Crowdfunding has become a popular way to raise money for a variety of needs – be it a medical bill, a humanitarian effort or travel for a Little League team.

Now, that fundraising approach is being used as a way to raise money for conservation projects.

Earlier this year, the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust became the second land trust in the state to use crowdfunding when it launched a $15,000 campaign on WorthWild.com to help secure the 144-acre Squam Creek Preserve on Westport Island, along Maine’s midcoast.

The Freeport Conservation Trust was the first Maine land trust to use crowdfunding. In 2014 it used it to protect a 46-acre Freeport farm from development, and successfully raised the final $20,000 in its campaign to save Winterwood farm. (Photos by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer)

Carrie Kinne, executive director of the trust, said crowdfunding invited a larger community of outdoor people to aid in the project, some giving just $10 or $20. Within days, donations were posted from as far away as Illinois.

Kinne is surprised more land trusts don’t use crowdfunding platforms such as indiegogo.com, gofundme.com, crowdrise.com or Worthwild.com. Yet few do.

Dunton Cemetery at Squam Creek Preserve in Westport Island.

Worthwild.com co-founder Kyle Pribish said she and partner Cori Snedecor do not see many land trusts using crowdfunding, but they expect that to change.

Pribish, 36, and Snedecor, 30, knew the potential of crowdfunding among millennials and web-based professionals, but conservation organizations weren’t using that fundraising method. So Snedecor, a web developer and designer, and Pribish, a land steward, founded WorthWild.com in 2013.

“It’s taking a few years to get it out there,” Pribish said. “We went to some land trust conferences. And what we are starting to realize is that it’s a foreign concept to the conservation community. Our observation was that there wasn’t a lot of youth in the conservation world. When you talk about technology, it’s not something they grew up with, it’s not a strength. We’re trying to educate people to help bridge the gap between land trusts and the next generation of environmental stewards.”

Land trust directors that have used crowdfunding say it’s helped in ways beyond fundraising. Kinne said the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust’s online site created excitement around the project.

“Using crowdfunding is an easy way to give,” Kinne said. “And it seems powerful. There is a broader base of support in the project. It shows that every gift counts.”

The parcel on Westport Island costs $536,000. The Kennebec Estuary Land Trust already had raised most of the money through federal funds, grants, donations and a voter-approved bond from the town. Its Worthwild.com campaign attracted 106 donors and raised $15,400. Of those donors, 37 percent gave $50 or less and 36 percent gave up to $100. Another 18 percent gave between $100 and $500, and just 9 percent gave more than $500.

Top: Archie Bonyun, left, Dennis Dunbar, center, and Anna Christie-Carnicella of the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust walk through Squam Creek Preserve, also pictured below. More than $15,000 was raised for the preserve through a crowdfunding campaign. Staff photos by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

Kendra and Travis Wolfel typically give to the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust and are volunteer land stewards for the trust. But the Bath couple said they wanted to support the crowdfunding campaign when they saw online how close it was to success.

They followed it on Facebook, and would refresh their computer to see if the campaign had closed. Finally they gave $50 to help.

“We heard so many good things about Squam Creek Preserve we wanted to at least give something,” Kendra Wolfel said. “Crowdfunding seems a good way for younger people to help, but not just through donations. (It shows them land trusts) they can donate their time to.”

The Freeport Conservation Trust was the first Maine land trust to use crowdfunding, in 2014. The trust’s executive director, Katrina Van Dusen, said the crowdfunding approach reached people the land trust didn’t know.

Kennebec Estuary Land Trust board members, from left, Archie Bonyun of Westport Island, Dennis Dunbar of Westport Island and development coordinator Anna Christie-Carnicella of Topsham at Squam Creek Preserve  last Thursday.

“It generated a little buzz,” Van Dusen said. “You share it on Facebook, and that’s fun. The donors become part of something other than making an outright donation. It’s made for social media.

“We were trying to reach younger people. That’s the goal of anyone fundraising, to try to reach people in other ways.”

To protect a 46-acre Freeport farm from development, the trust needed to raise $290,000. They used crowdfunding on Worthwild.com to help raise the final $20,000. In a month, they raised $21,376 from 99 supporters.

Van Dusen said several Freeport Conservation Trust members gave between $10 and $25. He also noted that typically in the case of land trust projects, larger philanthropists with a passion for conservation step forward.

“On the occasion of a land protection project, there are usually several to many large donors,” Van Dusen said. “We have had other land protection projects where we have solicited and received donations as large as $200,000. That amount was unusually large for us, but four and five figure donations toward projects can be expected.”