Note: A shorter version of this piece ran as an Op/Ed
in the Wallowa Chieftain on March 26.
As executive director of the Northeast Oregon Economic Development District (NEOEDD), I am constantly on the lookout for ways to support our region’s entrepreneurs and owners of existing businesses. Over the last few years, a grassroots funding platform has gained popularity, and I’m excited to introduce it to those of you who have never heard of “crowdfunding.”
Crowdfunding is a little bit like a taco feed at the school to help pay for a trip to Washington, D.C. It’s like dropping ten bucks in the jar on the counter of your favorite coffee shop to help a local farmer rebuild their barn that burned down. Crowdfunding is a way for a lot of people who care about something to give a little bit of money (or, sometimes, a lot) in order to help a goal be fulfilled. But, instead of a jar, there’s a website. The money is not a loan or an investment, it’s a gift. Most crowdfunding campaigns reward those gifts with small items like a t-shirt or a mug. Or, if the project was a music recording, you might receive a reward of a copy of the CD.
While the online platform is new, crowdfunding is far from a new concept. In fact, Wikipedia notes a subscription-business called Praenumeration, which used crowdfunding to publish books in the 17th century! There are hundreds of sites for these types of fund-raising campaigns: Kickstarter and Indiegogo are the best known. You may be surprised to learn that through Kickstarter, more than 5.7 million people have given more than $1 billion to 57,625 successful projects. Now there is a new crowdfunding site that focuses exclusively on projects in Oregon and Washington: ChangeFunder. And their inaugural project is in Wallowa County: The Lostine Tavern.
Lostine Tavern’s Crowdfunding Campaign
Wallowa County residents Lynne Curry and Peter Ferré have been working hard to restore the 1902 Lostine Tavern building that originally housed a doctor’s office and pharmacy, and then a bar-and-grill until it closed in early 2013. Lynne came to NEOEDD looking for help to finance the Lostine Tavern. We discussed different approaches. Until we talked, she hadn’t considered crowdfunding. Lynne and Peter were willing to be the first business to use the ChangeFunder website (a new platform that is limited to businesses in the Pacific Northwest and associated with our community capital partner, ChangeXchange Northwest).
I recommended ChangeFunder because their project has social benefits that make it a good fit for a crowdfunding campaign. There isn’t a strong business case for making a traditional capital investment in a tavern in Lostine. In fact, it doesn’t make sense if the owner’s goal is to have a reasonable financial return. However, Lynne and Peter have broader goals–they plan to participate in the local food system, adding value to agricultural products grown in Wallowa County and providing healthy, delicious food to their customers. They want to have an active role in developing a business in Wallowa County that builds up the community they love.
Lynne and Peter started a crowdfunding campaign to give people a means of supporting both the restoration of a historic building and community meeting place, and the use of local produce, meats and beverages. Instead of t-shirts, they’re offering as one of their thank-yous to have the donor’s initials branded into the bar top. Now, that is a fun reward!
Supporting a business like Lostine Tavern through ChangeFunder is one way community members can show their support for this business that promises to be a welcoming place for the community. As owners using a platform that is untested using a fundraising methodology that isn’t well-known in our community, they are risking ridicule and misunderstanding. I hope that you will consider this campaign in the light in which it is offered–a way to financially support a business that will add value to the quality of life in the region.
A benefit of crowdfunding is that, in addition to sharing this campaign with local supporters, Curry and Ferré can reach out to friends, families and colleagues outside the area, creating a way for money that is outside our region to find its way here. I would encourage you to check out ChangeFunder and the Lostine Tavern crowdfunding project, and to think of how crowdfunding might help your business. Please contact me at the NEOEDD office if you’d like to discuss the possibilities.