Has participatory financing become the new essential tool for solidarity?

Handicap International’s annual campaign on Commeon, Cambodia ©Handicap International

Philanthropy is increasingly becoming an integral part of the individual and collective construction of our societies. The generosity sector has also witnessed the emergence of new forms of participatory mobilization in recent years. These innovative forms enable project leaders to raise funds online from people and structures from all walks of life.
You are probably familiar with Ulule, Kisskissbankbank or the online prize pool Leetchi, where the committed citizen such as the foundation or the company can decide to support a project. This is exactly what we are talking about and these platforms can be directly geared towards international solidarity and emergency aid. Today, we present one of these platforms: Commeon.


In France, a generosity in full change

Although the sector recorded an unprecedented 4.2% drop in donations in 2018 (Generosity Barometer 2018, France Générosités), with 5.5 million tax donor households, it has nevertheless increased by 70% over the last ten years. Despite the current fiscal instability and the decline of 2018, the market of generosity in France promises a significant growth potential compared to the ratios posted by our European neighbors – the total amount of donations representing 0.11% of GDP in France, when it is 0.29% in the Netherlands and 0.56% in the United Kingdom.

In France, donors are faithful. 94% of the donations received come from loyal donors. At the same time, the engagement formats have multiplied, and individuals have fully invested in them. Petitions, support pools and more broadly the entire movement of alternative and participatory finance that grew by 39% between 2017 and 2018 are the support of these new trends. Social networks seem to favor in this sense the spontaneity of the expression and the sharing of these commitments.

The growing popularity of these initiatives partially offsets tax-related disruptions, such as the transition from Wealth Tax to the Tax on Immovable Property, the increase in the General Social Contribution for seniors, the uncertainties related to withholding tax.

“In this context, Commeon is a transitional operator who accompanies, on the one hand, the actors of the general interest in the deployment of their projects, and on the other side the donors in their act of generosity”. Thérèse Lemarchand, founder of Commeon

Crowdfunding, but what’s the point?

This form of sponsorship, commonly called crowdfunding, allows project sponsors of any kind to find funding through the internet, mainly from individual donors.

Commeon, founded in 2014 under the name Culture Time, then renamed in 2016 with its expansion to all areas of general interest, is today a vast platform for participatory philanthropy. It collects donations from the public to fund projects with “collective reach in the fields of culture, arts, heritage, education, solidarity, health, environment or sport”. The platform also joined the Hopening agency in early 2019 through its subsidiary Solutions by Hopening which deploys innovative solutions for a more shared generosity.

The project leaders who collect on the platform are a vast majority of associative actors, but there are also public institutions, foundations, communities and finally dotation funds. All these structures can be at very different stages of maturity. This allows platforms like Commeon to develop a vibrant ecosystem and make it interact.

Project proponents can launch conventional campaigns for a project, with a defined time-limited goal, which can be renewed from year to year, or annual collection programs, assigned to the general cause of the structure, and which federate a core of individual donors.

Among the other crowdfunding platforms, Commeon is the only platform entirely dedicated to donation. Its technical services in terms of transaction, coaching and content strategy are remunerated by the projects it hosts, based on an 8% commission of the donations collected (the average rate on this type of platform), without any cost of entry. Other compensation profiles are offered, in particular for trusted donation members, and companies. The service remains free for donors.

Who are the donors? Who gives today in France?

Since 2013, the platform has raised € 3.3m from 22,000 donors for 550 projects. It is aimed at all types of donors and especially the most modest ones since donations can start at 10 €.

“We federate engaged citizens, modest as much as wealthy people, in a very broadly and openly manner. The commitment of these people is related to causes that affect them more particularly, but also to a territorial attachment for example. People are very responsive to help things close to home”. Thérèse Lemarchand, founder of Commeon.

In addition to individuals, the platform also federates small and medium-sized businesses: accounting firms, notaries, lawyers, small construction companies, etc., which account for 15% of the amounts collected on the site. Larger companies also engage with donators to bring projects to life. The platform collaborates for example with AXA, Crédit Agricole, Microsoft, Vinci, EDF, etc.

50% of donors are under 50 years old, 40% between 35 and 55. Moreover, the Commeon platform has a very balanced distribution between female and male donators (50/50).

An innovative platform that places the donor at the heart of generosity:

 “The most successful collections are those that seek to create a special relationship with donors, who involve them in the very construction of the project: citizens want to get involved, to change things, and to follow concretely implementing the changes to which they contribute. Projects that incorporate these values ​​of participation, transparency and impact always meet favorably with the public.” Thérèse Lemarchand, founder of Commeon

Commeon has created the “philanthropic portfolio” allowing all donators to have access to a personal and secure space that gather their actions of generosity. All donations and tax reductions are listed, year by year, the latest news of the supported projects included, and a selection of customized projects proposed.

The goal is also that each donor can define his “generosity budget” by setting aside a one-time or monthly amount for his donations. Thanks to this device, the platform has an average donation of 126 €, while it is rather around 70 € on most crowdfunding sites.

Commeon has been labeled FINANCE INNOVATION in the CSR category, a label addressed to innovative projects of the French Industry, Banking, Finance, Insurance, etc. as part of its plan to integrate Commeon’s philanthropic portfolio into online banking spaces.

“It is a very ambitious device that changes the relationship to money, and brings new value to the banking relationship, winning the loyalty of the users”. Thérèse Lemarchand, founder of Commeon

The “all or nothing” system: yes or no?

It is common for crowdfunding websites to use the all-or-nothing system, that is, if the project owner’s goal is not met, the donors are reimbursed. On Commeon, the concept is to ensure upstream that the project will actually be carried out, and that the funds collected will be well affected, even if the goal is not achieved. Thus each donation can feed the project, and it is the responsibility of the project leader to clearly specify how the project will be carried out.

Flagship projects for solidarity led by associations:

In particular, the platform raised funds for a project to welcome unaccompanied minors in Paris with Utopia 56. This collection, for the benefit of Utopia 56, was an annual collection program. The gathering lasted a little more than two years, from March 2017 to June 2019 and brought together 192 sponsors. The interest for the association was to offer its donors different levels of donations, from 10 to 100 €, with a free donation module, while connecting them to different emergency devices: the recharge of a mobile phone, making a consular card or passport, subway tickets, etc.
More than a thousand young people have been supported thanks to the donations!

Unaccompanied minors, Paris, @Utopia56

On the same model, Handicap International also runs an annual campaign on Commeon, to help children with disabilities around the world. This year, the campaign focuses on Cambodian children: online program.

National Solidarity for the Caribbean, a project of the Foundation de France.

“The collections that meet a strong media echo, as in the case of emergency collections in particular,also testify of the willingness of the donators to stand together. As we have seen during the creation of fundraisings for the victims of hurricane Irma and the reconstruction of Notre-Dame, the donations curve indicates that the first hours are crucial”. Thérèse Lemarchand, founder of Commeon

Damage caused by Hurricane Irma in the West Indies @Fondation de France

Following Hurricane Irma in 2017, the islands of Saint Martin and Saint Barthélémy were particularly affected: 95% of the territory was destroyed. In response to the distress of the hard-hit populations, the Fondation de France launched a call for national solidarity for the West Indies on Commeon, which was relayed within Generali to its employees. The Fondation de France’s objective at the time was, like other emergency services, to diversify its collection sources.

“Commeon is a logical partner of emergency physicians in terms of our investment in the general interest.”Béatrice de Leyssac, Head of Development, Commeon

It was the Fondation de France, as a collector of donations, which organised the distribution of shares and distributed the donations. Thanks to the collection, it was able to respond to the immediate emergency and unmet needs: the reception of victims, coordination and evaluation of the various aids to be provided to them. Subsequently, the Fondation de France defined three areas of intervention: victim assistance, economic recovery and reconstruction, with a focus on action in the field by sending a project manager to Saint Maarten.

This campaign was carried out extremely quickly, launched by the Commeon teams in less than 12 hours. Generali also organised an internal fundraising campaign: 171 donors among agents or collaborators contributed €13,975. Generali doubled this amount, and the GPMA association, close to Generali, provided €10,000. In total, €37,950 was paid to the Foundation via this relay, in addition to the collection from the general public.

The future prospects of participatory financing: the challenge is to continue to innovate! 

“We invite the actors of the general interest to be bold and to join forces to increase generosity. We are convinced that everyone has a role to play in shaping the society of tomorrow!” Thérèse Lemarchand, founder of Commeon

The multiplication of joint fundraising activities between partner structures or consortia can be an innovative approach. As such, Commeon developed in 2017 a collective campaign: #SOLIDARITÉDIGITALE, which brought together 30 NGOs on this common platform to facilitate donations from citizens at the end of the year. Education, environment, solidarity, all the causes were united, and all the collections were gathered on the same page. Besides, each NGO had a dedicated collection page.

Campagne annuelle sur Commeon de Handicap International, Cambodge @Handicap International

The results were finally very positive with 415,000 total impressions (which is a value used to quantify the number of times an object is seen by Internet user) of publications, an average donor age of 41 years, which is young compared to the average donor age in France, an average donation of 172€, with about 15 press coverage.

Drawing on these innovative initiatives, participatory financing methods are expected to be increasingly used in the solidarity sector and are gradually becoming robust tools for associations, foundations, NGOs and other structures implementing humanitarian or development aid and action to safeguard cultural and natural heritage, both nationally and internationally.

Thérèse Lemarchand, founder of Commeon
Béatrice de Leyssac, Development Manager, Commeon
Sarah Boisson, writer for Humanitarian Challenges

Biography Thérèse Lemarchand :

Thérèse is a graduate of the École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées and Imperial College London. She began her career at EDF in nuclear engineering.

In 1999, she became involved in culture with Opera Gallery in Singapore.

Back in France, she joined the launch team of one of the first online art galleries enviedart.com and then the operational and commercial management of the Arcturus Gallery.

She returned to EDF in 2007 to the Sales Department, where she will be Key Account Manager.

Passionate about contemporary art, convinced of the importance of philanthropy in individual and collective construction, and struck by the emergence of new forms of participatory and digital mobilization, Thérèse launched Culture Time in 2014, which became Commeon in 2016 intending to develop participatory patronage.