helped successfully fund over 25,000 projects, raising over 225 million dollars for the campaign creators. Kickstarter has done an incredible job of harnessing the joy of giving, and helping to make the dreams of artists of all kinds come true.
The inspiration for the creation of WeTheTrees.com came from a failed attempt to create a permaculture related campaign on Kickstarter. After the campaign had been submitted for review, Christian Shearer received this message in response:
Thank you for taking the time to share your idea. Unfortunately, this isn’t the right fit for Kickstarter. We receive many project proposals daily and review them all with great care and appreciation. We see a wide variety of inspiring ideas, and while we value each one’s uniqueness and creativity, Kickstarter is not the right platform for all of them. We wish you the best of luck as you continue to pursue your endeavor.
Obviously, this was rather disappointing. Kickstarter’s niche centers around art-related projects like movies, dance, fine arts and more. Permaculture and sustainability sometimes overlap with their criteria, but often not. So, being proactive and living the permaculture spirit (the problem is the solution), Christian decided that he had better get a team of people together to build a crowd funding platform that does fit the needs and ethics of permaculture. Not only would it help him to secure funding for his permaculture endeavors, it will eventually help thousands of his fellow permaculturalists with theirs. After a few e-mails to some prospective team mates, Christian found three others trained in permaculture who wanted to join the effort: Ian, with website development project management experience, Jerry with front-end graphical skills and Vidar with the back-end programming skills needed. Together, the vision began to manifest into a functional website, and as of July 15, 2012, WeTheTrees is live and eager to help all who seek funding for permaculture and sustainability related projects.
How does WeTheTrees work?
Straight from the WeTheTrees website:
WeTheTrees works like this: you submit your campaign, set a fundraising goal and a deadline to reach this goal (maximum 90 days). Then you promote the campaign to your friends, family and networks, encouraging them to come check it out. People can opt to contribute to your campaign at any amount above $5.00 and receive rewards for their contribution! We work on an all-or-nothing system. If you reach your fundraising goal by your deadline, then the contributions are debited from the contributors accounts on that date and deposited into your account (less fees). If you don’t meet (or exceed) your goal, then no money ever is collected. Use the WeTheTrees platform to fundraise for projects big and small.
With a minimum campaign amount of only $100, WeTheTrees could be a valuable resource for fundraising at all levels — from the purchase of a scythe for harvesting wheat to the purchase of the wheat field itself!
How is WeTheTrees helpful to the permaculture movement?
WeTheTrees provides a multifaceted tool to every permaculturalist, and can be used very creatively to not only raise funds for a project, but also to fundraise for a course, assess the market potential of different ideas, and even to pre-sell products that will be produced with aforementioned fundraised capital, allowing the farmer or eco-social entrepreneur to feel more secure in their undertaking.
WeTheTrees can also function as an excellent way for a community to collect money for cooperative endeavors.
And furthermore, WeTheTrees allows a wonderful and meaningful way for anyone to be able to contribute to positive change on this planet. Just browsing through the site can be enjoyable, seeing all the interesting projects that other folks are raising money for, and when a person sees one that really excited them, its just a click away to become a contributor.
A few examples of how the WeTheTrees platform could be a useful tool
1. The Traditional Fundraiser — Let’s say a family wants to install solar panels on their roof to supplement their electricity needs from a renewable source. This family (let’s call them the Kimbles) could post a campaign on WeTheTrees to do just that. The Kimble family posts a campaign to raise $1800 for fifteen 100W solar panels. This will give them a big start on their grid-intertied solar system. They set a goal for $1800 and a campaign length of 90 days. On WeTheTrees, all campaigns must offer rewards. Because the Kimbles assume that most of their contributors are going to be friends and family, they offer what they have in abundance. It does not actually need to be related to the solar panels (as it would be difficult to give away electricity as a reward).
Their rewards could look like this:
- If you contribute $5 we will send you a personalized thank-you card.
- If you contribute $10 we will give you a quart of our canned apple sauce.
- If you contribute $25 you will receive an invite to our “Going Solar” installation party and bar-b-que.
- If you contribute $100 you will receive the invitation as well as a set of our home made artisan bees-wax candles.
- If you contribute $250 you get all of the above plus a hand made Shaker bench made by Mrs. Kimble in her wood shop.
2. Fundraise to take a course — Shu Mei has been wanting to take a PDC course for a long time, but felt that she could not because of the price of the course. Using WeTheTrees she was able to post a campaign to raise the funds to take the PDC course. She set her fundraising goal at $1200 ($980 for the course itself and $220 for travel and expenses). In her description of the campaign, she explains how the PDC course will support her in moving toward what she wants in her life, and true independence on her path. She promotes the campaign by sending it out to her family and friends, and is easily able to raise the money needed to make this inspirational course a reality for her. On WeTheTrees anyone can fundraise to take any course that is related to the environment, social change, or permaculture, and there is already a list of organizations and institutions that are encouraging their students to do just that. For rewards, she may offer to do permaculture designs for people contributing over a certain amount, or give an evening presentation about what she learned during the course.
3. Pre-selling products and gathering market potential on an idea — All campaigns posted on WeTheTrees must be finite and definable; they must be clearly stated and have a clear end. A person can fundraise for “the purchase of a cargo bicycle for delivery of fresh baked organic bread” but cannot fundraise “to start a bread business”. In this case, Mary Breadmaker may post a campaign on WeTheTrees that invites anyone who feels moved to contribute toward the purchase of this bike, which she will then use in her bread making business to do home deliveries. “Fresh on your doorstep in time for breakfast!” She sets her fundraising goal at $2,500, sets her campaign length to 60 days, and offers rewards for the contribution.
- If you contribute $5 toward this campaign, you receive a coupon for one loaf of her classic sourdough.
- If you contribute $10 toward this campaign, you receive a coupon for any of her dessert breads.
- If you contribute $25 toward this campaign, you receive a coupon for four loaves of your choice.
- If you contribute $100 toward this campaign, you will receive 20 coupons and be given a special thanks in her newsletter.
Mary could post this campaign with complete uncertainty as to whether she will achieve her goals or not. She sends it out to all her contacts and invites them to check out the campaign and share it with their friends and neighbors. Because Mary lives in such a supportive community (and she makes such good bread), she exceeds her goal by $500 and is able to purchase additional equipment on top of the bike. She already has hundreds of loaves sold and is off and running. Had she failed to meet her goal, she receives nothing, and contributions are never debited. She would have learned about the market potential in her area, and that there isn’t enough interest in her community for her bread at $5 a loaf, and saved the effort and heartbreak of starting up and failing.
4. Community cooperative action – The crowd funding tool offered by WeTheTrees is a perfect platform for building community cooperative projects and events. For example, the Clark St. Neighborhood Association has been discussing for some time the idea of putting in a playground on the empty lot on the corner. It seems that there is a fair amount of support, but it is tough to gauge whether the community will really pitch in when it comes time to pay for supplies. One of the board members of the neighborhood association volunteers to post a campaign up on WeTheTrees to raise the funds for this playground. The fundraiser is for $25,000, enough to build a wooden play castle with rope wall and slide, a set of swings, and to plant an edible forest garden that is child friendly (thornless blackberries, strawberries, kale snap peas, and dwarf apples, pears and plums). The community has pledged the hard labor, all they need is to see the money and make it happen. So the campaign is launched with a $25,000 goal, and a sixty day campaign deadline to help everyone in the community realize this is happening, and it needs to happen now. Besides posting the news on their facebook page and writing a blog post about it, a couple of the young association members drop fliers off in every mailbox in the neighborhood letting people know about the fundraiser, and directing them to the proper URL.
The association sets rewards low, because the main reward is having a community playground in the neighborhood. $25 contribution gets you a thank you card. $100 donation gets you a Clark St. t-shirt, $250 donation gets you a special mention at the opening ceremonies of the park, and a $1000 donation gets you a brick engraved with your name (or words of your choosing) that will be laid on the path of the park.
If the community raises enough awareness and gets the word out, they should be able to raise enough for that playground, and if they don’t raise enough, then they have ascertained that the community is not willing to give enough to make it happen. Maybe they can adjust their plan and help it meet the economic resources of their community.
What are the costs of using WeTheTrees?
It is totally free to post a campaign on WeTheTrees, and if you do not meet your goal, there are no fees at all. If the fundraising goal is met, the pledged contributions will be debited out of the contributors’ accounts at the campaign deadline. You will receive all the money from the contributors, minus the fees of the payment processors (like Paypal and WePay) which are generally about 3-4% and a 5% WeTheTrees platform fee.
A New Model of Doing Business
WeTheTrees has been set up as an eco-social business, committed to transparency, equality and the ethics of permaculture. The company was founded and is currently run only by Permaculture Design Certified staff, and all individual earnings (to employees and managers) are committed to be used toward permaculture projects of their own. Up until the launch, almost all the work done to make WeTheTrees a reality was done as sweat equity, and the company was funded only by the members of the WeTheTrees team. A true team spirit and a desire to give something back to the permaculture community are at the heart of why WeTheTrees exists.
Open Source — WeTheTrees is running using open source software called Catarse, and then adapted and stylized to fit our unique needs. The development team at WeTheTrees feels passionately about the open source movement, and is glad to be able to give back the improvements and upgrades made on this site.
How can I help make WeTheTrees a success?
The platform just publicly launched on July 20th, 2012, so the greatest challenge at this point is just getting the word out. If you feel moved to help get the word out, please share this article with your friends, like us on facebook, and let your permaculture colleagues know it exists.
The team at WeTheTrees hopes that this crowd funding platform is useful to you and your community. Please come check out the site, post a campaign for your next permaculture adventure, contribute to someone else’s dream, and let others know that this resource is out there.
And thanks for all you do!
Christian Shearer is a PRI certified Permaculture Design Course teacher and the founder of the Panya Project in Northern Thailand. He is a natural builder, a food forest enthusiast, a musician, an advisory board member to WeForest, a certified educator and has extensive knowledge of tropical permaculture systems. He has taught permaculture in Thailand, Malaysia, Taiwan and the United States and helped found Terra-Genesis International, an international permaculture design consultancy firm. Christian is excited to continue contributing to the Permaculture movement and to deepen his own understanding of how to make real lasting change on this planet.Comments (5)