Does crowdfunding have a place in global health?

This post originally appeared here.

What does crowdfunding have to do with global health and development? The association between funding potato salad and improving the world may not be immediately obvious, but in an environment where sources of funding for health and development are dwindling, crowdfunding is increasingly becoming a viable option for non-profits in need of funds.

But what’s the actual benefit of crowdfunding for global health and development? It seems obvious how crowdfunding can help individual entrepreneurs and artists gain funding for their projects. Many of them may not have funding structures in place and need an outlet to pitch their projects and ask for money. But most non-profits already have fundraising programs.

So, why would anyone donate to a health or development project on a crowdfunding site rather than giving directly to a charity?

Crowdfunding sites offer several unique opportunities that attract donors and can even elevate the quality of projects. They usually offer a great deal of transparency to donors. Most crowdfunding sites require organisations to post a specific project and explain the breakdown of funds. A project with high overhead costs is usually not attractive to donors.

Rather than simply giving to an organisation as a whole and never being sure about where your money is going, crowdfunding sites identify a specific, traceable project and provide information about how precisely your money is being used. Project “owners” usually also follow up with donors with real outcomes so they can clearly see the impact of their donation.

In global health in particular, there are many small NGOs that work on the ground and have important knowledge about local communities but lack funds because they’re not very visible to donors. Because they’re small, they often don’t have the PR and marketing capabilities to be visible to most philanthropists. As a result, they can find themselves lacking crucial funds to finish a project. Since the traditional grant application process is so long and tedious, NGOs in this position may end up shortchanging their programs, at least in the short term, while they wait for new funds to come in.

Crowdfunding sites allow NGOs to gain visibility among donors in the general public, and they also allow for a relatively rapid and seamless transition of funds. Health seems like a particularly important area for a dedicated funding focus, since so many issues in international development are connected to health. And global health is a particularly good area for crowdfunding since many extremely impactful global health solutions can be implemented so cheaply, and crowdfunding is a way to mobilise the masses to raise small amounts of money for discrete but highly effective projects.

To this end, there is a new crowdfunding site dedicated exclusively to global public health that seeks to address some of these problems. The site, CaringCrowd, was created by Johnson & Johnson and allows global health NGOs to post campaigns and receive funding from anyone who wants to contribute. It provides a space to donate to real, active global health programs that have been vetted by an advisory panel of distinguished global health experts. To be on CaringCrowd, projects must clearly benefit health and have health outcomes as the focus, and must not violate internationally accepted medical principles. Public health projects are presented in a consistent format to allow for easy comparison, and all projects operate on an all-or-nothing model, meaning that if projects do not reach their funding goal by the time the campaign ends, the project owner receives no money.

Perhaps most importantly for NGOs, the site operates on a non-profit model and is thus free to use, leveraging Johnson & Johnson’s resources to support and sustain this effort. As part of this effort, the site also includes educational materials, news about global health, first-hand accounts of working or living in resource-limited settings and career advice for people interested in entering the field.

Crowdfunding sites like CaringCrowd give small NGOs a voice as they seek essential funds to address specific health needs in resource-limited settings, and they give potential donors a way to rapidly understand a variety of projects in order to make giving decisions.

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