So you love Bitcoin, and you wanna do something great with it to help change the world? That’s wonderful, you’re an idealist with vision, passion and the courage to reach out and DO SOMETHING meaningful and positive for the world, but are you ready to take on the challenge?
Here are a few tips from someone who’s been on the Bitcoin frontline and learned a thing or two about what, and what not to do.
- Don’t try and do everything yourself!
Bitcoin fundraising is all very well, and if you get a good opportunity to get some publicity, or find yourself in a position to raise some money that’s great: use it wisely.
There are lots of projects and charities out there that are already underway and have good support networks, infrastructure and networks available already. Do you want to try to do something new? or would you be more comfortable joining a larger program or organisation?
Sean’s Outpost and the Bitgive Foundation are both well established charity projects, and there are many examples of charities supported by exchanges like Ice Cubed and the Bitcoin Foundation like Alekenani’s Botswana program and BitPesa’s Donation program for projects in Kibera.
- Know your limits!
Bitcoin can be confusing at the best of times to the ordinary person, let alone a charity that is pushed for time, resources and/or manpower. Make sure you contact them first and let them know what it is you’re planning.
There are certain rules and procedures that you need to follow in order to make sure the Bitcoins you receive as charity donations are properly accounted for and the amount raised in fiat money is recorded faithfully once converted to fiat.
This is to protect you as a fundraiser and help those who’ve donated the money to you know that their donations are well spent and going to the right place!
Legitimate charities will have an official charity number and proof they are legitimate such as a charity certificate from their local government ministry of department, plus an accountant or responsible member who should insist on having a donation witnessed and signed for.
Another important thing to make sure is that you know what it is you’re donating for, and there’s an understanding of what you expect them to do with the donation in return: preferably in writing.
- Get a receipt or signed declaration that they’ve received the money from you and have agreed to spend it in the way specified by you, or your donors!
This sounds a little bit crazy, as it suggests that you know better what they need than they do. If this is the case, make sure you know what it is they need most before starting a fundraising campaign!!
A lot of charities don’t know, and don’t care what Bitcoin is. They just want money, so whilst this might seem obvious, don’t count on the fact that they will be able to, or want to treat it as an investment in their future development. Not only could they be sceptical about receiving ‘Internet Funny Money Donations’, since the legal status of Bitcoin is under question in many countries, but also charities may well have a hard time assessing whether or not they’re breaking the law by accepting Bitcoin donations from you.
- Don’t try to save the whole world!
A lot of us ‘more naive’ Bitcoiners can be accused of suffering from ‘Mary Sue’ syndrome (a throwback to a sixties’ comic about a Super-Heroine whose powers were so great she could literally do anything and everything).
Just like Mary-Sue, Bitcoin evangelists and fanatics often have a tendency to believe that Bitcoin is a Panacea for the world’s problems, and would solve all our woes if everyone was simply to adopt Bitcoin.
Sadly, this just isn’t the case. Bitcoin is a fantastically powerful tool, but it’s only a tool, and an experimental one at that. It relies on a huge amount of faith, a tiny group of core developers, and a micro-community of investors (on a global scale) who have the capacity to crash the market at will, often for their own selfish motives.
This means that you’re stepping on thin ice by putting all your faith in Bitcoin as a currency. The best advice? If you really want charities to accept Bitcoin, talk to them about it, encourage them to accept it, and then send them to BitPay, CoinBase, BitPesa, Ice3X or another exchange that will handle the funds donated for them.
- Interface with your local Digital Currency Association or the Bitcoin Foundation before you get started and ask for their advice.
Increasingly these advocacy organisations will have people with experience and a set of guidelines for you to follow if you want to start your own Bitcoin outreach or education project. You can find that things get tough when you’re in a foreign environment, surrounded by people who are expecting you to give them money or solve their problems for them, and having help and support from back home can be invaluable.
- Make sure you pick a team on whom you can rely to help you realise your vision.
All too often the Bitcoin world is made up of dreamy-eyed idealists and flaky kids with lots of vision and enthusiasm, but little idea of how to organise and execute projects from start to finish, especially if they’re complicated projects, which have multiple facets to make them work and especially if they’re likely to take a long time to execute, realise and bear fruit.
Aid work, particularly in the third world, is a full time job and it’s usually done by professional volunteers and nonprofits who are familiar with the local territory and cultures, and the challenges specific to the communities and areas. Work as closely with you can with them to try to help them achieve their goals, rather than expecting to achieve your own goals, even if you believe your goals are the most important ones!
- Be careful of your own motivations!!!
Are you doing it to boost the public profile or the price of Bitcoin by using the media? Or to promote your own status in the community or your business? If so, be warned: There’s always the possibility that your efforts may backfire. You may find yourself giving to a charity which has a questionable past, and if you don’t take proper precautions, there’s always the possibility you could end up being accused of trying to defraud the Bitcoin community. Remember that the people in the community rely on building trusting and lasting relationships, and maintaining and developing those relationships is crucial to developing a career in the industry. So protect your reputation at all costs by being as open, honest, not-pushy and transparent as you possibility can be, keep records of everything you do and spend on your project.
- KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID!
This should almost be the first AND the last rule, just to stress the point. You’re only human, and you can only achieve so much in a given time. How much time are you prepared to dedicate to changing the world with Bitcoin? If you want to dedicate your life to it, that’s great! But remember that charity work is a tough business by its very nature, and it’s very easy to get pigeon-holed as a ‘do-gooder’ who is only interested in raising money to make themselves look good. Some people will react badly to this because they think you’re trying to make yourself look better than them. You may find you find yourself being put in a box and labelled as something you’re not comfortable with.. People may only think you’re interested in talking to them because you want to get them to donate to your own individual cause or purpose. Beware of simultaneously courting business clients for the purposes of charities; you might end up confusing your motivations.
That’s why ‘Keeping it simple” and remaining objective about the project you want to get involved with is so important.
- Pick specific tasks or goals that you want to accomplish and set a time frame and a metric for success.
Choose one project: dedicate yourself to that one thing, and set a date by which you want to have achieved your goal. I know this sounds basic, but you’re setting yourself up for failure if you don’t have a S.M.A.R.T. goal written down on paper which you know you can achieve.
(S.M.A.R.T. Goals stand for: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-based).
If your project doesn’t have a ’S.M.A.R.T.’ set of criteria by which you can measure success or failure, go back to the drawing board, put pen to paper, and make sure you know what you’re doing first, so that you can accurately assess the level of your success or failure you achieved after the event. Remember that failure isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You can always learn a lot from failure, provided you have set specific goals and know what you failed to achieve and why!!
If you don’t set a SMART goal, you may simply be setting yourself up for heartache and pain: take it from someone who knows!!!
10. Don’t be put off by people who don’t believe in you or what you’re doing.
There are always going to be people who don’t understand what it is you’re trying to do, or who think you’re doing it for your own ego or to line your own pockets. Ignore them. Hardly anyone out there actually understands Bitcoin (that even goes for a lot of other Bitcoin Enthusiasts, Venture Capitalists, and Bitcoin Journalists!) but more importantly, members of the general public, charity workers and locals may feel that you’re out to pull the wool over their eyes or have some hidden agenda in mind.
Try to keep your goals consistent and maintain your integrity; you won’t have a problem as long as you do your best to put yourself in the situation of the people you’re visiting and try to learn as much about them and their culture as you can, without assuming that Bitcoin is somehow magically going to transform their lives.
Remember that money often brings its own problems, including corruption and issues of trust, feelings of unfairness within communities (i.e. How come so-and-so received a donation but I didn’t?) and remember that, particularly with community projects there will be various power structures already in place (in third world situations these will often be religious organisations vs. government organisations) who have different visions and may be competing with each other for control over local resources and finances, and publicity.
If you want to start your own Bitcoin charity donation project, feel free to get in touch with me by Twitter and pick my brains. I learned from experience that going into a third-world environment can be tougher than you expect, with culture shock and feelings of helplessness often coming as part of the deal, but don’t let that put you off. If you truly believe in what you’re doing, and you plan your project properly, you can create a valuable experience that will not only help others, but also will give you an experience of a lifetime which you’ll cherish forever.
11. Finally: This should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: FOCUS ON WHAT YOU LOVE DOING THE MOST.
There’s no point trying to help people who don’t want your help, don’t understand you and don’t care about your goals and motives. If you’re going to do something truly effective, pick a cause you really truly care about and you know you can stick with. I know it sounds obvious, but sometimes we have a tendency to get caught up in the media hype and follow other people’s agendas. STICK TO YOUR OWN PASSIONS AND YOU CAN’T GO WRONG. Not only will this stop you from mixing up your messages, but it’ll help you focus on what’s truly important in your own life too.
Here are a few tips from someone who’s been on the Bitcoin frontline and learned a thing or two […]