New Website Helps Fundraisers Bypass Traditional Donors

A new Cambodia-specific crowdfunding website aims to liberate filmmakers, charities and entrepreneurs from the frustrations of courting and satisfying large donors—but may have to rely on large donors itself to stay afloat.

TosFUND, which translates as “Go Fund,” launched late last month with 16 projects, including a $119,500 fund for independent filmmakers, a $5,000 campaign to create a new traffic app, and a $350,000 effort to build a cafe focused on climate change education.

Existing platforms like Indiegogo and Kickstarter rely on credit card donations that make it impossible for most Cambodians to participate, according to Somvannda Kong, the site’s lead developer.

“Tosfund is unique in the sense that it focuses on Cambodian audiences and provides local payment systems (Cellcard, Wing and ACLEDA) to make it easier for Cambodians to engage in civil society actions,” Mr. Kong wrote in an email on Friday.

Former BBC producer Deependra Gauchan, whose arts NGO ComeTogether launched the platform with software firm ALiEN DEV and media NGO Action IE, said an independent selection committee had screened the first round of participants. (Half of those projects came from ComeTogether itself.)

The first crop of fundraisers were enthusiastic about the site’s local focus.

“Running our campaign with TosFUND is great,” said Philip Nalangan, communications manager for OIC-Cambodia, which has already raised nearly 25 percent of the $5,000 it needs for a child speech therapy project. “Our campaign is getting more awareness amongst Cambodian people.”

Wetlands Work director Taber Hand agreed, saying his organization had tried a different crowdfunding site in the past to pitch its floating toilet sanitation program.

“It was successful, but it involved much more work to administer than the TOSFund has,” Mr. Hand said in an email. “We really like the TOSFund format.”

But to sustain its success, TosFUND will have to overcome funding challenges of its own. The $40,000 in seed funding provided by USAID only carried the site until launch, and it will likely have to rely on similar donors to sustain relatively small ongoing costs, according to Mr. Gauchan.

“I’m a huge proponent of staying as far away from [large donors] as possible,” Mr. Gauchan said. “But if it can do good, why not?”

The only funding available to the independent filmmakers Mr. Gauchan has worked with came from NGOs, and with lots of strings attached, he said.

“You spend most of the time ticking off boxes,” he added.

Mr. Gauchan is working alongside 26-year-old filmmaker Sothea Ines on her third film, “Denebola,” which they listed as a $15,000 project.

Ms. Ines said she was hopeful that TosFUND would replace her last fundraising strategy: working for more than three years to earn the money for a five-day shoot.

“Even if I use my own money, there’s restrictions: There’s not enough of it,” she said. “Maybe this is where I can get my project forward.”

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