Lessons from Project Bayamo: A How-to Manual to Start Your Own Charity
Philip D. Santiago
Updated October 19, 2022
This is a how-to manual to help you start your own charity project. This advice is based on what I have learned from my own experience building my own charity, Project Bayamo. See my website projectbayamo.org.
I. Preliminary work
First, you should identify a need, group, or program where you can make a real difference. Reach out to various organizations or local groups. For my charity, I specifically targeted two underfunded daycares in the small town of Bayamo, Cuba. Coordinate with the directors (organizers or leaders) of your target group, talk to them, and obtain lists for what they need. Research and understand their mission and process because you will need to describe the group and their needs to your potential donors.
Importantly, you should declare very clearly how much of the donated funds will go toward your charity. This is one of the most important pieces of information that people want to know. In my case, 100% of all donations went to the kids in Bayamo. That is, I kept none of the funds for myself.
II. Building Your Own Website
You should obtain a domain and a host for your Website. The domain is the web-address of your website (e.g. mine is projectbayamo.org). I recommend coming up with a unique and easy-to-remember name which relates the domain name to charity. Also, I recommend using the suffix “.org” for your site. Note that the “.org” suffix used to be reserved for officially registered non-profit organization websites, but it is now open for use by anyone.
To build the website, there are several services you can choose from but I chose WordPress to create “projectbayamo.org” because they provide you with both a domain and help you build the website. See wordpress.com. Start by creating an account and choosing features such as the amount of storage space and where or not you can include videos on your site. Check to see which domain names are available.
Note an alternative to creating your own website is to use GoFund me at: gofundme.com. GoFundMe is very well designed to help you create a simple page that you can share. GoFundMe also helps you collect and store the funds and can then help distribute the funds. However, please note that GoFundMe did not work for my Project Bayamo. Project Bayamo was refused service by GoFundMe. This was probably due to its association with Cuba. Also, a GoFundMe website is easiest to set up when you are working with a registered charity (or when you operate your own registered charity). An association with a registered charity will let donors donate to the registered charity through your GoFundMe page. The advantage of collecting money on behalf of a registered charity is that your (U.S.) donors can deduct it from their taxes.
III. Using Pay Services
To receive donations, cash and checks are not very efficient. Instead, I recommend using Paypal and Venmo because they are two very common and effective pay services. However, officially, to use these services you must be over the age of 18 years old. If you are not over 18 you should use these payment services through a guardian (e.g., a parent). I strongly suggest that you keep careful records. For example, keep a ledger of the donations (in a Google spreadsheet) as a record of those who have donated and to effectively budget for your expenses. I also recommend that you publish on your website detailed instructions for how to donate through the pay services that you selected. For example, you might recommend that they include “Charity X” on the memo of their Venmo donation.
IV. Experiences Particular to a Cuba Charity
As I mentioned above, I was denied service by GoFundMe, and so I created my own custom website. I was also denied service by both Venmo and Paypal because of their concern of U.S. restrictions for trade including the Cuban Embargo. However, I wrote petitions to Paypal and Venmo and they eventually agreed to host payments. An important part of my petition was that I assured these pay services that all donations to my charity would be spent inside the U.S. and that all of the funds would be spent towards Humanitarian Aid.
If you are funding an organization outside of the U.S. review the U.S. Departments of State website, the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, and any embargoes. Make sure that what you are raising money, your donations, and your shipments are all legal.
V. Buying Low-Cost Goods and Shipping
I have completed purchases mainly on www.amazon.com to save on shipping costs. Shipping can be a substantial part of the expenses of the charity. In Project Bayamo, we were shipping to Cuba and so shipping was very expensive. I estimate shipping was about 30% of our total cost. Therefore, I recommend that you research low-cost, reliable ways to ship supplies.
I also recommend that you search for low-cost goods and generic medicine brands. Look at the price of pills per dollar and milligram of the medicine per pill to get the most medicine for your money (particularly if shipping cost is expensive). Buy generic versions of medicines. For example, buy generic acetaminophen instead of “Tylenol” and buy diphenhydramine HCl instead of “Benadryl”.
Advertisement is one of the most important things to do for your charity. Example methods of successful advertisement that I have found effective are the following:
- Most importantly, post on social media; for example, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Nextdoor.
- Email peers, family, and friends.
- Post flyers around your community.
- Go door to door in your neighborhood.
- Reach out to other similar organizations to see if they would be interested in cross promotion.
VII. Show Impact of What You Have Accomplished
Post pictures of the people with the boxes and products that your charity has delivered to them. This is rewarding for everyone and helps donors understand that you are doing your best to get supplies to your charity. It also reminds the donors that there is progress and reinforces trust between you and your donors. By building trust, your donors are more likely to donate again. For my charity, I posted pictures of children (in Bayamo, Cuba) with the medicines that I delivered. I also created a donor wall to list the people who have donated to my charity. However, note that some people prefer to be listed, and others prefer to remain anonymous.
VIII. Create partnerships for cross promotion and support
For my Charity, I reached out to a registered U.S. charity named Friends of Caritas based out of Miami, Florida and run by Mauricio Vivero (friendsofcaritascubana.org). Friends of Caritas collects donations on behalf of the portion of Caritas Internationalis based in Cuba. Caritas Internationalis is an international charity associated with the Catholic Church. Mr. Vivero was very helpful in offering advice on the charity and had suggestions for shipping items to Cuba. Mr. Vivero was kind enough to include a link to Project Bayamo in the Friends of Caritas website. He also offered advice on visiting Cuba.
I also made contact with Maydelin “Maye” Azahares, the Cuban Representative for Caritas Internationalis of Havana. Ms. Azahares coordinates all of the Caritas programs for children in Cuba. I personally traveled to Havana, Cuba in September 2022 and delivered an additional 100 pounds of medicine and educational materials to Caritas Internationalis. Caritas was kind enough to ship these to Bayamo at no additional cost, and presented Project Bayamo a Certificate of Recognition.
IX. Closing Remark
So far, my charity has recruited over 100 donors, and delivered over 200 pounds of medicine and educational materials.
So far, I am proud to say that I have inspired two of my classmates to start their own projects. One of these raises money for soccer kits for poor children in Argentina, and the other supports educating children on the importance of environmental activism.
You will encounter setbacks and obstacles, and it will not be easy, but I highly encourage you to be persistent and create your own charity. I wish you the best!