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Localized crowdfunding platforms grow through grant matching program

Curtis Green pocket park
Ed Morykwas
River of Time Photography
Curtis Green pocket park

After the University of Michigan Penny Stamps School of Art and Design won a Detroit Knight Arts Foundation grant for a maker-space in Detroit's Brightmoor neighborhood, they got a call from Patronicity.

Patronicity is a crowd-funding platform, like Kickstarter, but for local Michigan projects. It was born after co-founder Chris Blauvelt used Kickstarter to fund a film he was producing, and thought the model could be used to fund community development, not just products and movies.

The idea hinged on localization. Blauvelt and co-founder Ebrahim Varachia looked to find sponsoring organizations that would offer matching grants to projects in their own communities.

But Varachia said finding that sponsor was the biggest hurdle for Patronicity as it started to take shape.

"We always had that chicken and egg problem, we wanted sponsors but we didn't have projects," said Varachia. "We started, we had projects, no sponsors."

So the platform got its start by helping Detroit organizations build crowdfunding campaigns, until it officially partnered with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation a year ago. From there, Patronicity expanded statewide, from Detroit all the way into Ironwood and Marquette.

"When the MEDC came on board it really proved the idea that we had," said Varachia."This year has been an incredible year to learn and to realize the great potential that this matching crowd-granting type model can have."

When the Knight Arts Foundation announced their Detroit Knight Arts Challenge winners, Patronicity saw the potential for a grant-matching cascade. The maker-space will serve as a place for Detroit Community Schools students and Brightmoor residents to develop creative work, and building on past collaborations with Penny Stamps and Detroit Community schools students. They reached out to the Penny Stamps project because it fit the criteria for the MEDC's Public Spaces, Community Placesconcept: invigorating a local space with social action. 

Varachiaexplained that in using Patronicity, they'd be eligible for yet another matching grant. So Stamps would have to get $25,000 from donors, which would be matched with $25,000 from the MEDC. The resulting $50,000 will then be matched by the Knight Arts foundation.

"Here is a way to cut in half what they need to raise, or double what they could have crowdfunded originally," Varchia explained.

But that was only part of why Penny Stamps decided to take a crowd-funding approach with Patronicity, said Major Gifts Officer Eric Schramm.

"People know the neighborhood, they've either lived there or they've been through there," he said. "It's giving to something that they can see the fruit of at a later date. "

That's also part of what made the partnership attractive to the MEDC, said Community Development Director Katharine Czarnecki.

In choosing to donate to a program, community members are essentially voting for the projects they want to see in their spaces, which not only helps the MEDC cut down on time spent sifting through grant applications, but frees up capital as well.

"We've been able to do more projects than we typically can do in a year because we're leveraging other resources," she said. "Because of the fact that's it's really the community making that decision we'll continue to fund projects that are public space-type projects [through the] crowdfunding format."

MEDC sponsored projects have seen a 100 percent success rate, Varachia said, and Patronicity has raised over 2 million dollars in total. With that, the team is currently looking to expand nationwide.

-Paula Friedrich, Michigan Radio Newsroom