CENTRAL FALLS — It’s a new concept: using social media to reach out to investors to fund private and government projects. Recently, the city of Central Falls decided to try the method, known as “crowdfunding,” to pay for five new steel trash/recycling bins for Jenks Park. To date, the city is about a tenth of the way there, but those involved are voicing optimism about the potential to reach the goal.
Last month, the city posted its first crowdfunding project to Citizinvestor, a crowdfunding platform for local government projects, in an effort to raise $10,400 to install the bins in Jenks Park. Tony DeSisto, a co-founder of Citizinvestor, reported that the Central Falls project has attracted 22 donors for a total of $1,125, with 44 days left to go.
On Saturday, Oct. 26, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., the city will be hosting a cleanup day for Jenks Park. Mayor James Diossa will be attending the event, and Citizinvestor will be handing out free shirts and stickers in an effort to drum up interest in the bin donation project.
Diossa said his intent on the cleanup day is to draw people to Jenks Park, especially those who haven’t been there before and might not realize its history and natural beauty. He said the city is going to produce a video that will be shown on the Citizinvest website that encourages people to be part of the beautification project for the park.
Citizens are being asked to make a tax-deductible donation to this project through the website: citizinvestor.com/project/clean-up-cf-new-bins-in-jenks-park. The way crowdfunding works is that no one’ credit card will be charged until the project reaches 100 percent of its funding goal within a 60-day period. If the $10,400 amount is not met, the crowdfunding project is off.
In a project called “Clean Up CF,” five custom-designed steel bins will be produced by the Steel Yard, a local nonprofit that specializes in the fabrication of functional, place-specific public sculpture. The receptacles will be anchored into a concrete substrate so they will not fall over or spill trash in the park.
Diossa said he was approached about the crowdfunding concept by Tony DeSisto, a native Rhode Islander and co-founder of Citizinvestor. He voiced optimism about the idea of locals rallying around something like Jenks Park, which is heavily utilized and enjoyed by residents of all ages.
The trash bins project will be the first Citizinvestor project in Rhode Island, but Central Falls could opt to do more if this one proves successful. Once Citizinvestor agrees to set up an account for a municipality, there is no limit on the number of projects that city officials could seek to pay for by this means. “This is the first time that something like this has ever been done in the state, so we will see how far it goes,” Diossa said.
DeSisto said that since its launch in September 2012, the online company has been crowdsourcing public projects in 100 cities and towns across the U.S. He said that most have been successful, including $77,000 that was raised to fund the installation and landscaping for a Navy veterans statue in Naperville, Illinois. Other projects that reached their funding goal through social media are a $6,480 tree planting initiative in Evanston, Ill., and a $1,080 bike rack program for Sheldon High School in Eugene, Ore.
Desisto said there are certain municipal projects that citizens are passionate about doing now, as opposed to waiting for the often lengthy process of obtaining municipal bonds or grant money. While crowdfunding has been used successfully to help pay for private projects, such as art, movies, and music productions, Citizinvest provides a similar avenue for municipal entities.
The way Citizinvestor works is that it increases a total project cost by 8 percent, with 3 percent going toward credit card transaction costs and the remaining 5 percent going to the company for its services. However, no one’s credit card donation is processed unless the project reaches its entire goal. In the case of the Jenks Park trash cans, that means meeting $10,400.
Desisto said that through his experience on the city of Tampa, Fla.’s citizen advisory budget committee, he noticed the amount of quality projects that the community supported and the city wanted to complete, but lacked the necessary funding to move forward. He broached the idea to a partner, and Citizinvestor was born.
“We realized the need to create a safe, secure and scalable way for citizens to invest in their community and created Citizinvestor,” he said.
Follow Donna Kirwan on Twitter@KirwanDonna