By selling off chunks of the Statue of Liberty, Yellowstone National Park and the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore one inch at a time, one website is offering a new way for people to support preservation of our country's greatest attractions.
Virtual chunks, that is.
My Inch Of The Earth allows people to claim their own virtual inch of land for $1 a month, with the proceeds going to select nonprofit groups. In exchange for their donation, each inch owner receives a "deed," a personal latitude and longitude and tools to share photos of the location and connect with other virtual landowners via social media. While inches across the globe are available for purchase, proceeds from all inch deeds located in the boundaries of America's national parks, monuments and lakeshores will go to benefit the National Parks Foundation and local preservation groups.
So while a vacation to a national park might not be the budget this summer, inch owners can still help support their favorite natural wonders.
"It's such a small investment, but it's a really fun way to support the park in a way that's manageable," said Susan Pocklington, director of Preserve Historic Sleeping Bear, a nonprofit that works on historic sites in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan. "If you get a lot of people and multiply that investment it can add up to a nice contribution."
When someone picks up an inch of the lakeshore, 40 percent will go to PHSB and 60 percent to the NPF.
My Inch Of The Earth was started in 2009 by TerraYebo, a seven-person company in Madison Heights, Mich. Founder Michele Favoretto previously worked at a nonprofit when she realized software tools could help solve challenges that giving organizations faced. She says the site, currently in working beta with a relaunch due this August, is a way to connect people around places and causes.
"The biggest issues nonprofits are facing is not having sustainable or repeatable income," Favoretto said.
Pocklington said this is the first time the preservation group has partnered to attract a larger group of donors on a small scale.
"It's kind of a unique way for people to jump on board," she said.
My Inch of the Earth is one of many initiatives of late that uses crowdsourcing, microfunding and social media to fuel nonprofits and community-building projects. They're particularly prevalent in the Detroit area, with organizations like Kiva Detroit's crowdfunded small-business loans, Detroit 4 Detroit's citizen philanthropy, Detroit Soup's meal and fundraising nights and Detroit Big F Deal's community financing platform.
Detroit's Loveland Technologies has experimented with microfunding in a similar vein as TerraYebo, allowing "inchvestors" to purchase inches of microhoods in Detroit. The money then funds creative projects in the city, like an art installation from the Hygienic Dress League and a mural designed by Detroit Lives!, a local creative agency. Loveland has since shifted focus to looking at larger areas of land in the city, but founder Jerry Paffendorf said he would like to do other "inchernet" projects in the future. What's more, he's already heard of at least one other like-minded local project.
"It must be something in the water in Michigan," Paffendorf said.
One of the benefits to giving people virtual space in exchange for their donation, Favoretto said, is that it gives people a stake in the cause, even if it happens to be intangible.
"There's nearly a three-billion-dollar-spending market out there where people buy virtual pets and farms," Favoretto explained. "We're geo-spacial crowdsourcing, which really isnt really being done out there."
Below, check out National Geographic's choices for the top 10 national parks from the book "10 Best of Everything."