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How We Didn’t Raise Any Money Over The Summer...And What We Do Next

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Some shoelaces. Which in US English are known as shoestrings. Which is the way we budget. We run on a shoestring…that spells out love. This is a confusing image-as-metaphor. But it was CC0.

We’re back! Inboxes have been dusted off, the calendar marked up and Github is whirring (?) back to life.

But, the bad summer news is that we failed to gain any new income in three applications we made.

In this blog, we sketch out what we applied for, and where else we might be able to raise cash. We’ve got a new idea specifically about crowdfunding from organisations and we’d love your thoughts!

Grant-funding

We thought that Nominet Trust’s Social Tech Seed might be our best shot, but alas, we fell out at the second round because they didn’t see finding polling stations as ‘a big enough issue’ and ‘compared with other applications the social value is not as strong’. The timing of the application had meant that we’d written the application before we received 130,000 visitors trying to find their polling station on EU referendum day, which might have helped make our case. You can see a late draft of the application here.

We also applied to the EU-backed Open Data Incubator ODINE, where we’d previously got through to interview stage, but went out earlier this time. On both occasions the ODINE reviews have provided helpful and detailed feedback. In this case they didn’t love the UK-only focus, the small potential revenue stream and the lack of a backup business model. They did say, however, that ‘the team’s technical skills are outstanding’ — so kudos to Sym, Tim, Chris, Mark, Andy and all our tech volunteers!

Lastly we also applied for Mass Challenge, which offered office space and the opportunity to pitch for cash later, but we failed for reasons as yet unexplained — but possibly because Joe pitched badly. Whoops. So quite expensive failures in terms of the time put into these things.

This means we’re running off fumes of what we raised last year. (Democracy Club measures years in election cycles… so our years will go roughly June-June.)

We can afford Sym and Joe at bargain rates until May 2017. But the plan was really to try to expand the team. We need a designer, we need to build the community, we need to let more people know about what we do, we could do with more full time developer support, and we need to build partnerships with those who can get data to more people…remember the four-year plan.

But we can’t deliver that plan on a shoestring.

So we’ve got one more application into the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, whose sister organisation, the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust (charitable wing) supported us on polling stations last year. And we’ve had some positive chats with Unbound Philanthropy. Fingers crossed.

Alternative funding models

But we know we should also be looking at alternative funding routes — and have been bouncing around some ideas for a while.

Public subscription

We’ve previously established that the mass-small-monthly-donations route would take years to realise, unless we do some huge list-building, which involves running some petition-y campaigns. Plenty of democracy campaigns already exist, and plenty of petitions already exist — but maybe we could do something better? ParliamentWatch in Germany has had significant success with this route, managing to get several thousand donors giving monthly to ensure sustainability and independence, by building a list through campaigning on transparency.

Government funding

We’ve also previously argued that democracy data is a public good that markets will fail to produce, so it needs to be publicly funded. And you can bet that we will keep making that case to whomever we can. There are some new ministers at the Cabinet Office — hello Ben Gummer and Chris Skidmore! — if anyone can connect us, that would be terrific.

Crowdfunding with a difference

And we’ve a new idea that we’d like feedback on. A crowdfunder with a difference — where the crowd is the organisations that can benefit from open election data. We’re not going directly to the public offering t-shirts and fridge magnets because right now we don’t think we’re interesting enough. Democracy’s a bit meta — and it’s very meta so far before the next big election.

So we envisage a smaller crowd of organisations — councils, campaigners and media partners.

We could ask councils to chip in on an annual basis so we can help them provide a polling station finder that helps citizens in that area to vote, and which saves that council time and money too.

We could ask campaign groups to chip in what they can afford — because they benefit from data on candidates when campaigning, and can help their supporters to turnout on the day through using the polling station data.

We could ask media companies to chip in so that this data exists to build visualisations, provide a new source for exciting data journalism, or just provide useful services to readers.

And we could set a starting target of something like £50,000 — if we can get enough councils, campaign groups and media companies to pitch in, then it’s a go. We can do a lot more work, provide much more social value, and then we can think about topping this up with a public crowdfunder nearer an election.

But we need to know asap whether this is a viable option.

Local government employees, is there budget for this kind of thing somewhere? Can you make such contributions to shared projects where the public or social value might be greater than just your individual organisation?

Similar question to campaigning organisations… Or do you all require an actual contract of work where you get something nobody else does?

This is not something we know much about — so please let us know in the comments below, or email us!

Onwards!