This spring, the Potomac Conservancy entered into uncharted territory — and not just because it’s buying land in West Virginia.

The nonprofit, focused on the health of the Potomac watershed, had never purchased land before, and certainly not $3 million worth of a forested mountain. And its team is making the purchase with the help of another first: a public crowd-funding campaign.

“This is a transformational opportunity for the organization and for conservation,” said Aimee Weldon, senior director of land conservation for the Conservancy. 

After spending more than a year quietly raising funds to exercise an option to purchase and conserve key lands in West Virginia, the Conservancy launched an Indiegogo campaign March 17 to help push it over the fund-raising edge.

In less than two weeks, the campaign raised more than 40 percent of its $35,000 goal. By mid-April, the campaign was two-thirds of the way to those funds with the help of 175 individual contributors, and the campaign exceeded its goal by the May 1 deadline. This does not include contributions that came in the mail from some supporters, which, the Conservancy had to point out on the campaign page, do not count toward its goal on Indiegogo.

The funds raised through the online platform will be used as cash-in-hand to help the conservancy close in on its planned purchase of 1,700 acres of White Horse Mountain. As the video explains, the mountain was purchased by a developer who recently put the property back up for sale.

The conservancy realized that this was a unique opportunity to preserve a swath of undeveloped land at the Potomac’s headwaters, which propelled the organization to consider making the $3 million purchase.

What will a conservation group do with this land once purchased? They explained on the Indiegogo page:

“Potomac Conservancy has negotiated an option to purchase the mountain but we must raise more than $3 million to make it happen. If we are able to exercise our option by the end of March, we can purchase the property and transfer it to the WV Division of Natural Resources (DNR) to become the State’s newest public Wildlife Management Area. This land, rather than being divided into 70 residential lots as proposed by the current owner, will instead be opened to the public for hunting, hiking, wildlife viewing and other enjoyment.”

Weldon said her organization has been fund-raising for more than a year since negotiating for the option to purchase, raising more than half of what’s needed and securing a loan to finance the rest. The conservancy’s goal is to have at least $600,000 in cash to take to the closing in April, almost all of which is already in hand.

“You can help us raise the remaining $35,000 to take us across the finish line,” the campaign page reads.

Weldon said using a crowd-funding website like Indiegogo — which allows hundreds of individuals to contribute in exchange for perks like REI binoculars — helps to raise funds while spreading the word about the conservation effort. 

“It seemed like a good way to launch the project publicly,” said Weldon, who wanted to wait to do so until the purchase was nearly final.

Most of the donations were in amounts of $50 or $100, but a few individuals have chipped in up to $1,500. The online campaign closed May 1.

Weldon said her organization — and perhaps others — could consider more crowd-funding campaigns for conservation.

To watch a Potomac Conservancy video about the campaign to save White Horse Mountain, visit our blog