NEWaukee micro-granting event to provide community projects with instant funds

Attendees will vote on the project they want to fund

NEWaukee will launch a new crowdfunded, micro-granting pitch event in March aimed at providing instant funds to  projects that build community in Milwaukee.

Designed as a departure from traditional fundraising events, the program will allow attendees to vote on a community improvement project they want to fund, and those pitching winning ideas will leave with a check in hand, said Jeremy Fojut, chief idea officer of NEWaukee.

“There are so many people who are community entrepreneurs,” Fojut said. “They’re not the people running the high-tech startup. They’re people who are instigators, organizers, the people doing things in their communities and neighborhoods that don’t have resources to actualize them. Or they have ideas but they don’t have the infrastructure to raise money from corporate sponsors. We see this as a way to provide resources quickly.”

The event, called The Big Impact, will be held from 6-9 p.m. on March 21 at the University Club of Milwaukee.

Attendees will pay $25 to attend the event, where the organizers of five, pre-selected projects will have five minutes to pitch their proposals. The audience will then vote for their favorite project and the winning pitch will receive all of the money raised through ticket sales. The project ideas will be in the $1,000 to $10,000 range, and must be able to be completed within a year, Fojut said.

NEWaukee has piloted the program twice to University Club of Milwaukee members, Fojut said.

“It was really, really successful,” he said. “So we wanted to open it up this year to everyone.”

A wide range of project ideas will be accepted, Fojut said. Previous winners from the two pilot events included a training program at The Tandem restaurant on the city’s near north side and a coding camp for youth in the city.

Fojut plans to host the program three to four times a year. Winning project organizers will be invited to return to provide updates on their projects.

This approach to philanthropy is intentionally hands off, Fojut said. And while that comes with risks, he said he sees it as worth it if it means allowing possible projects to take flight that wouldn’t otherwise get funded.

“Can we just put the money in the hands of these creators and let them do their thing?” he said. “There is some risk in there. But I’m ready to take that risk.”

The advantage for audience members is getting to invest directly in a targeted effort to improve the community, with 100 percent of ticket sales going to the project, Fojut said. NEWaukee will underwrite the event costs.

“Everybody in the room is an investor,” Fojut said. “They don’t get an ROI, but they get an ROC, a return on community.”

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