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Home arrow Opinion arrow MY VOICE arrow MY VOICE: Crowdfunding can bolster community

MY VOICE: Crowdfunding can bolster community

As executive director of the Northeast Oregon Economic Development District, 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 $10 in the jar on the counter of your favorite coffee shop to help a local farmer rebuild their barn that burnt 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 fundraising 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.

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. 

They want to restore this important gathering place for residents of the Wallowa Valley, a place that is especially important after the loss of the Lostine Grange Hall to a recent fire. 

The Lostine Tavern restoration project will also benefit Wallowa County’s food industry, with a plan to source ingredients from local growers as much as possible. Curry and Ferré 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. 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 (lostine-tavern.com), and to think of how crowdfunding might help your business. 

Lisa Dawson is the executive director of the Northeast Oregon Economic Development District. 

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