CSOs around the world face a variety of sustainability challenges, from the shifting focus of international donors to restrictive laws on NGO fundraising that make it a crime to accept support from government donors. For members of the Civil Society Innovation Initiative (CSiI), a global network of civic space activists and defenders supported by Counterpart International, this is a daily reality. In a recently published research publication, leaders within the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) hub recognized that “… with stricter regulations on CSO funding in the region by most MENA governments, it is important that CSOs start exploring and using alternative funding sources,” to react to a fast-changing and funds-strapped world. The following resources were gathered by the CSiI network and Counterpart International to help the network expand their options to sustainability strategies.

A frequently discussed tool for generating funds is crowdfunding – the act of gathering contributions, often of small value from multiple sources rather than a single donor. Crowdfunding enables people to mobilize a community for a cause, and successful crowdfunding efforts mobilize a variety of supporters, both local and international, to achieve their goals. In this way, crowdfunding efforts can “grow the pot” of donors for nonprofits by enabling the campaigner to access both high-value donors and contributors that provide small currency donations. CSiI organizations and activists from South Asia and the MENA region recently identified crowdfunding tools that could help them access capital to fund and expand their campaigns, from advocating for peaceful elections to deploying the arts in protest movements.

Counterpart International saw an opportunity to take this research and turn it into an interactive and accessible resource for the network. In our role as a facilitator of the network, Counterpart analyzed the tools and built an interactive Digital Toolbox to increase awareness of crowdfunding tools and showcase the ways the tools are being used by members of the network. After analyzing these tools and classifying them according to factors like cost and thematic focus, Counterpart shared the tools through CSiI’s Digital Toolbox, a network-exclusive resource for sharing innovative practices.

Screenshot from CSiL's Digital Toolbox
CSiI’s database breaks down a variety of crowdfunding tools according to specific variables.

Many of tools identified by the South Asia and MENA Hubs were selected for their focus on locality.While the major, well-recognized platforms such as Kickstarter and Facebook make an appearance on the list, 81% of the tools initially selected had a specific country or regional as opposed to a global focus. Services like Ketto, Wishberry, and Milaap, for example, specifically focus on India, and others, like MENA’s Zoomal, had a regional focus. Tools that cater to a specific country audience have a variety of advantages, including a body of local, as opposed to global users, and funding mechanisms that either interact directly with local banks or, in some cases, even allow cash transactions in local currencies.

Thirteen tools were added to the Counterpart Digital Toolbox, as well as a IndieGogo’s Essential Guide to Crowdfunding, which focuses heavily on pre-launch preparations which are a vital yet often overlooked aspect of campaigns. This research will be incorporated into the South Asia and MENA hub’s sustainability planning, so that the leaders of the CSiI network will have a full range of tools to draw upon to sustain their networks and continue to promote civic space.

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