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La Crosse embraces crowd-funding as SOUP takes off

Andrew Londre holds up donations during the June 2015 La Crosse SOUP event, which raised $600 for Western Wisconsin Wheels, the local chapter of AmBucs.

A La Crosse entrepreneur and community organizer is facing questions about his use of thousands of dollars in donations earmarked for community improvement projects.

Andrew Londre, a former La Crosse County supervisor and founder of a local crowd-funding project known as SOUP, admitted this week to redirecting money donated to fund student-generated projects to pay for a video promoting a handful of local businesses, including his own.

In October 2015, Londre used the online site Kickstarter to raise money for 10 civic projects proposed by business students at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Among the proposals: an ice skating rink at Riverside Park, solar-powered waste bins for the downtown and new clothes for homeless people to wear to job interviews.

By December, the campaign had raised more than $11,000 from 96 backers.

On Tuesday, Londre posted a 4,179-word update detailing reasons the students had been unable to see their projects through before informing donors that he had instead used the money to help fund a local segment of “Ambitious Adventures,” a video series that aims to highlight the work of young entrepreneurs.

The creators of the show, which is to be distributed through web streaming services, said they planned to highlight businesses in half a dozen cities while promoting the idea that millennials can change the world. Producer Brandon Adams said the La Crosse segment will be available in March and features Londre, along with the founders of Pearl Street Brewery, Wyatt Bikes and Full Circle Supply.

“The funds originally raised were meant to support efforts that will promote more arts and culture in La Crosse, promoting a biking and appreciation for the outdoors, promote the use of business in a way that’s a benefit to the broader community, promoting the growth of new businesses owned by local people, and promoting a greater sense of community in the home we share,” Londre wrote in his Kickstarter update. “Now, millions of people will get to see how truly awesome our city is.”

Contacted Thursday, Londre declined to be interviewed or to answer questions about the project. Londre said his “primary responsibility” is to his project funders and that he would provide more information through updates to the Kickstarter pages.

Londre said late Saturday that he had secured a personal loan for $8,500 and would work to refund any donors who want their money returned.

Kickstarter does not list the donors who contributed to the project, but Altra Federal Credit Union put up $2,000 in matching funds. Business loan officer Walt Smanski said he learned that the funds had been re-purposed through the Kickstarter page update Tuesday night.

“We wished we would have had the opportunity to work with him on redirecting the funds,” said Cheryl Dutton, vice president of marketing. “We did the match and donation based on what the original purpose of the funding was for. … We would certainly have helped redirect the funds in the community to do good projects like the UW-L students were proposing to do.”

‘The Wild West of fundraising’

In 2015, Londre launched a monthly funding effort known as SOUP, events where people pay $5 for a bowl of soup and bread and listen to proposals for community improvement projects. At the end, the money goes to the winning idea.

Kelly Nowicki, who teaches business classes at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, said she approached Londre about letting her students help out.

Eleven ideas were whittled to four, which were presented at the October gathering; the winners received more than $2,000 to put bar codes on signs in Hixon Forest to allow hikers to download maps to their cellphones.

Londre then came up with the idea to use Kickstarter to fund the remaining ideas.

“Andrew said he wanted all 10 student ideas to be implemented,” Nowicki said.

Nowicki said she warned Londre that the students would be graduating in December or May and might not be around to follow through. Only one project was completed before the end of the school year.

In July, Nowicki said, she was trying to help another student complete a proposal to put a mural on the wall of a downtown business when she spoke to Londre.

“That’s when Andrew said to me there is no money,” she said. “He used it for ‘Ambitious Adventures.’”

Nowicki said she was concerned but didn’t know what to do.

“I was concerned about the ramifications of not supporting him,” she said. “I didn’t feel comfortable disagreeing with Andrew publicly.”

Kickstarter says there are no guarantees projects will come to fruition.

“Backers must understand that Kickstarter is not a store,” the site warns users. “When you back a project, you’re helping to create something new — not ordering something that already exists. There’s a chance something could happen that prevents the creator from being able to finish the project as promised.”

However, the site’s terms of use specify that creators “must make every reasonable effort to find another way of bringing the project to a satisfying conclusion for their backers.”

The company did not respond to interview requests.

Lisa Schiller, director of investigations and media relations for the Better Business Bureau in Wisconsin, said crowdfunding has inherent advantages: “It provides immediate assistance. It helps donors make an emotional connection to the cause. It provides donors with a sense of impact.”

But online sites have little ability to vet projects or to account for how money is spent.

“It’s kind of like the Wild West of fundraising,” Schiller said.

Allen Kantowski is a downtown business manager who last week posted a message on his Facebook page questioning Londre’s use of funds, although he did not contribute to the campaign.

“I have absolutely no stake into it other than the fact that I don’t like to see hard-earned money leave our community for something other than it was intended for,” Kantowski said. “I couldn’t be quiet about it.”

Some have also questioned whether other funds have been used as intended, including the $24,465 raised for a second Kickstarter campaign to rebrand the city’s Caledonia Street business district as Uptowne.

Londre said none of that money went toward the video.

North La Crosse Business Association president Nick Roush, who partnered with Londre’s firm Urbanlocity to hold a three-day brainstorming summit, said the planning phase of the project is actually under budget, and any remaining funds will go toward implementing the proposals that emerge from the report.

“From what I see the funds that came through Kickstarter have been in direct accordance with the proposal,” Roush said. “I don’t think dime one has gone to anything but that project.”

Note: This story has been updated. An earlier version incorrectly stated the amount of money redirected from the Kickstarter campaign to Ambitious Adventures. Londre announced late on Dec. 17 that he had taken out a loan for $8,500 to replenish funds used for the video. It was not immediately clear how that money would be used.

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Reporter

Rhymes with Lubbock. La Crosse Tribune reporter and data geek. Covers energy, transportation and the environment, among other things. Call him at 608-791-8217.

(49) comments

superman

"Londre said his “primary responsibility” is to his project funders and that he would provide more information through updates to the Kickstarter pages."

Exactly!

If you didn't support his efforts, then you Trolls have nothing to wet your pants about.

Rudy shooters

Why Not just play nice and by the laws of the land

Ivanka

Londre is a criminal. He admitted wrong-doing and now say he took a personal loan to make restitution. D.A. Greunke? Do your job and prosecute!

superman

And what crime should he be prosecuted for?

Frankly

I can distinctly remember overhearing a board member of a community organization saying this: I detest "anything that smacks of crookedness." She was a former university professor. The subject matter of this Tribune article smacks of crookedness. Anyone who collects money for benefit of the community and spends it on something else, especially something that benefits himself, is not to be trusted. And any professor who senses something inappropriate and does not speak up should herself not serve on boards and I would question her fitness to teach business.

Grand Dad's Bluff

Londre's statement of risk and expectation for the project on Kickstarter- "Risks and challenges: We are going to make sure all these projects happen. But of course, funding is only one half of this equation... A committed group of SOUP volunteers will make sure students get the other half of what they need - connections and ongoing support. But in the end, it's pretty simple... Here at La Crosse SOUP, we know how to get stuff done. We're going to get this stuff done."
Londre is guilty of over promise - under deliver in this an other projects. This is not a crime. Diverting funds may be. We have two issues here folks.

Ivanka

Londre is nothing but a scoundrel. How can you idiots vote for him? My father will drain the La Crosse swamp when he gets around to it, but do yourself a favor and get rid of this guy's ilk.

WaltM

I, too, wonder about the instructor, Nowicki. It was her responsibility to ensure that the students' projects were completed, not Londre's. I agree that as usual, the LAX Tribune's story is incomplete: what did Nowicki do to ensure that the students' followed through on their projects? Did she believe her responsibility was over once the students completed her course? It seems that if she was so eager to get the money for her students' projects, she had a responsibility to make sure the projects were completed. It appeared from the article that she kind of forgot about the projects for months and then belatedly made an issue of it. I think she and UW-L need to answer for their lack of accountability in all of this. Saying "I didn't know what to do" is appalling!

anonymous6450

I think the answer to your concern was covered in the article: “I was concerned about the ramifications of not supporting him,” she said. “I didn’t feel comfortable disagreeing with Andrew publicly.”

She was absolutely afraid of the attacks that Dirty Londre and his supporters would visit upon her. Just looks at how many comments here are attacking her, instead of the guy who actually used the money for his own benefit.

jcr123

Andrew is an influential white male in our community who responds with manipulation and gaslighting when anyone dares to question him. I don't wonder at all why she was cautious about responding to him.

Get real

I think people need to slow their roll on this issue. I agree that the appearance of impropriety is serious and might give cause for a person to reevaluate their desire to support a cause or person but let's not always assume the worst and just jump right to the witch hunt. it always feels good to be in that self righteous group of witch hunters but let's use this as a reminder to be careful about our own actions and how to avoid appearance of impropriety. if more investigating needs to be done, then do it. let's not convict anyone until that happens.

Ivanka

Londre responded like someone guilty of a crime. He took out a personal loan now and vowed to pay the money back. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck...

Gtfuplease

Hopefully this will open the door to an investigation of Beer By Bike Brigade. These "community service" organizations have little regulation or oversight, and often take advantage of well-meaning folks.

damnstraight

La Crosse SOUP and BBBB are not much different than many other fundraisers. The golf scrambles someone organizes every summer to raise money for various causes requires the same level of trust, The 50-50 lotteries for charities that are common at many bars and restaurants are no different. At a La Crosse SOUP or BBBB event, there are multiple people involved in the collection and disbursement of funds, so there is actually a fair amount of oversight. The money in question here were raised via kickstarter.org specifically for UW-L student projects that was controlled by only one person, Andrew. He unilaterally diverted the funds to another worthy purpose that included promoting his for-profit business venture, an obvious conflict of interest. It was wrong, he has been called on it and is in the process of making it right. Hopefully a lesson learned.

Opus

Please share your insights.

damnstraight

Andrew always means well, but his unbridled ambition and passion to do good have once again created controversy. His response? As usual it is a long winded rationalization that boils down to "It isn't my fault". He is a young man that needs to learn patience and humility. He chafes at the personal attacks directed his way, but has no problem accusing others of all sorts of malfeasance (i.e. attacking a candidate's wife caught stealing pills due to her addiction). This behavior combined with his habit of making an issue about him and failing to simply do the right thing (i.e. continuing his campaign for the county board weeks after he bought a house out of the district) led me to keep him at arm's length. What's been described here (diverting donations from one thing to another) was wrong, but probably not a crime. He should have let people know before he did it what he planned to do and why. He can recover and regain people's trust, but it will take a lot of work and some time. It will also require he make some fundamental changes, such as tempering his ego and focusing on more realistic goals.

realtorick

He accused me on Facebook of being a slumlord, yet never took me up on my offer to view my units. His remarks may have partially led to my termination at my recent past Real Estate Brokerage firm. His employer (Couleecap) has been named as stating that My reputation is poor in La Crosse by my past Broker, yet the top two at Couleecap deny of any such statements. Must be from Andrew???

irebout

Actually I didn't vote for either of those two. I always say that whomever I vote for I would want my son to be able to look up to and use as an example and role model, therefore I didn't vote for either, and chose to write in a gentleman who as a veteran sacrificed more for his country then I could ever imagine having to go through.

Grand Dad's Bluff

Irebout....you sound like mr "lets make lacrosse great again"....very sad

irebout

After all the good work that this guy did for his community, front home page on the site today. I got two calls from people in La Crosse first thing this morning that told me about it, all this guys hard work down the tube by less than complete reporting, nice job La Crosse Tribune, keep up the good work. As for the others "who raised concerns but didn't know what to do" (um aren't you a professor at a college? what are you teaching your business kids if you can't handle this, now that is a serious question about where tax dollars are going) There were multiple opportunities to help educate this guy on how to do things better, or advise him, or counsel him, I've never heard Mr. Londre say no to advise that would protect him, and an organization that he worked with. Nope take an energetic young man of the community who wants to see his community thrive, lay in the weeds, and throw stones at him the first chance you get. I'm sure the next guy like him will think twice. I honestly thought that La Crosse was much better than that as a community. Very sad.

Opus

Irebout - There is no excuse for what Londre did. When it became evident that the projects were not going to pan out, he owed it to the donors to go back to them, whether by mail or a positing somewhere, that this was his plan. That is the responsibility of anyone who raises money. Sure, he's energetic. Sure he is trying to better the community. But it still was and is his responsibility to take care of that money for the purpose that it was given. I'm glad to see he is making restitution. It is not the community's responsibility to educate him about this - it is his responsibility.

Mi scusi

Absolutely Opus.

irebout

I have worked with 5 or 6 non profits in the last couple of years, and I can tell you that volunteerism is at an all time low, that donations are not what they used to be, that finding board members can be a struggle in itself, It's not just the organizations I work with, but I have heard this from every non profit executive director I have worked with, this article, this right here is why. There is no appreciation for the work that is done, just people looking to ridicule the manner in which you do it. Here is a guy that takes time away from his family and friends to do good for the community and this is what he gets. I also love the fact that their was a comment from a board member and snide remark on the kickstarter page. I would like to find that person and ask them what board they are on, that way I never donate to them, nice job hiding in the weeds.

anonymous6450

Volunteerism and donations are down because people are sick and tired of this kind of stuff. I donate $10, and it goes to pay the $80,000 salary of some executive rather than to those in need.

In this case, Dirty Londre redirected funds to HELP HIMSELF!

If I was on the Altra BOD, or part of any other organization I would simply REFUSE TO DONATE to anything Dirty Londre touches.

irebout

Oh and for the guy who commented about being a slumloard, I lived in La Crosse long enough to know when there are slumloards out there, and I remember when he went after you, and it was hilarious. You sir are a piece of garbage. "I rent to the poor and give opportunity", please. I've lived in some of these places while in La Crosse, as long as the rent is there on time I hear nothing, if I have a problem I hear nothing, I'm late with the rent I get I hear twice a day from you. So you got your chance to pounce on Londre, the guy who made it a mission to clean up the quality of life for people who were poor, and basically protect those people from you. Aww I feel for you. Please. Live up to basic housing codes and you wouldn't have had a problem, I read the articles. I also want to know what donations you have given to the community to make your community a better quality of life for the people around you. Did you give any of these "poor" people that were your tenants a ham on Christmas or something so they could have a nice family meal? Please let me know where your cross is stationed so I can come view your sacrifice. I'm sure the fact that your making money off of these properties each month is no way part of why you do what you do. Thanks to the marter that you are. (BTW it got deep with that guy)

realtorick

I rented to tenants that no one else would, I am on a short list with the Salvation Army, Catholic Charites, the VA out of Tomah, Probation agents, to be referred possible tenants, and have rented to many of them. I rented 4 units to Attic when their last place burned down and gave them a $100 discount for each apartment. I give tenants rides to grocery stores, make loans of $20 when asked, etc, etc

irebout

By the way, did you notice the bicycle fixit stations around town? or how about the bikes for special needs kids? The garden behind RootNote? How about the suprise wedding for the homeless? These are all things that the kickstarter campaign and the SOUP raised money for, it took me fifteen minutes and looking through comments to find other pages that showed information about this. But I guess if you don't constantly promote yourself and the good works that you do people wont' care about it anyway when they have the chance to pounce.

irebout

Was this a potential questionable decision? Yes maybe, I would admit that. But what is really interesting to me is that all of these people that were basically advisors to this young man, or pledged their support, or participated in the organization, nobody thought to have a meeting and say, hey we need to put together a board to decide what to do with these funds? (and I wasn't there so I don't know, and if you did than I apologize for my assumption on the matter) But if you didn't, how is that possible? It was only after a year that he had finally decided to do something with the funds that it became a thing? And what did he use the funds for? To promote small businesses in the La Crosse community to the world. If there wasn't profit by him, then what is the problem? You don't like the way he spent the money? Great where were you for the last two years while all of this was going on? Was Londre's heart and interests in the best place for the promotion, growth, and quality of life for all those that surround him? Absolutely.

irebout

But let's get down to some of the things that you forgot to reference from the kick starter campaign, yet you forget to mention what the very first line of the kick starter campaign states: WE HOPE TO, doesn't mean we will, it means we are going to try to do this, and anyone with a brain can read into it that were not sure if we can do it, but darn it all were going to try. If you read his statement they sat on the money for over a year looking for ways to handle it once he could see that these things were not going to get accomplished. And then he was presented an opportunity. You did no reporting on what his role in that organization is, and that is the part that actually decides the entire case here. Did Mr. Londre profit from his partnership with the "The Ambitious Life"? Was any of his business ventures specifically promoted in the piece? These are questions that I have that you failed to investigate that actually really matter in this case, but you had no problem posting the story anyway. That is critical. But otherwise did it live up to the role of what the kick starter was proposing? That may be a bit more in question for sure.

irebout

The LaCrosse Tribune lived up to that expectation today when they did not report on the story, but one-sided body slammed the reputation of this young man who has done nothing but to try to make the community that he lives in a better place. The way that you presented this story is darn near slanderous. I personally love the picture you have posted with Mr. Londre holding a big wad of money, keep it classy tribune, I'm sure that won't sway anyone's opinion on the matter. I also love that you identify him as a former La Crosse County Supervisor, almost implying well he's political so he's got to be dirty and guilty.

irebout

(This comment will be in multiple parts as the Tribune posting said that it has profanity in it, It does not)

Let me first say I have no part in any of this, didn't donate, didn't participate, just looking at it from an outside perspective. I was close to Mr. Londre a few years ago and have been watching what he has done since then through facebook, and the Tribune. I haven't even seen him personally in 8 years. That being said this story is shocking to me from what I know about him. And troublesome to say the least, mostly because all of the good that he has done, was basically thrown out the window in one very one sided story from the Tribune. I once told Mr. Londre trust noone. Everyone will be out to get you when you try to do good for your community, and everyone will criticize the way in which you do it.

tower

yes that is the one allcav, soon to be replaced with a community raider who is self absorbed to the max.

TopCommentor1

Greasy!

duster

Raised funds from donors for one purpose, used it for a different purpose w/o consulting donors? And the diferrent project funded with those "diverted funds" is a video that promotes the guy who diverted funds? Self-dealing anyone? Wonder if he plans to report those diverted funds as personal income in 2016 ?

Grand Dad's Bluff

Londre was working the fund raising piece for the film group who he negotiated with agreed to come in and do a piece about him. He claims he was approached by them out of the blue, the record shows, this is not the case and is another of many misrepresentations made by Londre to feather his own pocket and reputation. Londre has his hands on city, county, and Coulee Cap funds. Investigation is needed. See www.kickstarter.com/projects/803928687/ambitious-adventures-reality-tv-for-young-entrepre to get more info. This needs to be referred to the DA's office for review as well as crowdfunding of Uptown project that is raising money to give Londre more than $20k for a frivolous study.

Grand Dad's Bluff

Chickens coming home to roost.....city and country needs to sever relations with these two....

allcav

"Self absorbed" "Community organizer" Is this about our current President?

allcav

Wait: "self absorbed" "community organizer"? Isn't that the President we'll soon be gone?

realtorick

This is the same man who attacked me on facebook, calling me a slumlord numerous times ??? Why because I take chances with poor , or down and out people, sometimes leaving me cash poor for all needed updates at times??? What I am hearing sounds like worse than Karma.

Tim Russell

LOL! You, Eide, Brooks are just trying to help people who are down on their luck. LOL!

realtorick

I rented to tenants that no one else would, I am on a short list with the Salvation Army, Catholic Charites, the VA out of Tomah, Probation agents, to be referred possible tenants, and have rented to many of them. I rented 4 units to Attic when their last place burned down and gave them a $100 discount for each apartment. I give tenants rides to grocery stores, make loans of $20 when asked, etc, etc Do you want to look at my apartments, or talk to these agencies before you slam me MR Russell?

jcr123

Asking Andrew to be transparent and accountable is not an attack. If simple questions are feeling like an attack, that's a pretty good sign he knows what he did was wrong. I'm glad people are finally gaining the courage to speak out against this self-absorbed punk with an entitlement complex. If he'd just been transparent throughout, as many asked him to be, instead of ignoring those pleas, this would be a totally different story.

CuriousG

Here is a link to Andrew's reasoning for his actions. Please read. https://goo.gl/WJixsf

Asiseeit

this story seems to be about two crooks

CuriousG

I would suggest everyone read the update on the Kickstarter page before passing judgment on Andrew. As one of the contributors to the SOUP projects, I was disappointed most of the original projects flamed out but fully support Andrew's decision.

Clarification

Pay it back or go to jail. Tired of con men and slick characters. This, however does not mean every fundraiser is bad.

SellingCrackToYoKids

Kickstarter should boot him to protect their reputation. But it doesn't sound like there is a rigid enough donation contract to prosecute him for fraud (unless there are more details than in this article).

random annoying bozo

move along....nothing to see here....it's just business as usual in the world of 'community organizing'.
if money is skimmed off to spend on 'other things', what good is it being a 'community organizer'?

Walter Sobchak

Modern day bait and switch

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