Advice for a crowdfunding project from a dictatorship?
December 4, 2012 9:55 AM   Subscribe

What would you want to see in a crowdfunding campaign from a pro-democracy activity in a dictatorship?

I'm helping some friends set up a crowdfunding campaign.

They run a 2x/week TedX-style lecture series (sort of framed as an alternative/supplement to university lectures) in a dictatorship. They also have movie nights and a book club. The topics vary but usually relate to democracy, human rights, women's equality, law, philosophy, economics etc. The lectures are pretty popular both in-person and online. Their Facebook page generates a lot of discussion.

This is kind of amazing given that they're in a dictatorship in which there is almost no room for public political discussion.

Their funding (from international donors) is running out this year and I suggested that crowdfunding might work for them. They need about US$200,000/year to operate.

Relevant details:
- they have a good budget
- they have good mission statement, vision, justification, etc.
- they have some metrics on attendance, hits, etc.
- they have a BEAUTIFUL website
- but only the main parts of the website are in English (they know that they need to translate more and subtitle some of the better lectures)
- the people that run it are well known pro-democracy advocates in their dictatorship, speak excellent English, are tech savvy, have strong personal and organizational social media presences etc.
- Some testimonies from people that go to the lectures about what the lectures do for them - which are subtitled in English
- they're not registered as an NGO because that would actually endanger them more

Given this, what would be the most compelling crowdfunding campaign for foreigner funding this worthy effort?

My thoughts...

- Links to a good summary of how much of a dictatorship their country is, with some evidence on the crowdfunding page itself
- A good statement of need for these lectures in this particular society
- Maybe play up the reality of how dangerous/provocative/brave it is that they're doing this?
- Link to an audit of their organizational finances to show that they're not skimming (and maybe some evidence that they've been funded by foreign organizations and governments in the past)

But for you all -
- what would make this compelling for you to fund it?
- how would you frame the marketing on the crowdfunding site for this?
- how would you promote this campaign?
- what sort of evidence would you want to see?
- what would be good "perks" for this sort of crowdfunding? It'd be hard to do much more than "thank yous."

I'm happy to provide links to their website and testimony video if it would help.
posted by k8t to Society & Culture (5 answers total)
Do they have any kind of relationship with an international NGO that would serve as their fiscal sponsor?
posted by elizardbits at 10:12 AM on December 4, 2012

I'll start out with something skeptical and cynical, as usual. I'm sure you also know this but organizations like this exist in a difficult balance. Too little activism and they're not effective; too much activism and they get shut down. They've gotten other foreign money so I'm sure they're pretty savvy about this kind of thing, but I would just make sure that they're OK with the risks associated with that kind of a raised profile and international advocacy on their behalf before getting started.

The challenge - both on this micro scale and the macro one for USAID, Soros, etc - is to show what impact these campaigns will have. Metrics on outputs are easy, but how do you demonstrate that lots of people attending a lecture or watching a talk strengthens pro-democracy efforts?

That said, if it were me, for a crowd-funding effort, I would try to personalize this in some way, in a kind of "a dollar will save this child's life" kind of way, if necessary with some humor. Something like "a dollar will save this journalist from a life of tedious censored reporting" or "a dollar from you will take a dollar out of this corrupt oligarch-politician's pocket". That may also lead you to ideas for perk for funders.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 10:15 AM on December 4, 2012

Response by poster: They have received a lot of funding in the past from international NGOs/embassies/etc. This is just another source of funding for them. They could certain put up testimony that they're trusted by iNGOs.
posted by k8t at 10:16 AM on December 4, 2012

Bluntly, and from someone who's done NGO work in some pretty challenging places, USD200k is a big ask and for that money you'd want the comfort of a reputable NGO doing due diligence about disbursement of funds.

Not saying it can't be done by this route but in the absence of this I'm at a loss to work out why the functions that you describe need a funding commitment of the magnitude you've set out.

Where they are to some extent defines the feasibility. The situation on the ground in, say, Pakistan is radically different to that in Saudi Arabia. And both again compared to say Belarus.

For a two hundred grand budget providing an audit report by an internationally respected professional services firm would provide comfort particularly in places where there might be terrorist funding concerns. This however runs the risk of raising their profile.
posted by dmt at 10:49 AM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Crowdfunding is one-time funding. The only way to possibly maximize the value of the crowd in this situation is to act on the value of the diaspora of this country and those with sympathy to give to a pro-democracy institution in this country. I think the best way to do this is to ask the fiscal sponsoring organisation to provide a one-time match for up to $200,000 and PR help for the duration of the match funding period (expect niggling, ask for e-mail addresses). Then, you've bought yourself a campaign for $400,000, leaving enough left over in year one to sock away for next year while you figure out your donors. MeMail me and we can talk about it more.
posted by parmanparman at 11:13 AM on December 4, 2012

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