5.34 Community Bonds

I learned that money can be a lot of things. It can be something that is hoarded, fought over, protected, stolen and withheld. Or it can be like an energy, fueled by the desire, will, creative interest, need to laugh, of large groups of people. And it can be shuffled and pushed around and pooled together to fuel a common interest. — Louis CK

Demonstrating the power of the community through the Community Bond offering and the democratization of finance through citizen-ownership is kind of awesome. I love telling people that 60 citizen investors co-own CSI Annex. This time, we will have up to 600 citizen investors co-owning 192 Spadina - creating a virtuous cycle of good money creating good money.

— Tonya Surman, Co-founder and CEO of The Centre for Social Innovation

Last summer, together with Iguana Books, I decided to go the crowdfunding route for the publication of my first novel. Honestly, I was skeptical of this approach, but alternative options were limited. Not limited in regards to funds or connections or eventually publishing the book through more traditional means, limited in the mindset of how to publish and distribute an artistic project, whether it be music, a book or a film. Limited, that is, until I was able to wrap my brain around this whole crowdfunding thing.

Once the campaign was underway and eventually became successful, this prompted me to regard crowdfunding not only as a legitimate form of raising funds to produce a project, but made me think even further about the concept of money. Really, money is a concept and we attach value to it. Listen, I’m no economist and no expert, but from how I understand it (in a very basic way), the economy is really structured dependent on a combination of politics and people making these decisions on its value. Don’t jump down my throat here, I’ve admitted this is a rudimentary understanding and my intention is not to explain the economy.

What’s happened since this crowdfunding campaign is more of an openness to these kinds of opportunities. Someone invested in my project, so when things came around and they had a project, I jumped onboard immediately. The difference is that my participation in these other projects doesn’t come out of a feeling of obligation: Well, they invested in my project, so I should do the same. Money can be fluid, as Louis CK puts it, “shuffled and pushed around,” we can decide the value of an individual dollar and in this way, it becomes something more, the value becomes the project itself that is measured on a different kind of quality and moves beyond monetary calculations.

Quality is what I think makes the difference with something like crowdfunding. Many people are considering crowdfunding as an alternative, and with the threat of over saturation, there comes the requirement of legitimacy. What I learned through my campaign is that it’s work. The campaign ran for thirty days and this was thirty days in a row I worked on this. Crowdfunding isn’t a handout, you don’t put up your campaign with the hope that people will just give you funding. You have to work for it. For me, it was important that I created something of quality, something that would interest people enough that they wanted to participate in the process.

I learned this through Louis CK. A few years ago, he decided to release a comedy special on his own. He would charge $5 to download it and was transparent with what was built into this cost. This was hugely successful. His critics claimed that he already had a built-in audience. Well, sure, the guy’s been working his ass off for twenty-five years. To me, he offered quality. People knew that they would get their $5 worth and were willing to participate.

When exploring ways to publish my book, I looked at the traditional models, even had some interest from these large companies. But we have an opportunity at this point in time when funding for things is completely changing. There were gatekeepers at every turn and it was not only difficult to get attention from these gatekeepers, but once you did, there was little control you - as the creator - had over the finished product. The challenge and realization for me in regards to raising my budget through crowdfunding is that I now have an obligation to produce the highest quality of work. Obligation is not the right word, more of an opportunity to do things exactly the way I want. And the people who participated in this project trust me. These elements contribute to a healthy sense of satisfaction that once the work gets out there, it is a true reflection of my artistic intentions.

I’ve contributed to projects small and big. After thinking a lot about it, I finally decided to get involved with the Community Bonds being offered by the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI). They are buying a building for a new location and after successfully acquiring their Annex location through Community Bonds, decided to do it again. From the CSI website:

"The Community Bond is a debt based instrument that can only be offered by nonprofits or charities that are issuing a bond (debt) in exchange for a reasonable rate of return for a given period of time. This bond is secured against the value of the asset (in our case, a building). An investor agrees to ‘loan’ the money to the nonprofit and the nonprofit issues a promise to pay via a bond and trust agreement. Regular interest payments are then paid to the bondholder. The Community Bond is available to be purchased by everyone, including unaccredited investors. This means that a Community Bond is a concrete solution for citizens to invest in their own communities, deriving revenue from a truly local and ethical investment."

To me, this is another way to shuffle that money around. To give it a different value, and again, as Louis CK said, “pooled together to fuel a common interest.” For people to collectively make decisions about what their money means, and put it towards something that is important to them and the community.

This investment of a Community Bond solidifies for me my personal connection to CSI. Over a year ago, I became a member. Professionally, I’ve found people to work with that have a common sensibility. I found the publishing company that has been instrumental in helping me put out my book in exactly the way I want to. Personally, I’ve met people here that have grown to be close friends. In short, for me, CSI has become essential to my professional growth, but also in connecting with people to work on a level I hadn’t imagined was out there. It’s created possibilities.

So, when the opportunity came, I decided to enact these thoughts I’ve been having, this idea that money is a concept that can be pushed around and we can determine its value and we can use it to help grow something that is a positive addition to our community.

For more information on the Community Bonds being offered by the Centre for Social Innovation, visit the website: http://socialinnovation.ca/communitybond.

To hear Tonya explain Community Bonds, listen to my Kwong/Dore Podcast HERE.

To hear Louis CK tell jokes and write about things like money, go HERE.