Financial transfers: security, legality, cryptocurrency
For most of 2017, we’ve been quietly working on the research and development required to build a version of Support.fm that makes a useful intervention for organizers and activists.
The attack on anti-racist and anti-fascist demonstrators in Charlottesville on Saturday is just further proof of how urgently organizers need secure financial tools. Amidst the government's ongoing protection of white supremacist groups actively promoting and inciting racialized violence, resistors must be able to rapidly raise and distribute money without being surveilled by the state or online platforms that work with and on behalf of the state.
Existing platforms may not have abolitionist, or even transformative politics--they’re built, like most major internet platforms, to cut a profit. But they do make fundraising technology more available to a wider public, if not necessarily more secure for activists & organizers. So our goal was never just to build another crowdfunding platform; it was to build a more secure, less costly platform that opened new social pathways and networks for moving money swiftly and efficiently.
Additionally, our partner organizations can’t have their data (supporters, donation amounts, intended uses) accessible to state agencies and regulators. And as we know, major tech companies often work closely with the state, sharing data, funding politicians, and influencing policy according to their interests.
Many of the groups we’ll eventually work with don’t have non-profit status. This means that individual members of collectives risk being taxed on fundraised money, simply because they don’t meet the qualifications of a 501(c)3 or opted out of seeking that legal recognition. (One reason to opt out is that most states prohibit nonprofits from posting bail or bond; in the states where nonprofits can incorporate as charitable bail funds, their operational scope is limited i.e. no bail for felony charges). We want to support our partner organizations in managing and distributing their fundraised money in ways that will protect community members from financial risk.
With the above concerns in mind, we’re working to to develop our own financial transfer technology: a system that is easy to navigate for supporters and partners alike, but that doesn’t make sacrifices around privacy and low costs.
We’ve built the back-end for a few working models, which we’re testing, comparing, and running by partner organizations. We’re exploring cryptocurrency systems, which employ a “tumbling” process that anonymizes transfers and and takes them out of the hands of major financial institutions. We’re being slow and intentional with releasing cryptocurrency technology because of heightened regulations and increasing criminalization of cryptocurrency users.
We’ll be back in touch in the fall with more updates on where we’re at with development. In the meantime, Support.fm has officially earned 501(c)3 status in Delaware, and is awaiting confirmation of our California tax-exemption. We thought a lot about whether or not to seek non-profit status, and weighed the potential pitfalls of seeking a type of legal recognition that has been rightly critiqued for wedding activist work to the rules, regulations, and ideologies of the state.
Ultimately, we decided that because the current staff of Support.fm – Blaine, Alice, and Grace – aren’t salaried, and because we’ll only be doing extensive fundraising on behalf of our partner organizations (annual operating costs will be low; supporters will have the option of making a separate donation to fund operations), it made sense to seek out non-profit status. Support.fm really is a “non-profit,” in the most literal sense of the term. 501(c)3 status allows the small operational donations we do get to be tax-exempt, and gives us the legal grounds to build a system that functions as a financial pass-through, with reduced risk for supporters and partners.
As always, please reach out with any questions, concerns, or comments. Below, we're sharing some images of our working UI designs, so you can get a feel for what the look and feel of Support.fm will be, whatever financial technology we end up employing. We’re excited to keep pushing on development, and to share what we have in the fall.
Grace, Alice, Blaine