IT STARTED OFF SO WELL . . .
My, how things have changed in 12 months. A year ago we were starting to build the alpha version of our ChangeFunder app and preparing the way for our initial listening and pilot testing visit to a number of communities in Kenya. On November 1, 2019 we launched the beta version of the app and the official fundraising capacity of our ChangeFunder.org nonprofit and began an awareness campaign about our work in Kenya, including our launch partnership with a local team for a 6-month period funded through a generous grant from one of our donors. We spun off our technology development operations into its own company (mPowered Development LLC) and established a formal 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.
A number of important, impactful projects were supported by individual ChangeFunders like you, and lives were impacted! By the end of the year, we had been validated at a legitimate charitable fundraising entity by the IRS, Facebook, PayPal, and were registered to raise funds in every State. Things were looking up, though we still faced three major challenges which we planned to address with the members of our inaugural Board of Directors, slated for constitution in early 2020.
THEN THE WORLD CHANGED.
But then came COVID-19 which dramatically changed the landscape for charitable donations, large and small; as well as the focus for individual charitable givers. But it also changed the scope of community development. In late February, just as our newly-minted Board of Directors was beginning to focus on our fundraising strategy, the world changed rapidly and dramatically. The potential funds for our platform upgrade evaporated as people's investment portfolios disappeared with the market crash, and the outlook of a very uncertain future. And the focus of benevolent individuals who had been so generously supporting projects in small villages half-way across the world were suddenly (and appropriately) shifted to trying to support communities closer to home. At the same time, our grant with Mzingo was drawing to a close and the three challenges facing us at the end of 2019 remained.
SO WE BEGAN TO RE-EXAMINE OUR MODEL.
Recognizing that we needed to prioritize and simplify if ChangeFunder.org was to survive, we had to make some tough decisions and be open to new ideas and suggestions from Board Members, advisors, supporters and partners. Top of our priority list was to do what we could to ensure that the pilot efforts in Kenya were not abandoned. Second on our list was to do what we could to scale back anything nonessential so ChangeFunder.org could try to weather the COVID-19 storm; third was to recognize and accept that the initial ChangeFunder.org was nowhere near where it needed to be.
One of the most painful decisions we made was to take the beta ChangeFunder app offline until we could improve its functionality and capacity. In parallel with that decision was the call to to close down mPowered Development LLC the technology development partner for ChangeFunder.org. In April 2020 we began working with our partners and project creators to plan for a June 30 transition.
At the same time, we began exploring alternative and expanded funding streams, so we started looking at what would be necessary to create more empowered and sustained community-led growth. This led to the decision to incorporate more intentionally the lifeblood of community sustainability, namely community-based and -focused nonprofit and service organizations. We realized that by changing our model to ensure that each project idea is paired with a validated community-focused nonprofit organization, we could potentially achieve several goals at once, including:
We also decided to expand our funder scope from just individuals to institutional grant-makers as well, recognizing that one of the primary barriers that prevent large and generous donors from donating directly to community-level capacity building efforts is the lack of rigorous oversight and accountability. Realizing that our founders and envisioned partners could provide that accountability helped us expand our potential impact model significantly.
On the issue of our technology platform, we realized that just because we had decided to take our sub-optimal app offline didn't mean we couldn't still amplify project ideas and facilitate online fundraising through a combination of our website and Facebook, until we have a clearer picture -- and more support -- for another shot at our tech platform.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, although the original beta platform would no longer be offered by ChangeFunder.org or supported by mPowered Development, we realized that we had already spent significant time and funds on the mPowered side of the house in supporting the creation and growth of Mzingo Development and its community activators in Kenya. Therefore, we decided to provide a copy of the app code to Mzingo for them to customize and improve as part of their ongoing support to communities in Kenya. We also paid out all donations made to projects over the app, even if their milestones had not yet been met.
THE FUTURE IS UNKNOWN.
And so now we move forward into a new phase, focusing on testing whether we can build a network of community-based nonprofits and service providers to encourage, support, and strengthen the home-grown ideas of disadvantaged communities; and whether ChangeFunder's model can provide value to charitable funders -- individuals or institutions -- that indicates a pathway towards our sustainability. We remain committed to our vision of community-led development and progress, and we can only hope that others believe in it too.