Let’s Get Real about Crowdfunding


“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”
― Winston S. Churchill

I have used a crowdfunding website to ask for donations two times. Once when Los Ramos needed help recovering from a devastating landslide. Help Los Ramos Rebuild
The other time was to help Los Ramos get uniforms and supplies for the Divine Women’s Soccer Team.

Both times I was thrilled by the success of the fundraisers. But, like Winston Churchill says, “We make a living by what we get and a life by what we give.” Sometimes both are intertwined in a scam from a crowdfunding website.

For example, a crowdfunding website in which a guy named Nigel asked for donations to help Los Ramos during the landslide. He posted his GoFundMe webpage on a Facebook forum of expats in Nicaragua. I’ve been actively involved with the community of  Los Ramos for over 12 years, so I contacted Nigel on Facebook. We became Facebook friends, and I asked what he was planning to do for the people in Los Ramos with the funds.

He gave me a song and a dance and my gut told me something was fishy about his GoFundMe website. I went to Los Ramos and asked if they knew a guy named Nigel who delivered medicine and paid for the bulldozer to grade a new road into their community. No one had ever heard of him, no medicines were delivered, and they said that the mayor in Altagracia had paid for the bulldozer.

Further investigation led me to a police website in Florida where he was wanted for fraud. I contacted the GoFundMe website administrator, gave them all the information I had, and his webpage was shut down the next day. A week later, I saw him on the island and personally confronted him. He disappeared from Nicaragua and deleted his Facebook account.

My point in writing this article is that we have to be very careful when we give to a crowdfunding webpage, especially if we are not familiar with the person.

So, Let’s Get Real about Crowdfunding Websites with a list of pros and cons.

 

Pros
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Let’s Get Real About Transparency and Donations


“Truth never damages a cause that is just.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

There has been a lot of talk about transparency in the political arena lately. However, my post is focused on transparency in giving. How can you be certain that your donation will serve others and not be used for administrative purposes? Can you earmark specific donations to an organization that has a tax-deductible status? What are the best crowdfunding and fundraising websites? And, how can you be certain that your donation to one of the crowdfunding websites will be used appropriately?

I’ve researched the best way for me to solicit donations for my little La Paloma Library in Nicaragua. I’ve debated on whether to apply for a 501(c)3 tax-exempt status or continue as I have been, seeking small donations through fundraisers and crowdfunding websites.

I am preparing for the future because what will happen to my little library if I move off the island, travel more often, or return to the states? Can it survive without me? I’ve invested my money and time in developing a comprehensive program to meet the needs of the teachers and the students. It is my legacy. So, in preparing for the future, I want to leave a program that will last beyond me with solid plans and financial support.

So, Let’s Get Real about Transparency and Your Donations…

I. Everything you need to know about your donations to a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization

This section gives me a headache! First, you have to determine if an organization is a charitable organization with a 501(c)3 tax-deductible status. According to the IRS tax-deductible donation rules:

The 501(c)3 groups receive the major part of their support from the public rather than from a small group of individuals. They also use the bulk of donated money to further their stated exempt-organization goals. The 501(c)3 groups include churches, hospitals, schools and groups that provide disaster aid, such as the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army and similar organizations.

If you would like to earmark your donation to be used for a specific purpose, it is important to know that charitable organizations welcome recommended designations, but that all gifts go to the organization and are subject to its control and final discretion. 

When a 501(c)3 organization receives a charitable gift the organization is required to submit a written receipt to the donor stating (1) the donee organization has ultimate discretion over the destination of the contributions; (2) a confirmation that the donor intends for the organization, not the individual, to be the gift recipient; and (3) an acknowledgment of the donor’s preference to support a particular individual.

The last point is ambiguous in this area of giving because qualified organizations must remind donors that improperly earmarking gifts may compromise the deductibility of the donation.

For example, if an individual wanted to make a monetary donation to my library, I could partner with a 501(c)3 charitable organization so the gift could be tax-deductible. However, there is no guarantee, according to the IRS laws, that an earmarked donation will be used for my library.

This is where transparency is needed. All donors to a 501(c)3 organization must receive a written receipt of their donation as well as be informed that the charity has the final say about where the money will be used.

It is too complicated for me, a one-woman operator. I can’t see the advantage of partnering with a 501(c)3 organization because of the excessive requirements by the IRS with no guarantee that my library would receive earmarked donations. And because of the tangle of bureaucracy involved in becoming a 501(c)3 organization, I would rather keep it simple. In addition, many of my donors are foreign donors whose donations are not tax-deductible because it only applies to U.S. citizens.

Tax Deductible Donation Rules

Fuego y Agua donations for my library and the La Paloma Elementary School.

La Paloma Elementary students check out the new book donations.


II. Crowdfunding and fundraising websites

Crowdfunding websites allow individuals and businesses to solicit donations for any kind of project by accessing a large number of potential donors. There are advantages and disadvantages to using crowdfunding websites and the potential for abuse is always a concern.

Best Crowdfunding Sites for 2016

I have used YouCaring to Help Los Ramos Rebuild after a devastating landslide that destroyed their community and for donations to support The Divine Women’s Soccer Team.

Transparency in seeking donations on a crowdfunding website is important. I believe it is imperative to respond to each donor, to be specific in how their donations will be used, and to be open, honest, and accountable for  the money spent.

For these reasons, I always write a blog post with photos about how the donations have been spent and help the recipients of the donations write a letter or make a video thanking the donors. Goodie Bags for Los Ramos    Los Ramos Says Many Thanks

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Let’s Get Real About Consumer Protection Rights in Nicaragua


                                  “Debt is the worst poverty.” -Thomas Fuller                                                                                       

When we were shopping for appliances in Nicaragua, I didn’t understand the prices that were displayed. All I wanted to know was the total cost of a refrigerator, but instead the prices were listed in monthly installments on stickers that must have been glued on the appliances with super glue because they were impossible to remove!

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It didn’t take me long to figure out that the majority of Nicaraguans can’t afford to pay the total cost upfront. Not only is credit “king” in Nicaragua, but the lack of consumer protection, the outrageous interest charged to buy on credit, and the lack of education about consumer rights in Nicaragua combine to make the worst poverty.

So, Let’s Get Real About Consumer Protection Rights in Nicaragua. (or the lack of them)

The first Consumer Protection law for Nicaragua was passed in 2013. Below is the link for the law in Spanish.
Law 842: Law of the Protection of the Rights of the People who are Consumers and Clients

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Let’s Get Real About Troubleshooting in a Developing Country


“The problem with troubleshooting is that trouble shoots back” ~ unknown

Troubleshooting is a systematic approach to solving problems. But, living in a tropical developing country…nothing is systematic or normal. We’ve spent countless hours trying to troubleshoot electrical, mechanical, plumbing, and computer issues. And the solutions to most of our problems have been anything but normal.

Steps to troubleshooting in first world countries:

1. Gather information on the issue
2. Eliminate unnecessary components in the issue and see if the problem still persists.
3. Check for common causes. I am sure you’ve read troubleshooting guides and the first question asked is, “Is your device plugged in and turned on?”

This is where I will start as your guide to troubleshooting in a developing country because seldom are the causes normal or usual.

So, Let’s get Real about troubleshooting in Nicaragua. 
  

1. If your internet suddenly blinks off, it could be because…

a. A monkey is using your cable line for a high wire act and trapeze show. This happened to a friend that lives on Ometepe.
Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 12.48.15 PMb. A parrot pecks through your internet cable

c. A bird builds a nest on your tower internet dish.

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Humans of Nicaragua: Francesco and the Elements


“That man who is more than his chemistry, walking on the earth, turning his plow point for a stone, dropping his handles to slide over an outcropping, kneeling in the earth to eat his lunch; that man who is more than his elements knows the land that is more than its analysis. But the machine man, driving a dead tractor on land he does not know and love, understands only chemistry; and he is contemptuous of the land and of himself.”― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath 

 

Francesco is a philosopher. I’ve known him for over 12 years, and until I interviewed him for my Humans of Nicaragua piece, I never knew his philosophy of life that binds him to Nicaragua.  He is a man who is more than his chemistry. He is an artist, a master craftsman, a farmer who kneels in the earth to eat his lunch, and a loving father and husband.

Francesco came to Ometepe Island in 2001. He had everything stolen in a hostel, so he stayed until he could recuperate his loses. According to Francesco…
And the rest is history

He’s seen many changes on Ometepe Island since 2001. He said that when he first arrived, he had to find work to replace everything that was stolen.

It was difficult to find people that spoke English, so I stayed and worked in the hostel because I spoke English, Italian, and Spanish. 

My theme for his interview was his new dome home that he built, but I got so much more! I’ve written two pieces before about the beginnings of his dome home and why he had to tear down his other house piece by piece.

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Let’s Get Real about Housesitting in Nicaragua


“Whenever you go on a trip to visit foreign lands or distant places, remember that they are all someone’s home and backyard.”
― Vera Nazarian

our houseHonestly, we have never had a problem finding housesitters. Who wouldn’t want to stay on a tropical island in the middle of a sweet sea, in the middle of Nicaragua, in the middle of Central America?

In fact, as you read this, we are in the United States and we have another awesome housesitter. We travel often and because we have a dog and two cats and a home in a developing country, we always have a need for responsible sitters.

After several years of planning for housesitters, I have the housesitting routine down pat. So, let me share with you some of the things I have learned when preparing for sitters.

Let’s Get Real about Housesitting in Nicaragua

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Let’s Get Real About When Tourism Can Kill


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Warning: This is a rant. No beautiful photos of dreamy sunsets will go with what I have to say. Yet, I have to get this off my chest…When irresponsible and uncontrolled tourism leaves a wake of destruction in its path   It. Isn’t. Pretty

The truth is that irresponsible tourism can kill. It kills unsuspecting people, cities, small towns in pristine places, and our fragile environment. It kills morale and self-confidence, replacing them with fear and denial.  In its wake, it leaves us bewildered, confused, frustrated, afraid, and angry…oh so angry.

Irresponsible tourism affects everyone from the locals who are displaced to the business owners to the foreigners who have chosen to retire and live abroad. It affects us in Nicaragua and we are all responsible for the consequences of our irresponsible actions. No one gets off the hook easily…not anymore.

Yet, exposing the dirty side of irresponsible tourism in Nicaragua is a big NO! NO! Those who are courageous enough to speak out are harassed, shunned, and/or blocked from expat forums. Why? Well, I suspect a number of reasons, the biggest reason is economic. Responsible and sustainable tourism can provide direct jobs to the community and indirect employment generated through other industries such as agriculture, food production, and retail.

Responsible tourism can bring about a real sense of pride and identity to communities. By showcasing distinct characteristics of their ways of life, history and culture, tourism can encourage the preservation of traditions which may be at risk of losing their unique identities and cultural heritage.

Nicaragua relies heavily on tourism. Visitor expenditure generates income for the local communities, which can lead to the alleviation of poverty. The benefits of responsible and sustainable tourism are great, yet what about the problems that irresponsible tourism brings and how do we solve those problems without creating an awareness of them first?

I have written about the Codes of Responsible Travelers and I think that if we are responsible travelers we are aware of the effect we have on the places we visit. Yet, there is another side of tourism that is rarely discussed. What responsibilities do the locals have, the business owners, the local government, and the foreigners who have chosen to live in the high tourist areas? Do we escape accountability for when bad things happen?

I have given this much thought, and although I do not have a business in Nicaragua, I see the effects of the good and the bad practices daily. In discussing my thoughts, I want to make sure it is presented in a context where I don’t place anyone on the defensive or create emotional turmoil. I read about the problems on expats of Nicaragua forums, and I talk with many local and foreign business owners. These are only my thoughts on the problems. I place no blame on any group, but I think it is time that we ask ourselves some important questions to help our tourist communities be safe, enjoyable, and unique places for tourists to visit.

With the influx of foreigners moving to Nicaragua and starting businesses, are we loving Nicaragua to death? So….

Let’s Get Real About When Tourism Can Kill with six important questions we should ask ourselves as expats.

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Let’s Get Real About Safety in Nicaragua


“I finally figured out that not every crisis can be managed. As much as we want to keep ourselves safe, we can’t protect ourselves from everything. If we want to embrace life, we also have to embrace chaos.”
― Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Our house is surrounded by ornamental iron keeping us safe from unwanted intruders.

Our house is surrounded by ornamental iron keeping us safe from unwanted intruders.

September 2018 Update:

Unfortunately, this post is old. Nicaragua is not safe to visit at the present time. The Ortega regime continues to repress freedom of speech, thousands have left the country, more than 400 people have been murdered, thousands injured, hundreds arrested, imprisoned, and tortured. We left Nicaragua mid July and have no plans to return anytime soon. 😢😢😢

Now, that’s the truth! No matter where we live in this mad, mad world we can’t protect ourselves from everything. Like most expats, I grew up in one country and moved to another country. My idea of safety abroad revolved around; Don’t drink the water. Always shake out your shoes for scorpions. Don’t wear a lot of bling bling in big cities. My learning curve was steep for keeping myself safe the first couple of years living in Nicaragua.

I’ve categorized four main safety concerns in Nicaragua. Unless you are Bubble Boy, you will probably deal with one of these safety issues at one time or another in Nicaragua. We have dealt with safety hazards from all four categories, but we have never considered any of these safety issues life-threatening.

When moving to a new country there can be a host of hidden hazards that aren’t covered in the tourism brochures. Although no one wants to be ruled by fear, it is better to be aware of what’s out there from disease to crime. So…

  Let’s Get Real About Safety in Nicaragua

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Let’s Get Real About What to Bring to Nicaragua


Last month’s post in the Let’s Get Real series was Let’s Get Real About Packing and Moving to Nicaragua.

Yet, what do you really need to bring? We were lucky because we lived in Nicaragua for a year before our permanent move. We had a good idea of what we needed and what we didn’t need. However, in our six years of living full-time in Nicaragua, so many things have changed that when we return to the states our lists are shorter and shorter.

The lists of items below are especially helpful if you are moving to an island or a rural area.

Some of the expats in Nicaragua will say that many of the items on my list are available in Managua. However, we have to take into consideration that we live on Ometepe Island and it is a long, full, and expensive day of travel to get to Managua.

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Let’s Get Real About Packing and Moving to Nicaragua


“I hear there are people who actually enjoy moving. Sounds like a disease to me – they must be unstable” ~ Jan Neruda, Prague Tales

 

When Ron and I finally decided to move to Nicaragua, our first question was, “How do we get all of our stuff there?” I had a brilliant-to-me idea. I contacted the cruise ships to see if it was possible to book a one-way trip from Miami to San Juan Del Sur. Then, we could unload all of our stuff from the cruise ship, hire a truck or van to take us to San Jorge, and board the ferry to our new-to-us shack we purchased on Ometepe Island. It was the cheapest option I could find, as well as sounding like a lot of fun. For a few days, we would have a floating storage locker in our stateroom on a giant cruise ship.

Cruise ship in San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua

Cruise ship in San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua

“Sure, that is possible,” said the first booking agent. She proceeded to tell me how it could be done and I thought…this is so easy. I am brilliant.

I contacted a second agent to ask about luggage limits. She said there were no restrictions. Again, I told myself, this is genius!

But, the third agent must have had a bad day when I asked her if there were restrictions about what I could pack. “Can I bring a trunk with my pots and pans and is there room in the stateroom for our kayak?” I asked.

“Why would you need to bring pots and pans? You can’t be cookin’ any beans in your stateroom,” she snarled. So, I had to tell her that we were moving to Nicaragua and we wanted to bring several trunks with our possessions.

“This isn’t the Grapes of Wrath and it sure isn’t a moving company, so find another way to move!” and she hung up on me. Back to the drawing board!

The way I see it, there are three options for packing and moving your stuff to Nicaragua. So, for my monthly Let’s Get Real series…

                  Let’s Get Real About Packing and Moving to Nicaragua

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