Nonprofits, including schools and churches, have special challenges when it comes to purchasing their own clean energy systems, like solar panels. Most notably, nonprofits are not eligible for large tax credits that private individuals and for-profit ventures can access. That disincentive means nonprofits have to pay more for their systems and the payback period is longer.
But nonprofits wanting clean energy hold one big advantage too: they have people who share their mission and who are accustomed to donating. Schools, churches and many nonprofits have hundreds or even thousands of supporters to draw upon to fund a clean energy system.
Groundwork’s SolaRISE crowdfunding program was developed precisely to help nonprofits tap into their fanbase and raise funds to purchase clean energy systems. We sat down with Ric Evans, Groundwork’s Clean Energy Policy Specialist, to have him explain how SolaRISE works.
Where did the idea for SolaRISE come from?
I was in the clean energy industry for several years, and I had been brewing on the idea of helping nonprofits afford things like solar arrays. The thing about nonprofits is clean energy is not their mission, not their expertise, so they tend to need assistance with the project planning and the financing. But also, if a nonprofit can free itself up from electrical bills, that capital can be reallocated to more mission-critical work, so in that way a clean energy system does support the nonprofit’s mission. So I had been thinking of this for a while and then in talking with Hans Voss, Groundwork’s executive director, it turned out he had been thinking of something similar. So we put our ideas together to make the SolaRISE crowdfunding platform.
Can you give us a quick flyover of what crowdfunding is?
Sure, it’s a type of web-based fundraising that became popular after Kickstarter began in 2009. Basically it allows an organization or business to describe their fundraising mission online and enables people to donate or buy into it online with a secure financial transaction.
So how does SolaRISE work?
Say a nonprofit is interested in exploring clean energy options. We would work with them to assess those options and figure what is best for them, which options align with their objectives. Once we determine the appropriate path, we would establish a fundraising goal. We can also connect clients with contractors in the area. Then we would work with them to create a pitch-video and help write the language that would appear on their SolaRISE crowdfunding page. In addition we would strategize with the nonprofit to get publicity for the SolaRISE launch and discuss strategies for fundraising efforts that would be happening in the background during the campaign. We’re even involved right down to planning the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
DID YOU MISS Dr. Jonathan Overpeck's video interview with Groundwork's Hans Voss? Overpeck was on a Nobel Prize–winning climate research team and keynoted the recent Michigan Climate Action Summit, in Grand Rapids.
That sounds like a lot more support than what you’d get at a generic crowdfunding site.
Definitely. That’s what sets SolaRISE apart from, say, Kickstarter or GoFundMe. SolaRISE brings with it a ton of technical and marketing support to increase the odds of a successful campaign.
Can you give us a real world example of a client?
We just launched SolaRISE in December 2018, but yes, we have already had a client—Glen Lake Schools—that completed a successful campaign. The school’s student Envirothon team wanted to have a solar array installed to offset the school’s electricity a bit, but even more so, to support science education and future job training. As an aside, one of the unsung aspects of clean energy is it is one of the few technology sectors that has rural job growth as part of the equation. So the school had raised about $20,000 toward the $30,000 price, and it turned to Groundwork's SolaRISE to take it over the finish line, to raise the final $10,000.
How long was the campaign?
The school launched it during a basketball game halftime on December 19 and they set the deadline for January 10. We recommend a short campaign period because history in crowdfunding shows that to be more effective.
So this was at a school and two-thirds of the campaign was over winter break and it still worked?
That’s right. They had other deadlines related to some solar panel grants that drove that timeframe, but yes, believe it or not, they still hit their deadline. There is strong community support for clean energy and science education, so that all helped make it a success.
How would a school, church or other nonprofit sign up to be on SolaRISE?