Cincy Sundaes wraps up sweet year of grassroots micro-funding

Cincy Sundaes has wrapped up its second year of providing grassroots micro-funding for innovative projects. The program is organized by Erika Fiola, Strategic Initiatives Manager at Agenda 360, and Kristine Frech, Vice President at Skyward NKY.
They came up with the Cincy Sundaes concept on a City Swap trip to Detroit, where they heard about a program called Soup that hosts monthly dinners to raise funds for creative community projects. But instead of serving soup, Fiola and Frech decided to feature a make-your-own sundae bar.
“For us this is fun,” Fiola says. “We’re lucky enough to have jobs in the community that we love, so this is just the icing on the cake. We love seeing people come together to support good ideas that make our community a better place. Cincy Sundaes is a really family-friendly event, and we like to think we’re helping kids see that giving back can be fun.”
Fiola says that Dojo Gelato was quick to step up and support them by donating gelato for each event. The first Cincy Sundaes event was in April 2014 at Rhinegeist, when more than 175 people attended.
Here’s how it works. Cincy Sundaes accepts applications until a week before each event. Applicants can be for-profit or nonprofit, they just have to pitch their idea in one page.
“Erika and I review the proposals with a set of questions including: Will Cincy Sundaes funding be enough to bring this project to life? Will this benefit the region, a specific neighborhood or community? Is this unique?” Frech says. “We also take into consideration region. We want presenters from a variety of neighborhoods in both Ohio and Kentucky.”

Four applicants are chosen to present at each Cincy Sundaes event, where they have four minutes and four audience questions to sway the crowd. Anyone with $5 can attend Cincy Sundaes, grab a gelato sundae and vote on the idea they like best. The winning idea gets all the money raised at the door.
Cincy Sundaes started in 2014 and funded five projects that year, including ArtWalks.
“Pam Kravetz and I had a blast pitching the Art on the Streets idea for ArtWalks at the very first Cincy Sundaes event,” Margy Waller says. “Several families brought their kids to help us illustrate how much fun our community-designed creative crosswalk painting would be. We had butcher paper and paint and colored pencils for everyone to suggest painting ideas.
“We were surprised and pleased to learn that the donations from Cincy Sundae eaters would be matched by the Greater Cincinnati Foundation. We painted six crosswalks with hundreds of citizen painters, bringing a fun surprise to thousands of people in our region and enhancing safety for walkers at the same time. None of this would have been possible without Cincy Sundaes’ support.”
Funds raised by Cincy Sundaes in the 2015 season were matched by People’s Liberty. The final event of 2015 was held in October with Sweet Cheeks Diaper Bank winning the vote.
“All of the Cincy Sundaes projects have been awesomely executed,” Frech says. “We ask winners to come back to a future event to talk about what they’ve done with their dollars. In some cases, like ArtWalks, you can visit the finished product. In other cases, like Changing Gears, you hear a powerful story about how providing access to a vehicle allowed a man to find sustainable employment. Either way, we have been very impressed with the impact our winners have had on our community.”
“We’ll be back next year,” Fiola says. “We hope to do some new innovative and fun things, so keep your eyes peeled! We plan to have details up on in early 2016.”

Read more articles by Julie Carpenter.

Julie Carpenter has a background in cultural heritage tourism, museums, and nonprofit organizations. She's the Executive Director of AIA Cincinnati.  
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