Permaculture Magazine: Why did you start WeTheTrees.com?
Christian Shearer: Following the permaculture principle of multiple functions, a crowdfunding platform for the permaculture community seemed perfect.
I am also a permaculture design course (PDC) teacher and I wanted to create better access to PDC courses for people who don't have funding. WeTheTrees already has a number of educational institutions encouraging their students to fundraise for their courses through our platform.
PM: Why do you think crowdfunding is particularly appropriate for the permaculture community?
CS: The permaculture community as a whole has so many amazing ideas! We are not lacking the drive and effort to carry them out, more often, it is a lack of funding that prevents people from realising their dreams.
WeTheTrees connects builders, dreamers and designers to the resources they need, to help make their projects a reality. Those resources are out there, and people usually feel joyful giving to a campaign that is well thought out and inspiring.
PM: What benefits does crowdfunding bring to a permaculture project?
CS: Crowdfunding can help a person determine whether there is demand for their product, before putting in lots of money and time. Take, for example, a young couple thinking of starting a small, urban, berry farm. They could crowdfund their project, offering berries as a rewards for contributions. In essence, they are pre-selling their product to fund the start of their berry farm.
If this couple finds that very few people in their local area are interested in helping their campaign, no money is taken out of contributors' accounts, and the couple has no obligation to carry out the original plan.
PM: Under the terms of WeTheTrees, what do you consider to be a permaculture project?
CS: WeTheTrees is available to any project with an environmental, educational, or social focus. It does not have to be a permaculture project, but we do require all campaigns to embody permaculture ethics.
Our team consists of permaculturists, which explains our focus on these types of project. However, we hope to spread the site to other related areas as well – conservation, aid work, social action and local economies.
PM: What would you recommend giving as rewards?
CS: There are two kinds of campaigns. The first is one that is aiming to produce something that may be useful to potential contributors – such as Charlie Jones' Permaculture Ukulele Musical Project.
These kinds of campaigns are aiming to raise funds from the actual consumers of their products, and I would highly recommend that they give that product as a reward, at or below the retail value. It is these types of campaigns that sometimes achieve hundreds of contributions, and potentially go way over their stated goal!
The second kind of campaign is one that provides or benefits the community, or the person posting the campaign, such as raising money for tuition. The primary motivation for people giving to these campaigns is not to for a reward, but to help make the campaign successful. For these, it makes more sense to give something of symbolic value, as a way of thanking a person for their contribution.
PM: What is your vision for We The Trees?
CS: We would love for every designer to understand how easy and functional it can be to use this platform – and how it can be used strategically to help meet their holistic goals.
There is still a somewhat pervasive idea out there that asking for money is obtrusive or degrading. We hope that things can change, to the point where everyone feels comfortable and confident putting their needs out there in a positive way (with no expectations), and that those who are invited to contribute are also able to feel comfortable saying no when it isn't right for them.
PM: How can PM readers help to make WeTheTrees a success?
CS: We are a grassroots organisation with a $0 advertising budget, so we would benefit by having people share our site with friends and contacts. Post something about us on Facebook, or mention us at a course you are taking.
This site is helping to make people's visions a reality so it may be that someone you mention it to ends up being able to make great use out of it.
PM: What advice would you give to a permaculturist thinking of crowdfunding their project?
CS: I want to make sure that no-one has the misconception that they can just put up a campaign on WeTheTrees and sit back and watch as the money rolls in. For the most part, it is up to you to make your page successful.
This starts with an inspiring video and a well-written description, with photos and specifics of what you are doing and why. And perhaps most importantly of all, is your promotion. The more energy and spirit you bring to your promotion, the more likely you are to meet your goal and bring your ideas to reality!
Christian Shearer is a PRI-certified PDC teacher, founder of WeTheTrees.com and the Panya Project in Northern Thailand. He also helped found Terra-Genesis International, an international permaculture design consultancy, and has taught permaculture around the world
'Funding your Permaculture Project – how to find empowerment in an alternative finance model, Crowdfunding' by Georgina-Kate Adams is featured in the winter issue of Permaculture magazine issue 74 (available later October).