Crowdfunding: The more, the merrier

News-DemocratJanuary 13, 2014 

Stacy Croan has a dream, and she's about to ask for your help.

The Belleville nurse has always wanted to help people. She grew on a Southern Illinois farm and wants to harvest food for the local hungry and give back in other ways to the metro-east. She said she knows many who are employed but still struggle to make ends meet, especially after Congress recently cut funding for food stamps. She said the need is greater than before.

"We know there are really hard-working people out there that need those food stamps, and they deserve them because they are all working two full-time jobs," Croan said. "They're working, but it doesn't mean that they're not doing anything. That's the kind of mountain that we're climbing that we're having a hard time getting over."

Her goal is to buy as many as 200 acres in St. Clair County to grow crops and create an agri-tourism business. She would call it Cavaliyre Farms. But she estimates this could cost as much as $5 million and is planning to go online to crowdfunding website Indiegogo to ask for the kindness of strangers to give her the seed money.

Soon, she plans to launch a crowdfunding campaign -- a means of fundraising that has been gaining popularity by way of soliciting donations online. Croan estimates that if everyone in the greater metropolitan area would donate $5, she would have enough to buy the land.

"It's not for me and my family, it's for the people of the St. Louis metropolitan area," she said. "This whole area can benefit in a whole lot of ways."

Croan's dream may require more money than a crowdfunding campaign can generate, but many smaller private and public enterprises and projects have successfully raised money through crowdfunding websites. They have helped those with ideas, such as inventors, entrepreneurs, artists and writers like author Walter Isaacson, who is soliciting public feedback through crowdfunding as he writes his book about the origins of the modern digital era.

According to Massolution, which researches and advises those performing crowdfunding campaigns, such efforts have raised $2.7 billion and funded more than 1 million projects in 2012. The firm projects that last year crowdfunding will have provided $5.1 billion -- an 81 percent increased over the year before.

Crowdsourcing already has a couple of success stories in the metro-east. In Edwardsville, LuAnn Locke was able to save an her independent bookstore from closing after public online donations helped her afford to make building code improvements.

After buying AfterWords Books about three years ago, she relocated the business to a house at 232 S. Buchanan St. in town that is zoned for both commercial and residential so she could live upstairs and operate the bookstore on the first floor. However, she needed to raise money to meet the city's building code and make her building ADA compliant by adding a ramp to the store entrance and paving the parking lot.

She started her campaign last spring over a crowdfunding website called RocketHub. By the end of last May, she as able to raise $3,500.

"It was not a lot of money, but for us is being a small business and not anticipating those expenses at the get go, that was a large sum," Locke said.

She said she solicited funds by creating an reward program that rewarded contributors with gifts and discounts for those who made "an investment" in her store.

"We asked people to make a contribution, not so much of a donation," she said. "I think as long as people understand that you're not a charity, it's more contributing to something you can care about."

Before Locke launched her campaign, another was created to save another Edwardsville business. At the time, Shawnta Ray had all but given up on keeping her toy store open after her lender had lost confidence in the business and called in its loan.

But when her customers learned that Once Upon A Toy at 2460 Troy Road was on the verge of going out of business, the public intervened and forged a grassroots online fundraising campaign through another crowdfunding website, CrowdTilt. On March 10, $82,000 had been raised and the toy store was saved.

"We didn't do it, it was done on our behalf," Ray said. "We were ready to close and our customers rallied around us in a way that I could barely even fathom, even now."

Today, her store is known as Happy Up Inc. and has relocated to 6654 Edwardsville Crossing Drive in Edwardsville. She has another store across the river in Clayton, Mo.

Croan's vision for Cavaliyre Farms focus is to raise funds and develop resources, both in-kind and monetary, that directly and positively affect the region. Once she can secure funding to buy the land, she said she plans to tap into grants to develop a farm, cabins and lake reservoir.

She realizes that she will be asking for an extraordinary amount of money from a crowdfunding campaign, but strongly believes in the cause and giving it a try.

"It's a big dream, and I know it sounds huge," she said. "But we can do this."

Contact reporter Will Buss at wbuss@bnd.com or 239-2526.

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