Faces in the crowd: WNC crowdfunding initiatives

A LITTLE HELP FOR MY FRIENDS: Since moving to Malawi, Africa, Maddy McAllister has launched about a dozen social initiatives that rely on the local people to manage each program. She hopes to build a community center to house at least two of them, with ground breaking planned for this September.
A LITTLE HELP FOR MY FRIENDS: Since moving to Malawi, Africa, Maddy McAllister has launched about a dozen social initiatives that rely on the local people to manage each program. She hopes to build a community center to house at least two of them, with ground breaking planned for this September. Image from McAllister's campaign page

Crowdfunding platforms make it possible for individuals and organizations of any size to harness social networks and raise start-up capital for projects that might otherwise fail due to lack of funding. Each week, Xpress highlights notable Western North Carolina crowdsourcing initiatives that may inspire readers to become new faces in the crowd.

Sustainable development in Malawi

For the past four years, UNC Asheville alumnus Maddy McAllister has lived in and out of a small village in Malawi, Africa. There, she says, positivity counterbalances the poverty, health problems and other issues. “When you walk down the main dirt road through Manchewe, you do not see despair or sorrow. Instead, you hear booming laughter and see glowing faces with smiles that reach ear-to-ear.”

Accordingly, McAllister has taken on a supporting role with respect to the community’s development, providing infrastructure and monetary support for initiatives that locals can sustain on their own. In all, she’s helped launch about a dozen social programs such as a women’s textiles group, football club, coffee cooperative and hydroelectricity project in addition to the eco-lodge she co-founded nearby. But two of the most popular programs — a nursery school and adult literacy program — are in need of further of investment.

The former, which provides more than 25 infants with nutritional meals and supervision as their mothers work outdoors, currently is based in a leaky mud hut. Similarly, the adult literacy classes have drawn more than 100 women aged 16 to 82, and attendance continues to rise, though meetings are held outside if the local primary school is not available. The community of Manchewe has donated two acres of land for a community center that could house these programs, in addition to employing local workers during the build. McAllister aims to raise $9,000 to construct its three classrooms and outdoor kitchen and to purchase desks, chairs, chalkboards and other furnishings.

Image from McAllister's campaign page
Image from McAllister’s campaign page

Asheville Movies website

More than a decade ago, local movie critic and arts writer Edwin Arnaudin began compiling his film-related musings on a blog, and he’s since written for several publications, including Mountain Xpress, Asheville Citizen-Times and Ashvegas. But with Asheville’s multitude of theaters — the Fine Arts Theatre, Grail Moviehouse, Biltmore Grande, Carolina Cinemark, AMC Classic and Asheville Pizza and Brewing among them — providing him with an abundance of material, he’s also opted to launch a new website: ashevillemovies.com. “I’m fortunate to live in a city with an exciting mix of mega-plexes, art houses and second run theaters, as well as a dedicated set of moviegoers to keep that industry thriving,” he reflects. “In order to serve this population, I’ve started my own movie review website, and I’m turning to Patreon to sustain this new endeavor.” Through Patreon, Arnaudin is collecting recurring monthly donations from supporters with an initial goal of $300 per month to cover overhead expenses like movie tickets and website maintenance. Exceeding that goal would enable him to add richer content like audio supplements and reviews of film festivals beyond Asheville.

The Resonant Rogues’ crowdfunding recap

Last November, The Resonant Rogues successfully crowdfunded an album for the second time, surpassing the band’s $10,000 goal by a few hundred dollars. Though the artists learned a few things the first time around — “Make sure to account for cost of rewards and shipping when budgeting,” front woman Sparrow advises — the process still presented challenges.

“We ran into some confusion and judgement around running a Kickstarter, where some folks had it associated with other crowdfunding [websites] like Youcaring or GoFundMe … and didn’t understand why a band would be asking, or expecting, what they saw as charity,” Sparrow says. “It was definitely frustrating for us to have to keep explaining the concept of startup capital and how difficult that is to come by for independent and DIY artists. We believe that crowdfunding is an extremely important and valid way for small businesses to make things happen, but we really had to question our preconceived notions and figure out answers to some hard questions that came up during this process.”

Fortunately, after “promoting the heck out of it” through handbills, videos, memes, online updates and phone calls — which Sparrow says became stressful, time-consuming and slightly embarrassing at times — the campaign enabled the musicians to record Hands in the Dirt at Echo Mountain Recording and have it mixed, mastered and pressed (2,000 copies) in addition to securing backer rewards like t-shirts, stickers, buttons and zines. Now the band just has to cover publicity.

Sparrow says she’s not sure if the Rogues would pursue a traditional record deal for future projects. There are advantages crowdfunding doesn’t provide, she reasons, but the decision would depend on the specific deal points. “We certainly aren’t going to wait around for it,” she adds. “We are going to continue moving forward with doing things ourselves, which has been working relatively well for us so far. … We may go for a different kind of campaign next time, though, and just stick with pre-orders on PledgeMusic — or something like that.”

Photo of Keith J. Smith, right, and Sparrow Pants of The Resonant Rogues by Michelle Nicolette Kowalski
Photo of Keith J. Smith, right, and Sparrow Pants of The Resonant Rogues by Michelle Nicolette Kowalski

Send your crowdsourcing campaign news to kmcreynolds@mountainx.com. A limited number of campaigns will be highlighted each week, at Xpress’ discretion. Campaigns must be locally based and should represent a current project with an achievable goal. Conditions are subject to change. Read about more Western North Carolina projects here.

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About Kat McReynolds
Kat studied entrepreneurship and music business at the University of Miami and earned her MBA at Appalachian State University. Follow me @katmAVL

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