The San Mateo County Parks Foundation is launching a pilot crowd funding program to raise cash to chip away at $115 million of unfunded capital improvements.
The Foundation — a nonprofit organization that works closely with the County's Department of Parks — has launched three campaigns as part of the pilot that will address much-needed improvements, interim county Parks Director Jim Nantell said.
In conjunction with the Parks Department, the Foundation selected three projects that Executive Director Julia Bott hopes will resonate with the public — the popular bicycle Sundays on Cañada Road, restoring the endangered thorn mint in Edgewood Park, and replacing the fire rings at Memorial Park.
"I get letters about the fire rings at Memorial Park all the time," Nantell said, "People say 'they're disgusting' and wonder if there's anything they can do to help — even offering cash."
The campaign looks to attract $43,740. The goal for the program is to augment — not replace — much larger capital improvement projects, which in some cases cost million of dollars, Nantell said.
The Foundation is looking to crowd funding because it aims to reach and engage a new generation of donors, Bott said.
"We need to adapt and evolve," she said.
The Foundation already has a strong program of raising money through traditional methods like solicitation letters.
The Foundation was formed 15 years ago to raise money and support parks programs that are chronically underfunded.
"Unlike other counties in the Bay Area, San Mateo doesn't have a dedicated source of funds for the parks," Nantell said, "We currently rely on about 1 percent of the general fund for the budget."
In 2012, county voters approved Measure A — a 10-year, half-cent sales tax increase. Only about $3.5 million of the Measure A funds will be channeled to the Parks Department for the $115 million of necessary capital improvement projects, Nantell said.
That $3.5 million doesn't cover some of the department's urgent needs, such as wildfire-prevention programs.
"We received $160,000 in county and state funding to bring in crews to reduce forest fire risk," Nantell said. "That money only covered 100 acres, and we have 17,000 acres of parks and open space."
The Parks Foundation selected Citizinvestor — a crowd funding service that specializes in civic engagement — to host the campaigns because the company has a proven track record of civic engagement, and focuses on donations versus investments, Bott said.
Also, Bott said that Citizinvestor will help the Foundation reach more donors outside the county. Of the approximately 3,800 individual donors the Foundation works with, 13 percent are located outside of the county, with the vast majority of those located in Santa Clara County.
In the future, Nantell hopes to work with the Foundation to crowd fund annual anniversary projects for each park, as well as create east-west linkages between trails in currently unconnected parks.