Sept 20 – Letter to the Editor – Hells Canyon Journal
Letter to the Editor,
On Crowdfunding and United Community Partners,
Hey folks, Liz McLellan here. It has come to my attention that there is some confusion and perhaps bad feelings around the crowdfunding projects I and UCP have supported over the last few months. I would like to clear these misunderstandings up, in so far as that is possible. I should say, this letter is from myself and not from the UCP Board.
A little background first. I moved to the Valley in 2008 from NYC. My background is in non-profits, technology and fundraising. It took me awhile to find a place where my skills could be of use to the community. In 2012, I saw a need and had volunteered to build a website for United Community Partners. Around June that year, I started to attend regular meetings. In June 2013, I was elected President when Ruai Gregory left the post after years of service to the community. I am less comfortable being an officer on the board than I was just doing tech work to be honest.
I had been enthusiastically helping with the website – with the intention of raising awareness of the potential of online fundraising and crowdfunding for projects, businesses and organizations in the Pine Valley community. I had been through a few successful kickstarter campaigns myself and understood this was a real boon for anyone or any group which could harness the strength of our extended networks online.
At the same time I was elected to the board of UCP, I became aware of two projects which looked like they would be perfect candidates to demonstrate the power of crowdfunding to the community. Not every idea or project is a fit for this model of fundraising. I agreed to volunteer for both the Eagle Creek Orchard Indiegogo campaign and for the Pinefest Indiegogo campaign because these projects, in my estimation, had the hallmarks of potential for success from the get go:
1. A passionate champion. Someone who was willing to do anything it took to get it done, who was not me.
2. An existing network extending far beyond Pine Valley – online and off. Both the sustainable agriculture community and the music community have deep and extensive online networks of passionately dedicated people.
3. A group independent of me (or UCP) which was ready and raring to go – to help us in any way to get the word spread far and wide.
I have personally talked to other people in the Valley with various groups and projects who had good ideas but, lacked these three things. These are prerequisites to any success in crowdfunding campaigns. If you have an idea or a project – start thinking about these three things. It can take years to build up the groundwork for success.
These were not projects I sought the permission of UCP to work on. Nor, was I required to do so. Though I did let the UCP folks know it was fine with me if UCP was listed as a supporter of these campaigns because of these efforts. Members also did volunteer on their own for both in other capacities.
So what are the misunderstandings? Some people are very confused and seem to be under the impression that UCP decided as a group to allocate my time as technical assistant to these projects. They did not. The issue for others seems to be that they believe that UCP as a group CHOOSE these projects over others – and ignored other needs. That is also not the case.
Some folks are not happy that “UCP helped a private business over in Richland,” meaning the orchard. I need to make this clear, I chose to help Eagle Creek Orchard out as an individual. I did so because I care deeply about local organic sustainable agriculture and localizing our economy and food systems. No UCP funds were used for the Indiegogo campaign. I also care a great deal about music and so was happy to help the Pinefest folks crowdfund when they asked. For each of these projects I donated about 30-40 hours of my time – building websites, social media campaigns and coaching both groups on how to run a successful crowdfunding effort – I did this with bells on and joy in my heart.
When the UCP members consider a project to allocate money to another process is required. Members all have a say and weigh in on the viability of projects which come to us. We have a process outlined in the bylaws for these group considerations. You too can have a say – simply attend three meetings and you can be a part of that decision making process as a UCP member. We each have our own personal criteria but, we also have criteria mandated by our bylaws which you can read on our site. We have given money as a group to projects which fit that criteria – as a group. Everyone in the community should be clear UCP as a group is open to considering projects from all groups and individuals in the Pine Eagle area. If the project is in line with UCP’s mission, we would be thrilled to help out in any way we can. In December, we will have a year end summary of how we voted to spend funds in 2013.
The UCP Board is a mix of older and newer residents but, we are very small. We seek and welcome participation from everyone in the community and hope you will consider attending meetings in the future to help us decide our priorities.
I, personally, have a limited amount of volunteer hours I can give for these tech projects. Like everyone else in the valley, I have to make a living. Finding time for everything we want to do is a struggle we all face. I am very happy to help when I can do so. As for the technical assistance I give, I need to evaluate for myself which projects are the most likely to succeed with some technical assistance – and which projects are beyond my ability to contribute time, programming, or coaching. UCP is not in charge of allocating my time in any way and I am happy to talk to anyone who has a project in mind.
The SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) is working on rules to allow equity crowdfunding for small business. The NEOEDD (North East Oregon Economic Development District) is working on gathering financial institutions, individual investors, credit unions and community banks in the area to build up local investing strategies and vehicles to explicitly support the localization of our economy, to bring our money home. We all see the need to pull away from the large impersonal banking system. NEOEDD is also looking at crowdfunding and equity crowdfunding (where you get a return on an investment.) for small businesses and cottage industry. Much more than this is on the way but, it is beyond the scope of this letter to explain much further. I would like to leave you with the idea that lots of good things are coming and it is a great time to get involved in what you are passionate about.
I hope this note clarifies some of the backstory which seems to have created some confusion in the Valley. We all wear many hats here and sometimes it’s unclear which hat I’ve got on. I hope everyone knows that ALL of us at UCP are working with the best of intentions and simply trying to contribute to the place we call home. I also encourage UCP members to clarify anything I got wrong here.
I would like to personally thank everyone who participated in these campaigns online and off because you helped make the power of crowdfunding and interdependence visible. We saved an orchard and put on a music festival! Thank you to Rob and Linda Cordtz and Mimi and Eric Kauffman for trusting the potential of exploring this 21st century style barn-raising! It was, for all of you, a massive leap of faith which I know was very scary. Thank you for being brave. It’s incredibly inspiring to me and many others.
We are as strong as our networks.
If you are interested I’ve posted some links about crowdfunding and the NEOEDD efforts on our site at: http://ow.ly/p5vP8
If ever something seems unclear, you’d like to get involved or you’d just like to know more feel free to email me at email@example.com.
Thank you for reading this far!
Liz McLellan, President of the UCP Board