Internews Center for Innovation & Learning

Internews Center for Innovation & Learning
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Watering the trees: Innovative fundraising for community projects

Raise your hand if you've had this experience: you visit a town or village in the occupied Palestinian Territories and you see a row of recently planted saplings along a newly opened road. One year later all there is to see is a row of dried-out and broken saplings. You might be forgiven for wondering why the people of the town don't care about their trees and green spaces. The answer, as usual, is more complex. Often, the reason is that a donor was unwilling or unable to pay for maintenance and water costs after the initial funding period. In poor areas that are also water-poor, this amounts to a death sentence for the newly planted trees as poor municipalities cannot prioritize plants over people.

Recently I came across two projects attempting to raise funds through crowdsourcing platforms. The first, AltCity, is using the crowd-funding platform indiegogo as part of its ALTerlife fundraising campaign. The second is a Kickstarter campaign that Global Entrepreneurship and Maker Space Initiative (GEMSI) is running to raise funds for Baghdad Community Hackerspace Workshops. At this point it seems unlikelythat either project will reach its goal by the necessary deadline unless some major donor steps in. Update ( 19 September, 2012 ): I am happy to have been wrong about GEMSIs Kickstarter initiative; GEMSI was able to raise 29,700 USD, exceeding their asked-for 27,000 USD. Congratulation!

I am a fan of both maker and hacker spaces as well as spaces that serve as convening and organizing spaces but I wonder about the fundraising methods and ultimate outcome. Even under the best circumstances this seems like crowdsourced fundraising may help AltCity and GEMSI "plant the trees" but it is not clear to me how the fundraising effort secures the resources to water and maintain them.

I suspect that crowdfunding projects are better suited for more tangible products rather than infrastructure. When a product is crowdfunded, it receives enough for the start-up costs and to gain enough traction to produce working iterations. Kickstarter has many product projects that may be successful models to study and imitate.

For those who are considering using a crowdfunding platform for a project within an organization, keep this in mind:

  1. If you have multiple ideas and you want to know which is worth pursuing you can have funders vote with their wallets. Put three competing projects up and see which actually gets funded. This is a test of your organizational ideas as well as an indicator of which idea is most likely to succeed.
  2. Consider offering up a finished product or giving the potential funder a more meaningful stake in the project to create better incentives.
  3. Lastly, keep in mind that crowdfunding projects are usually best for start-up costs and will not pay the water bill until your tree takes root and grows big enough to not need water every day.
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