Working on a community project? This crowdgranting platform could help you raise funding fast

When governments and nonprofits do projects in cities, a complaint that sometimes arises is that they don’t have sufficient public buy-in. 

Neighborhoods and communities don’t feel included or engaged in the process. 

One national organization working to change this is Patronicity. Started in Detroit, Mich., in 2013, Patronicity is similar to crowdfunding platforms, like Kickstarter or GoFundMe, but it uses an additional process called “crowdgranting” to leverage matching dollars for projects through the state, if project creators can demonstrate community support by hitting their crowdfunding goals. Patronicity also works exclusively with local units of government and nonprofit organizations with 501(c)3 or 501(c)4 status.

Playground equipment at Forest Park Elementary School.In Indiana, Patronicity funds matching grants from the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority’s (IHCDA) CreatINg Places program. 

Bridget Anderson, Vice President at Patronicity, is based in the Bloomington area, but her team has partnered with more than 200 projects across the state in cities of all sizes, she says. So far, the IHCDA has matched more than $6 million in funds, supporting placemaking projects from greenspaces to murals and event spaces.

So how does Patronicity work? Any qualifying group can submit a placemaking project online for an opportunity to receive crowdfunding support and a matching grant for it, ranging from $5,000 to $50,000. Maddie Miller, a Fort Wayne-based artist and digital strategist, works as a Digital Marketing Manager for Patronicity, says it’s free to create and launch projects with Patronicity. But the organization does collect a standard 5 percent fee on all funds raised for its premium support throughout the fundraising process. (Its payment tool, Stripe, also collects a 2.6 percent +$0.30/txn processing fee on all online contributions, which can be covered by patrons.)

“If you don't raise any funds, we don't collect any either,” she says. “That's because your success is our success. It's that simple.”

Playground equipment at Forest Park Elementary School.Something that sets Patronicity apart from other crowdfunding options is how much support it provides its project leaders, known as “Project Creators,” throughout the process.

“What differentiates us is we provide one-on-one support,” she says. “Project leaders get to know their project coach, and that has made our success rate for projects much higher than any other platforms in this space.”

Whereas traditional crowdfunding projects have a 15-20 percent success rate, Patronicity’s projects have an 80-90 percent success rate, Anderson says.

“As a coach personally, I’ve had a 96 percent success rate on projects,” she says. “And it’s partly because we’re selective. Most crowdfunding is focused on getting a ton of projects regardless of whether they are legit; whereas we want to ensure projects will be successful.”

So far, a few Northeast Indiana projects have been funded and/or installed through Patronicity and CreatINg Places in 2022, including the Reinvent the Zent in Roanoke by Roanoke Beautification Foundation, the Markle Log Home Restoration Project by the Markle Historical Society, and two playgrounds in Fort Wayne at John S. Irwin Elementary School and Forest Park Elementary School.

“The Irwin project received support from a number of community organizations, notably the AWS Foundation and Family & Friends Fund,” Miller says. “Forest Park’s campaign received donations from 663 patrons, reaching deep into the community.”

So what is the process like in action?

Leitia McHugh, a small business owner and Forest Park Elementary PTA member, served as Project Creator on her committee, working closely with Patronicity to upgrade the Forest Park playground.

Leitia McHugh, who helped lead the Inclusive Playground Project at Forest Park Elementary School.McHugh (whose gift box business, The Confetti Post, was once located near Forest Park) says her involvement in the playground project came through her PTA service. She has two young children who attend Forest Park, and when she joined the PTA, she realized about $5,000 was set aside in a savings account to make some much-needed playground upgrades. 

For decades, Forest Park’s playground was built atop asphalt, and much of its equipment was not inclusive, making it difficult for students of all abilities to play together.

Since McHugh’s husband is an architect, they began looking at solutions for the space together and realized that because the playground wasn’t built on mulch or grass, options for improving it were limited.

Playground equipment at Forest Park Elementary School.“It needed a rubber resurfacing,” McHugh recalls. “That was the number one thing the playground needed to be safe and inclusive, but the cost was very high.”

A rough estimate was $40,000-50,000 for resurfacing alone. 

“When I told the PTA that number, we thought: There’s no way we can raise that,” McHugh says. “We are a school that’s about 70 percent low-income families, and we have a lot of non-native English-speaking families, too. We just thought: There’s no way.”

But McHugh and a small team of about 10 PTA committee members were determined to find a solution. She reached out to Fort Wayne Community School’s Director of Capital Projects, Jayde Steffan, who helped her team assess the project and make it feasible. 

McHugh and the PTA determined they would need to raise about $113,000 for the playground resurfacing and equipment. Steffan’s team was able to allocate $20,000 toward this goal, if they could raise an initial $20,000.

Children enjoy the playground equipment during the fourth grade recess at Forest Park Elementary School.This set McHugh on a mission to assess fundraising options.

“This was probably the biggest playground project ever at Fort Wayne Community Schools,” McHugh says. “None of us had done anything at this scale before, so there was a lot of learning involved.”

While researching grant and crowdfunding options, McHugh came across Patronicity on McMillen Health’s website and began working with Anderson’s team to submit her project application.

“With Patronicity, we set a goal of raising $30,000, with another $30,000 matching grant through the IHCDA’s CreatINg Spaces program,” McHugh says. “We ended up raising $37,000 and got the matching grant for a total of $67,000.”

Throughout the several-month-long process of partnering with Patronicity, McHugh says her team worked closely with Anderson’s via phone calls and emails.

“They have a bunch of resources to guide you on best practices and what they’ve seen work with other campaigns,” McHugh says. “So they help you set up your crowdfunding page and give you feedback on it. Honestly, if we had gone with another platform, like GoFundMe, and tried to do this on our own, I truly do not think our campaign would have been as successful.”

Once the project was posted for crowdfunding, the process moved quickly, too.

“We raised most of our money within a week or two,” McHugh says.

Kamyra Smith slides on the playground as Leitia McHugh looks on during the fourth grade recess at Forest Park Elementary School.
Her team even ended up surpassing their $113,000 goal and raised more than $160,000. While some of their largest donations came in after the Patronicity campaign closed, McHugh still credits the publicity her project got through crowdfunding for bringing in those big donors.

“I can’t say we wouldn’t have gotten the donations otherwise, but I think having our Patronicity campaign helped,” she says.

Even so, she cautions other PTAs and project leaders to do their research in finding the best crowdfunding or grant option for them. She feels that in her case, having a matching grant from IHCDA made it a worthwhile investment.

“It’s definitely on the higher end of crowdfunding platforms,” McHugh says. “But I don’t know if you’d get as much support from other platforms out there. We had really low expectations for how much money we and our kids could raise. But we were amazed at how much we were able to do through crowdfunding.”
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Read more articles by Kara Hackett.

Kara Hackett is a Fort Wayne native fascinated by what's next for northeast Indiana how it relates to other up-and-coming places around the world. After working briefly in New York City and Indianapolis, she moved back to her hometown where she has discovered interesting people, projects, and innovations shaping the future of this place—and has been writing about them ever since. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @karahackett.