This is how it works in a nutshell: entities put forward fundable projects, and the general (Unitarian Universalist) public votes with its dollars. It uses technology to simplify the "elite function" of vetting projects and managing funds. If donors pledge enough to reach the project goal, the pledges get called in and the project gets funded. If not, the pledges aren't called in and the project gets no funding.
I have a couple of structural misgivings about Faithify, but I'll keep these to myself, at least until the the first round of projects' deadlines pass. (I'd be happy to be proved wrong.)
So no thoughts about Faithify for now, except:
if one "elite function" can be usefully distributed -- ideas that have been bubbling away while I consider open government projects -- what about others? Sometimes the ecosystem creates a gap that can be filled organically, such as bloggers filling in (partially) for an independent denominational press. Faithify, if successful, could challenge how programs get funded, and thus prioritized: the reverse of the current system. And if funding projects, then what? LinkedIn for settlement?
My day job (Sunlight Foundation) colleague, Jeremy Carbaugh, has written a thrilling blog post about the technology Sunlight uses to run our annual big event/unconference, TransparencyCamp, a.k.a. TCamp. Along with masterful planning and execution, engaged group process and careful attention to design, TCamp is a sight to behold.
I'm quite proud of it, and wanted to point out Jeremy's notes in case you feel inspired. Can't code? What better way to learn something than to find a project that needs doing? (I'll point out other new how-we-did-it writings if and as they appear.)
If you have not seen the April Fools Day issue of the spoof publication, The Beacon, go ahead and take a look at it now. And jump ahead to page eight which reprises the old complaint from Generation X that they -- no, we -- are ignored by a graphic juggernauts younger and older than we are.
I do think we need to be better self- and peer-advocates, and ask why there is so much long-term pessimism and distress among a generation that should be at the peak of its strength, and be recruited accordingly. And not just in the ministry by any stretch, but across culture.
But it's also reasonable to sidestep authorities (personal and institutional) that don't meet our needs and take some of that talent to bootstrap some solutions that value our leadership and ideals. Crowdfunding a project to employ some of that talent would be one idea. (I have my doubts about the UU crowdfunding platform, Faithify, to be introduced at General Assembly, but I'm glad to be proven wrong.) Or speaking about economic distress from long first-person experience. Or planning intentionally for ministry that speaks more clearly from our experiences. Or realizing that there other dates in history besides 1968.
Nothing anyone should have to do without, even if people a few years either side of my age (44) have to ask louder and more constantly.
So, might there be a small (or smaller) church Unitarian Universalist minister -- or several -- in a dynamic congregational ministry who might be available to help? It sounds like a case for self-nomination, and perhaps self-started bridge-building.
I live in Washington, D.C., and I care deeply about my city. In particular, I hate when it becomes an eponym for political misdeeds or a focus of scorn. Remember: the 600,000-plus people of the District of Columbia don't even get voting representation in Congress. And the Congress reserves for itself the power of our purse. And one part of one party has made a hostage of the budget, and with it he livelihoods of many friends and neighbors in the greater Washington metropolis and worldwide.
Despite the jokes of the lazy civil servant, many of these workers are not particularly well-paid (even in the Congress staff itself) and furlough days have taken a bite. How long will it be when some of these same civil servants will need food assistance, even as the programs are on ice? That members of military qualify for SNAP (food stamps) is itself a shame, lest anyone forget.
Baked into the conflict is what the proper role of government should be, and even if the current impasse is quickly resolved, it's hard to imagine a happy outcome when that one part of one party is dedicated no less to anti-government than anything else. Which makes me question the natural churchly impulse to private, charitable solutions to social harms, like hunger. Isn't that just playing into an anti-government script? Especially since churches can barely keep their doors open. The same can be said of many secular non-profits. There's just not enough labor, leadership and plain old money to restore public needs to charity.
But there's also the difference between a regularly-operating government and a crisis. Today we have a crisis and so today we have a responsibility to give more to charities that pick up where government initiatives fail. (Our task tomorrow is to push the vandals out of office.)
OK: let's look at a couple of good ideas that other places could emulate.
The DC Food Finder a "project of Healthy Affordable Food For All" maps meal programs, food distribution sites, mutual aid, market alternatives and the like.
One of the market alternatives is the Healthy Corners program, which supplies produce to corner markets in poorer parts of the District. See the video, too.
SHARE DC (SHARE Food Network) provides set packages of low-cost groceries; participants subdivide and package the food. It's managed by Catholic Charities and operated through neighborhood churches.
I work with grants in my daily work: giving and getting them, the planning and execution. I was on the board of a now-defunct Unitarian Universalist mission organization. I know a few things about modern administration and organization and the history of our polity, some learned the hard way. Like many others, I've also seen waves of Unitarian Universalist ideas approach, crest and break -- but leave no mark -- for a quarter century.
Projects the can be planned, organized, fulfilled and reported upon.
Projects that are neither too large nor too small, so they may attract attention but also enough funding to start.
Projects that inspire and do not duplicate (closely, anyway) another project. (Keeping attention, again.)
Projects that are ambitious, but can be completed.
Projects that speak to a real need, but a need that's not been addressed.
The balancing-act list continues, and on top of it: a project that will want to bother with any particular fund-raising process. The act of making a plan, drawing up a budget and justifying one's goals is wore than some -- many? -- people will want to do. "Leave me my hobbyist project," they'll say. "I'll fund it myself, or find a few friends who'll be interested."
And I've not gotten to the back-biting: "That's not really Unitarian Universalist…" "How is that multicultural?" "I could have done that for less…" Heaven help those who come forward.
In sum: Finding high-quality projects to fund that will excite the crowds and fulfill the mission will be the hardest problem for this crowdfunding program.
On the last day of the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly, outgoing moderator Gini Courter announced a new crowdfunding program: joint project of the Clara Barton and Massachesetts Bay districts, to raise money for Unitarian Universalist projects, in the spirit of Kickstarter and similar projects.
In as much as there's been buzz about this, it's been detail-light and affirming; and if there's been any in any criticism it's about the general unwillingness or inability for Unitarian Universalists to fund their own projects. I think it is only one chance to get this right. This project will probably attract most or all of the available persons interested in a robust crowd funding model, and if it fails willing it's to get a second chance. And Unitarian Universalists aren't the best about creative organizational diversity. (Or riffing off that old theological bromide: "One idea at most.")
Some questions and observations:
Will this fund a pool that a committee will then judge, or will the UUFund allow donors to vote with their dollars, like Kickstarter? If it's a committee, who choses it? If the latter, what happens to money sent for projects that fail to secure enough donors?Will the funded projects be projects from churches or other nonprofits, or could individuals, collectives or (even) businesses apply?
Will there be standards for what projects are acceptable? If so, who makes the standards and who enforces them?
Will anyone follow up on the performance or quality of the work funded?
If crowdfunding is a good idea, it makes more sense to test it with an established provider than build (and test and rebuild) a private platform. The reach would be farther (that is, to non-Unitarian Universalists), too.
How much is the Mass Bay District, "Congregations & Beyond Program and the Unitarian Universalist Funding Program" putting in to this? What happens if the first $10,000 raised doesn't cover the costs. (Web development doesn't come cheap. Neither does grants management. This is my day job, by the way.)
By starting the campaign with a tribute fund to Gini Courter, you can be sure some people won't give. It doesn't take a lot of backchannel listening to know she wasn't universally loved.
Most of these conditions can be resolved with simple answers, and it's reasonable donors demand accountabily. But you'd be pressed to find these details on the current UUFund site. I couldn't find them.
The talk about the new, emerging Unitarian Universalist crowdfunding project will lead to a series of posts here.
Let me start with a pic from my "pirate edition" copy of Hosea Ballou's Treatise on Atonement. Why this 202-year-old book? (From my library; have I never written substantively aboutit?) Because in was crowdfunded, by the subcription model.
The "Labour Church Hymn Book" is cited. It's small: indeed only 32 pages and perhaps alone in the shared history of church hymnody and organized labor. It's well-cited (and here and here and here.) Even a UU tie-in! But I can't find a copy!