The UU crowdfunding platform Faithify achieved a significant milestone the week of September 25: it has generated more than $1 million to fund projects that reflect Unitarian Universalist values.
In fact, by the end of the week, the total had reached $1,004,556 in pledges that have (or will have) funded 259 projects since the site’s launch during the June 2014 UUA General Assembly.
Faithify is a way for UUs to go online to browse fundraising campaigns underway and make decisions about which ones they would like to support.
“They can fund things around the world that they might not hear about otherwise,” said Faithify Project Manager Halcyon Westall.
For instance, last year UUs and friends quickly donated more than $20,000 to support the sixty-three-member Bismarck-Mandan UU Congregation in Bismarck, North Dakota, as it became a rallying point for the nearby water action on the Standing Rock Reservation. “That was a right-place-at-the-right-time moment for us,” said Hilary Allen, a staff member with the UUA’s New England Region and one of the founders of the site more than four years ago. “UUs wanted to find a way to support the water protectors. Faithify was a way to directly support a UU congregation in that effort.”
Faithify also recently helped the Monte Vista UU Church in the San Gabriel Valley, east of Los Angeles, raise more than $10,000 to fund a program to resettle Syrian refugees that it collaborates on with three other faith communities in its area.
The platform also helped Free Church Unitarian in Blaine, Washington, raise $720 to initiate the fifty-member congregation’s first Our Whole Lives program. And two ministerial candidates recently were successful in their efforts to raise $1,000 each to get to their Ministerial Fellowship Committee appointments. “This kind of thing matters for a denomination that really values democracy,” Allen said. “Having a democratic distribution of resources is a natural synergy.”
Faithify was the brainchild of Allen and the Rev. Sue Phillips, who was the regional lead in New England. “We were in that sweet spot where technology and websites had evolved enough,” Allen said. “We were well positioned in the UU landscape to pull it off and, given the way UUs are connected to each other, we knew there was a lot of power in the one-UU-to-the-other relationship.”
Over the last three years, Faithify has gone through constant refinements. “Far and away, the technology side is the biggest challenge,” Allen said. “Having an easy, clean website that works is very much easier said than done. We have learned that 100 times over.” Now, others come to Allen and Westall to learn about best practices for what remains the only denominational crowdfunding platform in the United States.
Faithify is successful, with 79 percent of campaigns either achieving or surpassing their funding goals. That compares to 31 percent for the better-known, commercially oriented Kickstarter. The average Faithify campaign pledge is $97.84.
Crowdfunding has come to prominence in recent years and is particularly effective when needs must be met in the short term, like the project to help the Bismarck-Mandan UUs. But that’s not the only way it can be helpful to UU congregations or individuals. “It’s entirely normal in the course of a year for something to come up with a congregation that wasn’t budgeted,” Allen said. “We know that, given the constraints on many of our congregations, a lot of those conversations end in the answer, ‘No.’” With Faithify, she says, “usually you enter more into the ‘Yes’ territory.”
Faithify has introduced resources to help congregations raise funds for disaster relief (faithify.org/relief). Approved disaster relief campaigns “don’t have the all-or-nothing limitations,” Westall said, nor will they be charged a processing fee. “It’s a way for folks to get disaster relief easily.” She is also working with developers to create what will be the fourth generation of faithify.org.