Making crowdfunding work for Malawian projects

06 March 2024

A Blog Post by SMP Member, Mick James

Crowdfunding is a way of funding a project by raising money from a large number of people who each contribute a relatively small amount, typically via the internet, this article focuses on the US platform, DonorSee.

Following a couple of years living in Malawi, Gret Gyler set up a mobile and web platform in 2016 to help small NGOs raise modest amounts of cash from the global community of individuals who want to make donations. Gret reasoned that today’s donors wanted to actually see first-hand what the need was and to quickly be shown how the money was actually spent.

For recipients this simply means making a short video (30 seconds), explaining what your need is and how much cash you need to solve your problem. You then simply post the video on the DonorSee site, along with a short paragraph of text describing the project. The DonorSee donor base is many thousands strong and is mainly US based. These donors will then see your project, alongside all the others posted on the site, and may decide to give you some money to help fund it. For each donation made you have the opportunity to personally thank the donor, which is not only good manners, but also offers you the opportunity to build a real relationship with donors you have never met. Once donors have given you all the money you asked for the project closes on the DonorSee site and you are asked to quickly post a follow up video showing exactly what you did with the money.

This all sounds simple, and in practice it really is this easy, it’s just like making a post on Facebook or Instagram and the more visual and impactful your post the more donors are likely to connect with you.

Can any organisation just sign up and take advantage?

DonorSee need to pay their running costs and they also need to obey US money laundering regulations so they have some rules. It is extremely hard for Malawian based organisations and CBOs to take part unless they are connected with an existing European or US NGO partner who can act as a ‘grandparent’ for the Malawian organisation.

Tafika Youth Organisation, a Malawi based CBO, partnered with UK charity ZMCP. ZMCP provide a UK based bank account and ‘own’ the relationship with DonorSee, however, as far as the donors on the platform are concerned all they see is Tafika and ZMCP sit in the background. ZMCP have also chosen to take out a paid for DonorSee plan and they pay DonorSee $99 a month. This allows Tafika to appear on the platform and it also means that any supporting donors Tafika or ZMCP bring to the platform are able to donate to Tafika without any charges. Other donors, unrelated to Tafika or ZMCP who donate have a small charge removed by DonorSee to help cover their running costs. The paid for plan also allows Tafika to benefit from the Staff Picks feature on the platform and for every 15 donations, made in a month, one of Tafika's projects is showcased on the Staff Picks area of the site.

Tafika have around 15 projects running at any one time on the site and so far they manage to fully fund and close at least one each month. The Staff Picks slots focus donor attention and are usually the projects which receive most funding each month.

DonorSee allow you to post projects of any size but projects of upto $500 get funded most quickly and often projects for $100 can be completed in the same week as posting. Donors like to feel they are finishing something so getting someone to donate that last $30 for a $100 project is much easier than trying to get to a target of $450.

So, does this really work?

Tafika have been using the site for 18 months and in that time they have posted 35 projects and completed 23. They have raised $7,746 for their projects while ZMCP have paid out $1,782 a net gain of almost $6,000 for the organisation to help them complete some amazing projects.

What kind of things can you raise money for?

Tafika have run a wide variety of projects, from mosquito nets for the paediatric ward at the hospital, to school fees for orphans, a microphone for the community music group and a steel roof for a struggling family, the possibilities are endless.

Jessie Kayira, Director of Tafika’s DonorSee project said “DonorSee has meant that we can now ask donors from around the world to help with the problems we face right now. We don’t have to rely on NGOs for support and it is up to us, the harder we work on the videos and the more we work to build relationships with our new donors the better the results we get. This is about community empowerment and creating sustainable income streams and it’s been massive for us.”

Alison Greener, ZMCP Trustee said “We have been delighted to support Tafika with this initiative. What we like is that Tafika do all the work. They identify the projects in the community, shoot the videos and explain the need to donors. They then manage the interaction with the donor and post the completion videos. They are really taking control of their future here and standing on their own two feet.”