The Neighbor.ly team poses with the nonprofit winner of the Points of Light Civic Accelerator, Jubilee Project.
When I talked with Neighbor.ly co-founders Jase Wilson and Sean Connolly Thursday, they were rejuvenated and relieved following their time in the Points of Light Civic Accelerator. Oddly, very little of the conversation focused on the $50,000 investment they had just won for being selected by their peers as the Accelerator’s top for-profit startup. Which comes after the Knight Foundation in June awarded them a $175,000 grant to expand operations. Rather, there were a number of takeaways that had them excited about their crowdfunding startup’s future and evolution.
“We’re hellbent on helping greenlight tens of thousands of projects by raising millions of dollars,” Wilson said. “Points of Light really helped accelerate that process.”
From May to August—a 12-week period with sessions in Atlanta, Washington D.C. and San Francisco—the Neighbor.ly team learned how to take their product from its current focus on individuals to one built with corporations and foundations in mind as part of the corporate social responsibility realm.
In the new iteration, Neighbor.ly will become “a matchmaker between underfunded civic projects and people, companies and foundations,” Wilson said. The product will aggregate funding sources in the private, corporate and institutional settings: crowdfunding, structured matching, events to raise awareness, a marketplace for tax credits, consultancy for community projects, naming rights and more. Civic projects needing a funding match from private citizens can ask for individuals to donate, then find corporations wanting to help based on matching a specific amount, all within Neighbor.ly’s system. In addition, the new setup will provide marketing opportunities for corporations that give to civic projects.
Wilson said their peers at the Accelerator helped them realize it’s not just about individuals, but bringing together an entire community. Advisers and sponsors of the Accelerator encouraged them to go after their new CSR approach: Cliff Burrows, group president at Starbucks, and Joe Sibilia, CEO of CSR Newswire, validated their idea and gave advice on where to go next. They also have started working on several projects with a few of the companies, including SnapSense and Village Defense.
As for the $50,000? It will be a revenue-sharing model with Village Capital and Impact Assets as opposed to the typical equity model, and as Wilson described, is “about as sweet a deal as you can get.” But, he said, “More important than their money is mentorship and access to their networks.”
Before the Knight Foundation grant and winning the Accelerator investment, Neighbor.ly had a hard time raising money in Kansas City outside of founders and close friends. Through the Points of Light experience they gained access to the world of impact investors.
“Trying to raise money as a social enterprise in KC, investors don’t seem to be used to the concept of doing well by doing good, of blending profit and philanthropy” Wilson said. “We thought about stopping fundraising when we were told repeatedly the mix couldn’t work. But in Points of Light we got in front of social impact investors who would rather take a 5x ROI that does genuine good in the world over 10x ROI for business as usual. We learned that the impact investment mindset in KC is nascent and still evolving. We think KC eventually will be an epicenter for social enterprise.”
Next is a series of updates to improve the back end of the site, along with an upcoming tool kit that will allow projects to be managed by the communities and leaders themselves—as of now, Neighbor.ly holds that role—which should provide instant scaling and growth for Neighbor.ly, Wilson said.
Credits: Photo courtesy Neighbor.ly.