Detroit4Detroit: Citizen Philanthropy for a Digital World

2/6/12Follow @XconomyDET

Citizen Effect, the Washington, D.C.-based microphilanthropy organization that is perhaps best known for its work in India, has just launched a new initiative called Detroit4Detroit, which aims to fund 150 community-improvement projects using a strategy that’s heavy on social networking and other digital tools.

“Detroit4Detroit is based around the idea that anyone can be a philanthropist,” says Eric Moss, Detroit4Detroit’s project manager. “It’s about actualizing our power and actualizing our social networks.”

Citizen Effect organizers work with its partners—ACCESS, Brightmoor Alliance, COTS, Detroit Area Pre-College Engineering Program (DAPCEP), SER Metro Detroit, Wellspring, and Vanguard—to curate a list of viable projects, with each submitting five to ten projects for consideration. Once a project has been vetted, it’s posted to the Detroit4Detroit website for a citizen philanthropist, or CP, to adopt. Once a project has been claimed, Citizen Effect gives the CPs a digital toolkit that enables them to promote the project on sites like Facebook and Twitter, reach out to potential supporters through fundraising emails, and have an online platform to post blogs, videos, and photos related to the project.

The goal of Detroit4Detroit is to have 150 people raising $250,000 across 150 projects, though Moss says this initial target is a starting point for what he hopes will be “limitless” community philanthropy.

“I’m blown away by the enthusiasm and how many people want to sign up,” says Matt Bailey, who manages the tech and data side of Detroit4Detroit’s operations. Though the initiative just held its formal launch last month, 15 people have already signed on to be CPs and are in the process of being matched with the project that best suits their talents, interests, and networks. (One project has officially started fundraising.)

The Detroit4Detroit model was developed with the help of the Knight Foundation, and represents the first time Citizen Effect has launched a microphilanthropy initiative of this kind in an American city.

“This is a special moment in Detroit,” Moss says, noting that the city is alive with grassroots energy. “We want to fit into the revitalization and renewal efforts in a way where we engage each other about the idea of philanthropy. We all can make a difference, especially if we’re provided with the tools that level the playing field.”

Moss is himself representative of the kind of change that is rapidly taking root in the city, where people who grew up in greater Detroit but left to attend college or seek work are returning to the area with a sense of purpose. Moss grew up in suburban Detroit, went to college in D.C., and lived in New York and Los Angeles before making his way back home.

“I moved back two years ago and I came back willingly,” Moss says. “What brought me back was the soul of the city, which was missing in the other places I lived. There’s an electric energy going on here that none of us can deny. It’s a great opportunity to experience this very positive transition of order out of chaos.”

Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET

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