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No funds for that project? It may be time to ask the crowd

As crowdfunding matures, startups experiment with niche sites focused on sustainability.

Crowdfunding platforms created to raise capital for projects, products or startup companies have proved to be a powerful financing mechanism for those unable to find funds from traditional sources, such as banks or venture capitalists.

Collectively speaking, some of the better-known Internet sites — including Kickstarter, GoFundMe, Indiegogo and JustGiving — have raised more than $12 billion during the past decade, estimated Forrester Research.

Some of the early hype about crowdfunding and crowdsourcing has waned the past two years. But that hasn’t discouraged entrepreneurs from experimenting with the idea of using these platforms as a mechanism for supporting sustainable development and product design, and specific environmental causes. (One mainstream site, ReadyFundGo, even has created a campaign primer for social entrepreneurs.)

"We exist to support like-minded individuals," said Kyle Pribish, co-founder of WorthWild, a fee-free service (and Certified B Corporation) that has assisted with more than 20 campaigns since its soft launch several years ago.

The idea was born after Pribish and her co-founder Cori Snedecor became involved with saving a farm in New England. As the two explored the idea of creating a land trust to acquire the property and establish a nature preserve, they set up a website to attract donors.

One of the ongoing campaigns (what WorldWild calls a "365" initiative) is for a Houston glass recycling company that needs money to help market its services more effectively. Some campaigns are simple, such as the $3,000 one successfully backing the purchase of a pizza box shredder by a Massachusetts composting company.

Several past campaigns involve land conservation initiatives, such as one intended to a restore a hurricane-damaged bird rookery in South Carolina. Although the fundraising effort fell shy of the $10,000 the organizer sought, he raised far more more than anticipated.

"We’re reaching a new demographic," Snedecor said. "It’s reaching people that these organizations have been unable to reach before."

"We’re reaching a new demographic," Snedecor said. "It’s reaching people that these organizations have been unable to reach before."

Right now, WorldWild is mostly a labor of love — both Pribish and Snedecor have "day jobs" — but the duo believes it could scale quickly through alliances with large corporate partners or nonprofit organizations that want to create ongoing campaigns or that are looking for an alternative to mainstream crowdfunding platforms that aren’t focused on the cause of sustainability.

As Pribish puts it: "We know that small contributions from many people can have a significant impact. We bring a passion for the environment that no other crowdfunding website offers. Our goal is to make eco-friendly fundraising accessible to all, anywhere, anytime, in order to help sustain the health of our planet."

Aside from WorthWild, another nascent example of eco-focused crowdfunding is Connect2Effect, a site launched this spring by British charity Influx Trust that is dedicated exclusively to funding startups focused on helping communities or companies meet the United National Sustainable Development Goals. The technology behind the site is from Hubbub, an academy in London focused on digital fundraising.

One project featured on the site in early June was Smart Transit, an African analytics company working on mobile apps for local public transit systems. Another was Niskala, which recently completed a successful campaign to raise funds for a waste management pilot in the island nation of Bali.

Can sites such as WorldWild and Connect2Effect scale to compete with much larger crowdfunding sites with a social bent, such as CrowdRise, founded by actor Edward Norton and film producer Shauna Robertson, or Causes, which bills itself as the world’s largest online campaign platform?

Past startups such as GreenUnite, GreenFunder and Greenvolved have tried their hand at similar models. They’re not around any more but some of their cohorts have prevailed, such as Oneplanetcrowd.

Others, such as Green Crowd, have succeeded by focusing on specific projects — such as financing renewable energy installations. The answer is far from clear, but every little bit counts as federal funding sources dry up.

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