Thursday 2 February 2012

Small Change Fund: Supporting Grassroots Environmental and First Nations Projects

$10,000 promised to Saskatchewan environmental projects

Every day, Matt and Dave rowed around the Bay of Fundy monitoring for toxic pollutants – an ongoing commitment that would be much easier if they just had a motor for their boat.

But none of the big foundations were interested in funding such a small project.

Fundy Baykeeper, a program of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, turned to Small Change Fund for help and obtained the money they needed - $1,250 – within a week.

Small Change Fund
Mary McGrath and Ruth Richardson have spent many years working for charitable organizations and philanthropic foundations. They were concerned that small grassroots projects had a difficult time obtaining funding. The large foundations weren’t interested in small-scale projects, and the paperwork was overly time-consuming for a small organization. And yet, they knew that local grassroots projects are often the ones that can really make a difference.

In addition, investors’ attitudes were changing. Donors wanted to take a more hands-on approach by choosing the projects they funded and establishing a connection with the people who were out in the field. Mary and Ruth decided to blaze a new trail by establishing Small Change Fund in late 2009.

Small Change Fund (SCF) is a crowd-funding platform that uses the power of the Internet to connect charitable organizations with donors. Organizations that can issue official tax receipts are invited to submit projects (under $5,000) that impact the environment or focus on First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples. A network of advisors reviews the projects, ensures that the information is complete, and chooses the most compelling, urgent projects.

Successful projects are posted on the SCF website, and donors from around the world can invest as much or as little as they want in specific projects. The project’s sponsor will receive whatever funding they raise, even if they are unable to raise the full amount. Donations can be made anonymously; tax receipts are provided for donations of $5 and above.

From Fruit Harvesting to Knowledge Transfer
Small Change Fund supports a variety of different projects. Here are two examples:

The Hamilton Fruit Tree Project harvests local, fresh fruit that would otherwise go to waste. The fruit is shared between homeowners, volunteers, and food banks. The project integrates social and environmental issues in a concrete, practical way and raised $2,161 through the SCF site.

A generation ago, the Berger Inquiry played a key role in stopping a gas pipeline on the Mackenzie River. A BC journalist who had participated in the original Inquiry wanted to share her knowledge with young people so that they could apply the historical experience to the current pipeline debate.

In the River Journey, six participants from the original Berger Inquiry travelled down the Mackenzie River, stopping at nine village schools to share their knowledge. The project was fully funded to $4,500.

“It’s been wonderful to see the support for grassroots leaders across Canada,” Dani LaGiglia, SCF’s Program Director says. “We have people in BC giving to groups in Hamilton, ON. It’s surprising how much we do care about each other.”

Building a Canadian Network
Small Change Fund was initiated in 2009 and received its own financial status in 2010. In addition to acting as the intermediary for individual donations, the Fund works with a number of large foundations that do not have the capacity to select and support small grassroots projects. Instead, they delegate this responsibility to Small Change Fund.

The foundation funding supports the staffing and operational costs at SCF, so that all the crowd-sourced funding can be given to the projects, less 10% needed to cover administration and credit card charges.

Small Change Fund has a strong presence in British Columbia, Ontario, the Maritimes and north of 60, but they are eager to expand their network on the Prairies and in Quebec. “It would be a great opportunity for local groups,” Dani says. “We know there is great work happening there, and there aren’t many large foundations operating in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec.

SCF welcomes Saskatchewan community leaders to join their network by getting involved with Small Change Fund. “We’re looking for people who are real leaders in their communities and have experience in the environmental area,” explains Dani LaGiglia. She encourages people to contact SCF if they are interested. “We’re very open,” she says. “We’ll always make time for people who reach out to us.”

$10,000 for Saskatchewan Environmental Projects
There is plenty of incentive for submitting a proposal to Small Change Fund as a Saskatoon resident is offering to invest up to $10,000 in local environmental projects.

“I think the Small Change Fund is a great idea,” he says. “I can choose where my money will go and feel a connection with the projects. I hope to see lots of Saskatchewan environmental projects listed on the Small Change Fund’s website in the very near future.”

If you belong to a Saskatchewan organization with charitable status, do consider submitting a project proposal – funding is available.

How Does Small Change Fund Work?

  1. Submit a project: impacts the environment or focuses on First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples; up to $5,000;
  2. SCF Advisors review and approve the project;
  3. Your project goes on the website;
  4. You and SCF promote the project;
  5. Donors fund projects of their choice;
  6. Your project gets funded, and you report back on your activities.