The online system we build need not handle huge numbers of visitors and even fewer actual users. The system itself is designed to be distributed, not centralized. Everything we do is on a human scale, so that the “charity” that people involve themselves in is also a human-to-human interaction. This interaction is the primary function of the system we’re creating, and the money that it tracks is essential, but not the primary purpose.

It needs to be low-cost, in order to be used to create small, human-scale projects that can be funded by small groups of people, and even entirely by an individual. Large organizations can often make sense in businesses, perhaps, but charity is not a business, and large organizations are a wasteful, inaccurate and expensive way of channeling people’s desire to help others.

Small Needs

A large organization needs many thousands of donors before it can even begin to help anyone at all. According to “on average, high net worth donors gave $25,509 to charity in 2015. By comparison, general population households gave $2,520 on average”

It’s almost impossible to calculate exactly what an average nonprofit will spend on expenses because they do their best to hide real spending from their donors. A good example is using the word “projects” in the account summaries listing, as if that really was a separate thing from the “expenses”. Project workers and things like offices, transport etc then become part of a project, not “expenses”. Thus the central office and non-local staff become the only “expenses” and it looks like more than 90% of your money goes to the people you care about.

Still, anyone with an idea of how much a skilled administarative worker and an office in a city costs will have an idea what basic costs are. Many thousands of donors’ money will go entirely on that before anything even goes to any recipient they care about.

Our system doesn’t need those thousands. The website and backend we build needs to serve maybe 200 regular users (members) and a few thousand casual visitors a month. We’re building a small but replicable system.

Multiple projects

A user of the system could just be an individual. For example, our pilot project has the following costs:

NameCost $/year
Co-ordinator wages (1)960
Nursery worker wages (3)2520
Field workers (8)6720
Equipment, maintenance, seeds, general expenses4800
This Project has already planted 200,000 seedlings.

If high net worth donors give an average of $25,509 per year, such a project could easily become one individual’s personal project. An average family (by the figures quoted above) or a small number of people (7) donating even just $10 per month can fund one worker. Those not wishing to make a regular commitment can fund the project’s expenses.

So the system we build needs to be able to handle multiple projects but also be suitable for just the one. It will be suitable for one wealthy individual to pay someone (or have volunteer) to run for them, and also for multiple donors to sponsor one project. This is not as hard as it may seem. The one wealthy donor would be paying all the project participants, and all the expenses. There would not really be much of a difference – the same system can cope with both. One can pay everything, or many can pay towards each recipient.