Kansas City Citizens Fund Civic Project with Donations

Streetcar operating southbound on Main Street at 19th Street, Kansas City, MO (Photo via Kansas City Area Transportation Authority)

(Russel Newlove, Kansas City -- Marketplace) After being denied a federal grant, Kansas City, MO intends to raise the money for a new streetcar system by passing around a hat. The idea is that instead of demanding more tax to fund projects, cities ask the public to donate whatever they want, in return for rewards or perks.

That's the theory behind Neighborly, a new civic crowdfunding start up in Kansas City, MO.

"It helps these communities pool together money from individual contributors, businesses and foundations and institutions," says Jase Wilson, founder of Neighborly.

His idea is simple. Organizations propose a project that benefits the community. Neighborly then builds a system online allowing the public to donate directly to that project. The bigger the donation, the bigger the perk. Right now, he's working on getting local businesses involved in raising $75 million for the new streetcar system.

"If they're located near the line, then they can pre-buy rides for all of their workforce," Wilson says, "and when you talk about a company that has a thousand people, and they can pre-buy rides for say five years, they can write that off in five different ways off of their taxes and get golden PR while doing a world of good."

But it's not just about amassing cash. It's about investing in communities and raising awareness of how individuals, organizations and businesses can work together to improve their areas.

Kansas City Mayor, Sly James, is on board. "Neighborly has done a number of things that have found ways to engage people in the fabric of the community and make actual contributions in order to achieve very specific social or community purposes," James says, "It' s a brilliant idea."

It's brilliance lies in the visibility of the project. Instead of just paying into a vague "tax" pot, contributors invest in a tangible product.

"It allows people to pick and choose those things that are important to them and make direct investments to it," says the Mayor.

And while it might not replace the traditional revenue raising model of simple taxation, Neighborly is at aleast giving people the option to help finance their cities their way, and to truly say, "We built that."