By Tom Dawkins, co-founder of Startsomegood.com.
A lot of social change, especially when it came to the development sector, used to rely on outside forces coming to the aid of local communities. Sometimes these interventions are well-designed and increase the capacity and resilience of the community. Other times they serve instead to increase dependency and disrupt local approaches to progress. But what they have in common is the permission required from existing institutions to get started, whether given by governments, corporations or big NGOs, and these institutions often bring their own assumptions, impose their own ideas of what constitutes “best practice” and send their own staff to oversee and instruct.
If you are a local changemaker with an idea to benefit your community, what could you do? To raise outside funds you would need to register as a charity, not only in your home country but in the United States, in order to access platforms like Causes, Razoo or Crowdrise that are restricted to US-registered 501c3 organizations (501c3 refers to the section of the tax code that allows charitable deductions). To apply for 501c3 status costs $800 and can take up to two years for approval, time and money many don’t have. Or you could convince one of these big institutions to back your idea, but now you’re waiting for permission from others to pursue your idea, looking for a “big yes” capable of funding your idea.
If you wish to found a for-profit social enterprise to drive sustainable social change you will find it no easier. Impact-investing venture capital is still extremely nascent, very few angel investors will take risks on social enterprises and foundations have yet to understand how to handle for-profit structures. Once again, you risk being left hoping for a rare big yes to give you the funding you need to launch.
What if, instead of relying on a single big yes you could fuel your project by aggregating lots of little yeses from people who believe in you and your idea, building a movement that will drive a more sustainable form of social impact, regardless of whether your venture is a non-profit, for-profit or unincorporated?
This is the opportunity StartSomeGood.com exists to provide.
StartSomeGood is an example of a fundraising approach usually labeled “crowdfunding”, of which Kickstarter and the Australian-based Pozible are other examples. Crowdfunding brings a game-like dynamic to fundraising, giving you the chance to share your vision and rally support in the form of numerous smaller donations, which are conditional on you reaching your project funding goal by the deadline you selected.
Kickstarter have proven how successful this model can be, supporting thousands of projects over the past two years. But whereas Kickstarter and Pozible are exclusive to creative ventures, StartSomeGood was founded by social entrepreneurs explicitly to support other social entrepreneurs.
Our platform allows change-makers with great ideas to raise the support they need directly from their community. Unlike the traditional fundraising sites we are legal structure-agnostic. In other words, we don’t care if you are for profit, non-profit or just a bunch of friends working on a project, so long as you have an idea to change the world we want to provide you with the tools you need to make it happen.
Since launching in March last year we have supported 38 social ventures to raise up to $101,000 in seed funds to launch. Let me tell you about a few of them:
When Brad Hurvitz of Trek to Teach wanted to raise funds before they had 501(c)3 status, he previously would have had few options. Through StartSomeGood, he raised $2,910 to take action and expand Trek to Teach’s educational offerings to many more students in Nepal with a goal of placing 10 teachers into schools in the Himalayas this year.
Mikey Leung aims to combating poverty and create jobs in Bangladesh through tourism. As a filmmaker and storyteller Mikey is determined to show the positive face of Bangladesh to the world, encouraging more people to learn about and visit the country. Thanks to the $15,000 contributed by 57 supporters, Mikey is publishing “Positive Light”, a crowdsourced photography book, and developing online content to promote the country he loves.
Ehon Chan is a young Australian changemaker who wanted to do something to reduce the tragic level of youth suicide in his country. He felt that the way to get through to young men most at risk was through a radical new communications strategy, but was unable to convince the main mental health charities to take on his approach. Undeterred Ehon built a team of supporters and raised $2,500 on StartSomeGood to launch the Soften The Fck Up Campaign late last year.
Having spent years receiving speech therapy for stuttering, Jack McDermott looked for ways to support the speech therapy community with technology. He raised $3,246 on StartSomeGood to launch Speech 4 Good, an iPhone app which makes speech therapy accessible and affordable. Jack had this to say about the experience:
“Not only did our StartSomeGood campaign provide us with seed funding for the development of our first product, Speech4Good, but it also united us with an entire cast of like-minded supporters. This resulting community, I would argue, is equally valuable to the future success of our social venture.”
What’s especially inspiring about these young social entrepreneurs is that they didn’t wait for permission, they didn’t rely on a big yes and they didn’t accept the status quo. They rallied their communities behind their vision for change and found that they already had the support they needed.
You can see more success stories in our eBook: What’s Next for 2012: Let’s Start Some Good.
So, what good will you start?