Can Crowdfunding Bring New Funding to Environmental Projects?

We’ve written quite a bit at Inside Philanthropy about the explosive rise of crowdfunding, with platforms like GoFundMe, Kickstarter and Indiegogo staking claim to “the future of charity.” In fact, though, these catch-all crowdsourcing giants have mainly been used to support personal causes, new inventions and startups. They still haven’t transformed fundraising for your average nonprofit.

Which leaves an opening for crowdfunding platforms that take a narrower approach with an explicit focus on nonprofit donations. We’ve written, for example, about the rise of companies like GiveCampus, a tool that engages young alumni around giving to their alma maters, and a partnership between the Center for Disaster Philanthropy and Crowdrise, promising to activate the online collection basket when tragedy strikes. 

In both cases, we’re seeing innovation in crowdsourced cash — attempts to move beyond a broader model (where the market is already saturated) to specific uses and causes. It's no surprise, then, to see the rise of a new effort to crowdfund for the environment. At WorthWild, a team of two outdoors enthusiasts are betting that environmental projects can muster online support. Is their hunch likely to bear fruit?

According to founders Kyle Pribish and Cori Snedecor, WorthWild is a labor of love. It's a certified B corporation and charges no fee to start a campaign. The scale is small, but that seems fine by Pribish and Snedecor. According to them, environmental projects are getting lost on the major platforms, where attention fixates on causes related to the national news cycle. 

Pribish and Snedecor began by saving a single parcel of land from developers in Massachusetts, and proceeded to engage with conservation land trusts in the area. A large portion of the users on WorthWild are nonprofits. Notably, neither founder has a background in tech, and Snedecor tells us she learned to code specifically for WorthWild. That’s kind of a welcome break from the glitzy startups we see so often, but whether WorthWild will catch on remains uncertain. 

Like other crowdfunding innovators, Pribish and Snedecor realized that you can’t just put a story out there — even a compelling one — and expect the money to come flowing in. To disabuse clients of that notion, they offer tools to campaign creators to help them set up a network and engage likely stakeholders. 

For example, land conservation is likely to mean going to friends and family first, engaging people who have a vested interest in the parcel in question. With crowdfunding, those donors needn’t actually live close by. One example could be people who grew up in an area and moved away, but still have little wish to see the fields of their childhood pulverized and paved over. The emotional appeal is undeniable, but as with any crowdfunding campaign, publicity is the big hurdle.

WorthWild describes its mission broadly, to help "environmentally conscious businesses, nonprofits, and individuals who want to raise money to fund projects that protect and sustain the planet." But land conservation funding figures prominently so far, and may be the most promising use of this platform.

Protecting endangered land is a tangible goal that lends itself well to crowdfunding, which typically revolves around setting and meeting funding milestones. When it comes to saving green space, conservationists often need to raise an exact dollar amount to buy land that will otherwise be developed. WorthWild offers a new way to accomplish such satisfying victories.