The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines crowdfunding as “the practice of funding a project or venture by raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people, typically via the Internet.” As a form of crowdsourcing and of alternative finance, Chance Bernett in his June 2016 Forbes article reports an estimated US$34 billion being raised worldwide in 2015 through crowdfunding.

“Crowdfunding can very much be an individual project or done on a larger scale,” says Marissa Irene Uli, a third year geography and CCIT student at UTM. Sharing what she learnt, Marissa says her first experience with crowdfunding came about through her birthday.

“I’m far away from home. I live in Indonesia, Jakarta to be specific,” says Marissa, “And I always wanted to do this thing where people raise money for charity on their birthday rather than a birthday party.” The geography and CCIT student was inspired by one of her friends who visited an orphanage for her birthday. She realized, “[I] wanted to do something for my home country and a birthday crowdfunding for a purpose I’m interested in would be a good idea.”

Although similar fundraising concepts can also be executed through mail-order subscriptions, benefit events, and other methods, the term crowdfunding refers to internet-mediated registries such as GoFundMe. Andrea Ordanini, associate professor of marketing at Bocconi University, describes the modern crowdfunding model in her 2009 article “Crowdfunding: transforming customers into investors through innovative service platforms.” The model is generally based on three types of actors: the project initiator who proposes the idea and the project to be funded, individuals or groups who support the idea, and a moderating organization, a platform, that brings the parties together to launch the idea.

“I’m very interested in finding out about and getting involved with NGOs just as a hobby, and I was also thinking about how to connect my birthday fundraiser idea with something I like,” says Marissa, “And one of the things I like is reading, I enjoy books and movies, and so I thought let’s find an NGO that promotes access to these interests.”

After dabbling in teaching English around the villages of Jakarta and Tangerang with her friends, Marissa found the one. “That is where Taman Bacaan Pelangi comes in, which translates to rainbow reading garden,” she revealed.

Taman Bacaan Pelangi is a non-profit organisation working to establish children’s libraries in remote areas of eastern Indonesia since 2009. Having worked with the NGO previously with packing and sending approximately 100 gift boxes to nearby villages, Marissa approached Taman Bacaan Pelangi’s founder, Nila Tanzil, “I emailed her about my idea hoping she would remember me, and she liked it and I started from there.”

Established in Flores in close collaboration with village leaders, Nila Tanzil, established the first library in Roe, a small village in the foothills of Flores, with just 200 books.

Today, the NGO’s official website states, “With the help of donors and volunteers, Roe now houses over 3,000 children’s books.” With 63 libraries established, the website also says they have delivered 117,000 books, servicing more than 17,000 children and training more than 574 teachers through capacity building workshops and basic literacy courses.

As the website describes, in each of Tamaan Bacaan pelangi’s libraries, reading activities are regularly conducted, lead by the classroom’s teacher. Through reading activities, the NGO hopes “Children will slowly grow the love of reading.” Through their capacity building workshops for the local teachers, the NGO hopes to impart the “skills and knowledge needed in nurturing the habit of reading in their students and promoting literacy in their village.”

To begin your journey into crowdfunding, Marissa recommends exploring websites such as GoFundMe, Indiegogo, and Kickstarter. She says, “I am using generosity because I chose based on how much they charge.”

She began the campaign a month before her birthday, November 25th, and having raised $1,994 USD, the campaign remains active. The international student says it was hard to gain traction at first. “Being an introvert, it was hard to talk to people about it, I eventually told my friends and then they started sharing it. I think because I’m an international student, a lot of my friends are in different countries. And so they shared it with the Instagram filter and the video that I made for the campaign and I was able to get people informed.”

Marissa continues to share with The Medium, “When I first shared the project online, strangers actually donated. After that, it plateaued a bit and I started sharing with my friends and family.” Although contacting people and gaining momentum was time consuming for her, the NGO-enthusiast found allocating time to both to be manageable “the thing with crowdfunding is that people don’t just do it because it’s there, they do it because they’re informed.” Marissa believes people have a higher inclination to donate if there is a personal story or a face associated with a cause. She advises other crowdfunding hopefuls to seek help and feedback from their peers or teachers.

Having been involved with volunteer activities at UTM, Marissa hopes to see similar initiatives here at school.