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How you can Fund Ethical Projects with Peoplefund.it

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Recently I was able to talk with Emily Oliver, Content Producer at KEO Digital - the production company behind Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage - about their newest project Peoplefund.it.

Like an ethical Kickstarter, Peoplefund.it allows you to support projects that aim to do something good for the world. But unlike the other crowd funding sites out there, Peoplefund.it lets users donate skills and time as well as money.

With the site launching this week we talked about how the project came about, what their future plans involve, and how the skill donation is going to work exactly.

How did KEO, a television production company, find itself making this platform?
Emily Oliver: KEO sort of stumbled into crowd sourcing with Chicken Out, we got this great number of supporters and then asked people to help out paying for the tabling of a Special Resolution at the Tesco AGM, and the community raised over £88,000 in 24 hours. After the success of Chicken Out KEO digital was spawned within KEO.

Since then we've done Landshare which has 65,000 people in the UK, who are either people who have put up land that they're wanting to share or are people who want to grow and it connects those people. We've recently launched in in Canada and Australia, and we're about to partner with Shared Earth in the US as well.

And so how did this lead you starting Peoplefund.it?
Really, this came about from our most recent project energyshare which is a renewable energy tariff and online community that we've launched in partnership with River Cottage and British Gas. As we were doing that we began to look at the renewable energy sector and particularly peoples behaviour around it. It requires people to engage in a community basis around it to make it work.

We began to talk to people who believe they have solutions in this area, and at the same time we were getting feedback from our community - which is 1.2 million people across each of our projects - all of whom were frequently saying they wanted to get more involved with projects, they wanted to help solutions happen.

As we talked to some organisations who are really well informed about this like Forum for the Future and NESTA is the solution tends to come from unusual places and they tend to come from people collaborating, something that the internet facilitates really well. So based off that original idea we've looked at various other crowd sourcing ideas, we aren't really doing anything that's that crazy or different, what we are doing is providing a platform our community is asking for.

This project is being funded by a grant from NESTA, and one of the things they were really keen to look at is how we can remove some of the barriers to people collaborating to help make the world a little bit better. How can they use their spare cash, time, and skills in order to work together?

So, what's the process of donating your time?
The model that we're using at the moment, and, this is a research pilot for us so we're going to be very reactive to it, is that you need to financially support a project, and that can be from the lowest level of reward, that could be just £1, and then you'll get a message that will tell you if that project is also looking for time and skills. If they are it's really simple and straight forward, they will have them listed - the amount of time and skills they're looking for - and you just select [those you can do] and it operates as a really simple information exchange. [The user's] email address and information of whatever they've requested is passed on to the project owner [who can then get in touch with them].

The reason we've done that is not to try and get money out of people. We were initially thinking about allowing people to just crowd source their skills, time, and money, but the projects said "We really want the focus to be around funding because there are lots of ways we can get time and skills, and that's a really helpful benefit, but we want to focus the messaging on the funding."

Also, we think that once someone is financially invested in a project they're more likely to want to engage further with their time and skills, they've made that commitment so they're more likely to follow through with the time and skills that they've pledged.

What sort of targets are the projects going to be setting themselves?

On Kickstarter the average raised is about £5,000, but the target varies from £500 up to £30,000. Because we're focussing on projects that require higher capital requirements, like renewable energy, we suspect people will be going for larger targets. One of the reasons we're launching the site is because there's a recognised funding gap in the market between £0 - 200,000. For the launch projects we're really only looking for a maximum target of £50,000.

How open is the project, is it easy for people to get their project on the site?
We all know it's frustrating when you submit something and you don't know if it's going to be approved. So we've got various checks and balances that remove that necessity. The key distinction [between us and Kickstarter] is that you have to upload a video in order to post your project. That was just based on our research that showed a project is so much more likely to get funded if it had a video, and that we wanted to try and ensure there was some commitment so there was a sort of quality control in place.

But it's also an open project in another sense.
The source code will be available as one of the conditions of the grant from NESTA, it builds on our general approach which is collaborating with people whenever we can where possible. So it will be integrated with each of our other projects and we're keen to make it available for other projects as well.

If someone wanted to they could rip off most of our site and replicate it elsewhere which is why we're very clear on saying two things. Firstly, we're launching this to our community, because they're people who want it, and secondly, this is what we're launching initially but we're looking at quite a lot of other ways to invite crowd sourcing.

We're developing a learning community online. All of the projects will be archived so people can look back on what's been successful and what hasn't. We'll be uploading resources and we'll have a Q&A forum where people can talk to other project owners and backers because they're your audience and who you want to talk to.

There's a heck of a lot going on at the moment, the issue is that no one is really focussing on things that need to be solved.

Peoplefund.it launches this week and if you're interested in learning more as well as see the projects you can support then visit their site here.