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How to Soup

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Detroit Soup is a crowd-funding project which has raised more than $85,000 (£57,000) over the past five years for community projects in the bankrupt city. Here, its founder Amy Kaherl offers some tips for anyone wanting to start their own Soup event.

Detroit Soup has a simple goal: to give someone an envelope stuffed with money, so they can go and do that thing they always wanted to do, to make their neighbourhood a better place.

To do this, we bring together people who share a desire for a better community. They get to meet people and share their ideas and their resources. Connections are made, people feel empowered, and hopefully we instil some local pride.

The concept is simple: we host a regular social event, which has a modest entry fee. The purpose of the evening is to let four people pitch an idea to improve their local community to members of that same community.

The people pitching ideas can't talk for more than 4 minutes, and they definitely can't use Power Point (because it's boring). Props are allowed, though. The audience then gets to ask the person pitching four questions and…that's it.

With the presentations out the way, soup is served, people mull over the ideas - and then they vote on their favourite. At the end of the night, the winner gets to take home all the cash raised at the door and put their plan into action.

Image caption Amy Kaherl founded Detroit Soup with some friends five years ago - it is now her full-time job

Getting started

First thing: don't do this on your own. Seriously - just don't. Not only will it kill you, you're also missing the whole purpose of Soup, which is collaboration and networking in the community.

Work with friends, as well as strangers and try to build something which engages a broad section of your local community - not just your friends. The more diverse the group organising the event is, the more diverse the event will be both in terms of the ideas pitched on the night, as well as the people who come to listen to them and put money in the pot.

Bright ideas

In Detroit we have no restrictions on the ideas people can pitch at our events, except that the projects being pitched should operate in the 138 square miles of Detroit. The ideas can be brand new, or they can be an existing project which could do with a modest cash injection to get to the next level or reach a specific goal. Don't discard an idea because it's not a priority for you - the community will make the decision on whether it's good or bad when they come to vote.

How do you decide who gets to pitch?

To begin, your organising committee is likely to be responsible for selecting the ideas pitched on the night. Think about how much money you hope to raise, and whether that will really make a difference. Is the idea being pitched too ambitious? Does it need more development? Can you realistically make a difference as to whether this project fails or succeeds?

One thing to keep in mind: don't make the night about one thing and have all the ideas pitching for funding focussed on one topic. This will only be of interest to people from that community - you should be aiming for cross-pollination.

How much should you charge to get in?

For Detroit Soup, we only charge $5 (£3.30) entry - and even then it's a suggested donation. Often, people will donate more, which is great.

Some other Soup events around the United States charge a lot more - up to $50 (£33) - and they serve really fancy food. I find the event then becomes more about what you're eating than the ideas being presented, and for me, nobody should be excluded from the event because they can't afford to attend.

Image caption Even on a cold winter's day people come out in force

The venue

Our first Soup event in Detroit was held in a bakery. Don't think you have to hire some huge hall for your first event. Be realistic on how many people are going to attend, be creative - and, ideally, see if someone will give you a space for free.

Costs are something you're going to have to think about early on. Who is paying for the overheads?

A lot of soup events pay their costs from the cash raised on the door, but by doing that you're automatically eating into the money you could give to community projects.

It's a strategy you will need to decide upon at the very beginning. At Detroit Soup we run a small bar, serving cans of drink - this generally covers most, it not all, of the outlay.

Image caption Food is essential but keep it cheap - it's about fund-raising, not fine dining

What are you going to eat?

The idea behind Detroit Soup is that you're going to get fed if you turn up. Soup, salad and bread is the traditional meal - and cheap, too, especially if you're funding this out of the money taken on the door.

We've turned our main Soup event into a potluck event to provide a bigger spread, and people and local businesses will often bring along a dish or two to share, although it's not compulsory.

To entice people to bring food, we give food makers 60 seconds after the main presentations to share anything they are working on in the community - events, questions, their business, other projects, etc.

Who gets to vote?

Everyone attending the event gets one vote. Detroit Soup is about encouraging people to engage with the democratic process - and this includes children. So, if you bring a child to the event, see if they can answer the following two questions:

  1. Which was your favourite idea?
  2. Why?

If they can answer those questions, then definitely get them to the voting booth!

Image caption Ladies who Soup

Timetable

It generally takes around three months to get the first Soup event off the ground. Here are some of the key points you need to address when planning an event:

  • Build a small-yet-diverse organising committee who are going to run the show.
  • Develop a vision for this board - what do you want to achieve?
  • Determine your Soup name and the board leadership roles.
  • Get the logistics sorted, such as the venue and the time and date of your event. Do you need a PA system? Who is doing the publicity? How are you going to prepare and serve food?
  • Outreach! Get beyond your social circle and involve as many people as possible.
  • Set a deadline for members of the community to submit proposals and a date for the board to select the projects which are going to be presented at the event. Give feedback to those which didn't make the cut, and encourage them to bid again in the future.
  • Hold the event! (Don't forget this part.)
  • Get back together soon after the event to debrief, move forward and grow.

What we have learned

You will make mistakes planning your first soup. That's completely okay - we did too. However, here are some of the mistakes we made, so you don't have to.

  • Keep it simple. This is not a wedding reception.
  • Unless someone is getting paid to run this thing, don't do it monthly. Try quarterly or six times a year to begin with. It's a lot of work and you already are a hero for doing it. Don't sacrifice your life for this thing or it will swallow you and your volunteers up and you might not be friends with the people when it's over.
  • Soup is about strangers from the community coming together and talking. Don't make it too comfortable, so they can just sit in a silo with their friends and not talk to anyone else. Think about how people can move around and mingle. Challenge people at the event to do this.
  • That said, don't force people to wear name tags. No one likes that.
  • Put together a brief information pack to hand out on the night, which includes a summary of the ideas which are going to be presented. This will help people engage, and have something to talk about when they arrive.
  • Serve food after people share their ideas. The people in the room now have a shared experience and will want to talk about what they heard before they vote.
  • Don't take it too seriously. The anxiety you bring into the space will spread. Fun spreads too. Do that instead.

Remember…

Soup is not about you or anyone else getting rich. The money you raise is not your money. It belongs to the community. Each individual who walks through the door and puts their money into a pot is agreeing to grant that money to the night's winner.

This is based on trust. We don't sign any contracts with people, but we do ask past winners back three months later to share with the community what they did with the money, but that is all.

In Detroit, we also ask past winners to get involved in the selection process for projects to be pitched at future events.

This is a great thing to do. It's amazing fun and it's also a lot better than staying home and watching Netflix and hoping the community will get better because you Tweeted about it.

This is real action and this is what it looks like.

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Media captionDetroit Soup: Top Tips

Serious? Here is a more detailed explanation

Watch: Can Soup Change The World? on 14 March on BBC News Catch up via the iPlayer or listen on 21 March at 12:30 GMT on BBC World Service

Find out more at www.bbc.com/soup

For more on the BBC's A Richer World, go to www.bbc.com/richerworld - or join the discussion on Twitter using the hashtag #BBCRicherWorld

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