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For a long time, Jordanian journalist Lina Shannak has been interested in documenting the stories of underpriviliged communities who have been neglected by the state. In July 2017, she decided to work on a book project to document the plight of the people of Jabal Al Jofeh. She couldn't finance the project on her own, and options for local or international funding were complicated. So Lina turned to her Jordanian audience for money ....

I can imagine that each one of us has an idea for an in-depth article or report, and dreams of having the chance to work on it one day. A chance like this often depends on funding, and who among us hasn’t found it difficult to get the funds to be able to dedicate herself to writing and research. 

I had an idea for a book that tells the stories of the people of Jabal al-Jofeh in the Jordanian capital, Amman. This area is inhabited by mixture of Jordanian citizens and immigrant workers from different nationalities. Having been neglected by the authorities for decades, these people live in harsh conditions. When I began collecting their stories, I did not know who would be interested in publishing them, or the form in which they would published (articles or a book). The people of Jabal al-Jofeh who let me into their homes had to put up with my visits and my intricate questions. 

The most important aspect about this method is that it liberates us from the funder’s agenda, and gives those who support your project a sense of shared ownership.

After I finished my research, I drafted a short chapter and received an initial approval from a Jordanian publishing house. But I needed some funding so I could dedicate my time to writing, especially as I had spent so much money during the research. The cost of an almost daily commute – two hours, back and forth each way – was high. I also had to quit my job to focus on this project and so I had no income during that period.

Finding the right sponsor for my project was not easy. Although the internet offers a wide range of opportunities, the reality is much more complicated. If you choose to apply for foreign funding, you will have to put a lot effortinto writing long proposals to describe a simple idea, and I’m not good at doing that. Also, getting foreign funds to write about local issues could have negative consequences. You might be accused of serving foreign agenda, or even of treason, especially if you’re writing about a sensitive topic, and then you would find yourself in a position where you are forced to defend your work. 

On the other hand, local funds usually avoid controversial topics. They are not interested in reports that criticise state institutions, even if they are based on citizens’ testimonies. Therefore, I had no choice but to try crowdfunding, and I was very lucky as I managed to raise all the amount I had requested in a short period of time.

Crowdfunding relies on raising money from the public: each person can donate a different amount. For me, the most important aspect about this method is that it liberates us from the funder’s agenda, and that it gives the audience who support your project a sense of shared ownership. Instead of publishing the book with the logo of a foreign sponsor and a slogan that this product is “a gift from the people of (a certain) country”, this book about Amman would be “funded by the Jordanian people”. 

I was very happy that people were eager to support a cultural and journalistic project despite the difficult financial conditions for many of them. Some people donated a handful of dollars just to support us.

To be honest, I did not plan much for the crowdfunding campaign. I only spent a few minutes writing an abstract, then I recorded a video on my mobile phone to introduce myself and my idea. I asked for $3500 because I estimated that this would be the  amount I needed to dedicate a few months for writing. The crowdfunding campaign was supposed to last for 45 days, but I managed to raise a bit more than the requested amount in just four days. I was publishing and updating the link several times a day, and I shared it with all of my friends and colleagues.

I was very happy that people were eager to support a cultural and journalistic project despite the difficult financial conditions for many of them. Some people donated a handful of dollars just to support us.

In line with the policy of Zoomaal, the crowdfunding platform where I launched my campaign, I offered some rewards in return for each pledge. Those who donated one dollar, for example, are considered partners in the project in the symbolic sense of the word.Those who donated $20 or more received a special “thank you” letter, while those who donated more than $50 received a copy of the book. When the book was published, I kept my promise and published a special thanks to all the sponsors. There is a sentence on the backcover that says "This book is sponsored by the Jordanian public" to express my pride with this alternative to foreign funding.

This campaign encouraged me to launch a campaign for a second book. This time, I asked for more money to cover the time and effort and I spent on research and interviews, instead of just funding the writing phase. I managed to raise a good amount but, unlike the previous campaign, I was faced with some criticism. Some people though I was asking for money to cover printing and publishing costs and I had to explain to them that this was being covered by my publisher. Others thought I was asking for donations for the people of Jofeh, and so I had to correct these assumptions constantly. I think most false assumptions stem from the fact that crowdfunding is a relatively new concept for Jordanians (I might be the only Jordanian journalist, or one of very few, to resort to crowdfunding)

It is possible that both campaigns were successful because I requested a small amount of money. But now I do see crowdfunding as a serious choice that offers more opportunities than conventional funding. So let us bank on people’s faith in our ideas again!

Lina Shannak’s top tips for a successful crowdfunding campaign:

  • Chose the right crowdfunding platform for your project. I used Zoomaal platform because it focusses on supporting Arab innovation. My experience with them was smooth. It is user-friendly and their team was available around the clock to answer all my questions. You can also use other platforms such as  KickstarterIndiegogo, and GoFundMe. There are different rules for each platform, regarding the way you will receive your money at the end. Make sure you read them carefully before you start your campaign.
  • Make sure that crowdfunding is legal in your country. Some countries do not allow for donations from foreigners.
  • Explain to your audience how you intend to spend the money. If this isn’t clear enough, then it might cause some trouble in the future, and maybe even affect your credibility. I faced this problem in my campaign. Some people thought I needed the money to cover the costs for printing and publishing when, in fact, I needed it to be able to work fulltime on the project. Others thought I was collecting donations for the residents of al-Jofeh, so I was having to address these misunderstandings all the time. 
  • You must have a clear vision about the final product, and show your audience that you are confident and know what you’re doing. In that respect, I think the research that I had done in advance helped me a lot, and I knew all stories by heart.
  • At the start of the campaign, you should rely on your close circle of personal and professional relations; the people who know you closely and know your work. This gives you a good push and encourages others to support you. 

*Photo: view of the Jordanian capital, Amman, from Jabal Al Jofeh. By Lina Shannak