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CrowdFunding promotion Buffalo Irish Center uses crowdfunding to defer costs of upgrades

posted Feb 25, 2015, 12:43 AM by J Shaw   [ updated Feb 25, 2015, 1:03 AM ]
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The team of volunteers that runs the Buffalo Irish Center, an 88-year-old landmark in South Buffalo, were considering a substantial fundraiser to fund much-needed repairs.

They used to raise money through bingo. This time, they turned to a crowdfunding platform called GoFundMe.

Times have changed.

The Irish Center hit its $25,000 goal in roughly a month and is still going as its GoFundMe page zooms around the web, having been officially "shared" more than 1,000 times via Facebook and Twitter.

It was a way to tap into a network of people who recall events at the Irish Center but no longer live in Buffalo, said Mary Heneghan, who spearheaded the campaign.

"I'm amazed at how well it's done," Heneghan said. "I could not possibly network as well as the GoFundMe site does."

The official $25,000 benchmark was met last week, but with plenty of capital needs, the open-ended campaign has continued to evolve as more ex-patriots get involved. A ex-pat grandson of one of the Irish Center's early members is now trying to raise an amount of money to name a room after his grandmother.

"We never even thought about naming rights for rooms," Henegahn said. "So that's something we're working on now."

Bingo was the primary source of revenue for the center for decades, but interest tapered off in recent years and hit bottom after smoking was completely banned. The Irish Center closed its bingo hall around the time it became obvious the Abbott Road building would need a variety of logistical repairs, from heating to plumbing to bricks.

The first idea was fairly traditional, a weekly summer event including music and food trucks called Under the Tent that has proved successful. The second idea, a social media campaign and crowdfunding platform, is relatively new to the world of nonprofit fundraisers in the Buffalo region.

It worked because of its tremendous reach, both inside the community and beyond, and because of an easy-to-use interface that gives people real-time access to the fundraiser, Heneghan said. Once Heneghan started posting historical pictures of time periods and events in the center's history, it took off.

"Those have created a lot of buzz," she said. "You will see children who were maybe nine years old and are now adults who are saying, 'Wow,' and they send it on to their friends. The base grows by a large percentage when people share those pictures and memories."

The campaign has officially surpassed $26,000, which will fund two major projects: replacement of the Claddagh room floor, estimated at $16,000, and installing a new furnace above the library, estimated at $6,000.

Other building needs include refinishing the hardwood floor in the Emerald Room ($3,000), replacing the flat roof ($10,000), replacement the concrete and updating the patio ($5,000) and outdoor lighting ($5,500).

Dan Miner is Business First's enterprise reporter. He also covers education and public companies.