Crowdfunding is for the rest of us

 
 

During my years in Peace Corps, funding for my biggest projects never came from Peace Corps itself or through the PEPFAR program.  For the length of time involved in developing momentum and community enthusiasm toward a project, funding via either of those routes was cumbersome.  I had neither the time nor the patience to work within that system.

For those of us that decide to work outside the established mode of funding, we’re limited to local fund raising, soliciting our friends and family and using grants wherever we can find them. Unfortunately, the prior two are limited in scope and can dry up quickly. The latter option tends to be quite competive, often difficult to locate and might not work within a project’s limited time frame.

On a number of occasions I was able to use PayPal to solicit enough in donations from my circle of friends and family to develop my projects with little trouble.  But what of the volunteers that don’t have the convenience of a large family or social circle willing to donate over and over to the various projects Peace Corps volunteers (and others) are always engaged in? Where will that money come from?

The funding has to come from somewhere and volunteers, non-profits and other organizations do have options. Though the pie is relatively the same size as always, and we’re all trying to get a slice, there is hope. Crowdfunding has become a realistic approach to circumventing the traditional model of attaining the needed funding. From the P2P Foundation:

“Crowdfunding describes the collective cooperation, attention and trust by people who network and pool their money together, usually via the Internet, in order to support efforts initiated by other people or organizations.”

What are your crowdfunding options?  Fundraising via the interweb, P2P lending and to a lesser degree, microfinancing.   Please remember that these aren’t quick solutions to your problems, but they’re a start.

[Disclaimer: Depending on a Peace Corps post's interpretation of official policy, volunteers would be wise to understand their respective administration's stance before adopting any of these tools.  The same applies to a non-profit's official policy and I'm sure individuals need not be reminded to work within the law itself, i.e. fraud.]

Fundraising

Fund raising can turn viral fairly quickly with a few e-mails and a descriptive message. A number of these tools not only do the heavy lifting for you, but make that process fun and appealing. Fundable.org takes the idea that the goal for the project is entirely funded or the money is returned to donors, from Lifehacker:

“Set up a Fundable action with a deadline – say, $1000 for a contribution to your favorite charity asking for 100 people to contribute $10 each. If 100 people don’t contribute by the date you set, everyone gets their $10 back.”

With ChipIn, you can “quickly create a widget stating what you’re collecting for, how much you want to raise, an end-date and how you’d like to receive your funds.  You can then send a link via e-mail or post the ChipIn widget on your personal website, Facebook, MySpace and other accounts.  From there you can start working the communities you’ve already been developing.

DropCash is “a simple way to organize a fundraiser. Are you raising money for a charity, a trip overseas, a family gift for mom, or to pay off a surprise hosting bill? DropCash lets you set up a page so everyone can follow your progress as you near your goal.” 

According Kottke.org, Andre Torrez “came up with the idea and did the coding and [Kottke] helped with the design, HTML, and a bit of IA.”

Change.org works along the same lines as the previous methods, though you have to be a registered non-profit to take advantage of their fund raising tool.  With Change.org, you’ll get a page for your project(s), set up creditcard funding and allow people to monitor your growth as you move toward your goal.  Once someone gives to your group, that person has the option of inviting everyone in their address book to join as well.  Emily Chang sums up the idea of Change:

“[Change.org will] transform social activism by serving as the central platform that connects like-minded people, whatever their interests, and enables them to exchange information, share ideas, and collectively act to address the issues they care about.”

Project Agape utilizes Facebook through their Causes application which “allows users to start a cause, grow their cause through viral invitations, and raise money from their network to support any registered non-profit in the US.â€? 

Sean Parker, co-founder of Napster, Plaxo and Facebook, works full time on Project Agape while working as Managing Partner of the Founders Fund.  Wondeful things are sure to come from the Causes app as Mr. Parker never ceases to amaze.  From Om Malik:

“We want people to be able to leverage the online groups (and causes) and also act upon them� says Joe Green, cofounder of Project Agape, which is still in stealth mode and won’t fully launch for sometime. “We hope that the social causes come back into the real world.�

A number of tools such as FirstGiving.com and GiveMeaning.com exist but there isn’t the time to go through them all.  Of course PayPal and the many alternatives are also useful in fund raising.

P2P Lending

Projects in need of a faster cash injection have the option of peer-to-peer funding for quickly raising larger amounts than the previous fund raising methods. This route of funding comes from a large number of donors pooling small amounts of money while lending at competitive rates, entirely sidestepping the banks. This method does require you to pay back the entire loan.

Lendingclub, which is one of the more popular applications on Facebook, has already passed $100,000 in loans to its users.  Prosper is based on a similar business model and has an application on Facebook, making both of these tools a speedy and viral method for funding.  Another website based on this model, Zopa, lacks an application on Facebook.

Microcredit

Currently I’m unaware of any web tools that allow for microlending to volunteers and organizations specifically though Kiva, which works through partnerships with existing microfinance institutions, is a fantastic tool for aiding established microcreditors.

For more information on microfinancing and the Grameen model of lending, check out the Grameen Foundation’s website. WorldChanging also has a great write-up on microfinance, Kiva and Grameen lending.

 

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