The Donor’s Dilemma

Do you consider these your peers? If so, I wrote you something. (Picture Source)

Donors and charitable givers, large and small, understandably want to know that each of their dollars is doing as much good as possible.

GiveWell is a wonderful resource in that vein, a service that ranks charities on efficiency and impact. I highly recommend anyone giving it a look to help decide where to give.

In this article, however, I will be addressing larger donors, and I will be discussing an important philanthropic opportunity too new and unique to have made it onto GiveWell’s radar. For this particular project, now is the time when financial backing is crucial, and most impactful.

American philanthropists, foundations, and big corporations with an interest in poverty, economic policy, or human rights, please take heed. I’m talking to you.

My relevant background

I’ve been researching and writing about universal basic income (UBI) full time for over a year now, traveling all over the country, interviewing experts and citizens. Lately, my articles have been picking up steam here on Medium, even reaching the Top 20 list on more than one occasion. For a newer writer, this has been very validating, and the feeling of connecting with so many minds gives me all kinds of warm feelings.

But the truth is I’m currently working on a project far more ambitious and important for UBI than the few articles I’ve written, and I want you to know about it, because now this project is primed to take off in a big way, and now is when it needs backing to maximize its impact.

A few questions for you:

Are you a fan of Universal Basic Income (UBI), or at least of it being studied further and in an intelligent way?

Are you benefiting from growing income inequality? Do you feel guilty about that? Do you maybe worry about a coming revolution once a critical mass of people fall out of the middle class and into poverty? Would you prefer a peaceful, healthy, political evolution to a violent and pitchforky revolution?

Are you, perhaps, a CEO or other representative of a company that is actively working at breakneck speed to automate normal people out of jobs as quickly as possible? Do you think that your company could use some good PR about the issue, a message to the people of the world that you still care about them?

And are you…

a) … excited by the idea of helping catalyze meaningful, long term political change in the fight against poverty, inequality, and the crumbling middle class?

b) … someone or some organization who, in order to keep things manageable, does not accept unsolicited proposals, such that many of the projects that reach your desk are only through other large organizations with similar setups who are equally blind to many smaller, newer, more nimble projects?

For example, you could be Nick Hanauer, Oprah Winfrey, Cari Tuna & Dustin Moskovitz, Dolly Parton, Peter Buffett, Pierre Omidyar, Tom Steyer, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, The Arnold Foundation, you get the idea…

The Bootstraps Project:

In the world of UBI, GiveDirectly is phenomenal, and they deservedly dominate the UBI and cash transfer space for the groundbreaking work they are doing in Africa. The Economic Security Project is doing some admirable work in America. The Oakland (by Y Combinator) and Stockton, CA UBI trials are quite impressive and ambitious, too. However, the Bootstraps Project is filling a crucial role in the UBI space that is otherwise lacking.

Started by Deia Schlosberg and myself, the Bootstraps Project has grown incredibly this past year. We have become the second active basic income trial in the US. Currently operating in 3 states, the full trial will cover 20+ people in 10+ states. No other trial currently operates in more than 1 state, or has plans to operate in more than 2 or 3.

Bootstraps is designed for maximum philanthropic ROI:

  1. Whereas the Oakland trial and GiveDirectly have budgets of something like $50-$60 million, the Bootstraps Project has a budget of $500K for its UBI trial. We’ve raised over $150K from a few visionary donors as well as a successful crowdfund. Seem like small fries to you? Sure, but the budget is the only thing small about it.
  2. Whereas the other trials will take many years to yield their data, the Bootstraps Project will release its results in early 2020 before the first primary votes are cast in the presidential election, thereby elevating UBI significantly further into the national awareness at the most crucial political moment in at least the next 6 years.
  3. Whereas most people may not pay attention to the important white papers, statistics, and articles that come out of the many UBI trials around the world, the Bootstraps Project will present its results as a documentary film series to millions of everyday viewers. And it will present those results through the lens of real, gripping human stories covering the gamut of the American experience and issues of the day. In doing so, the Bootstraps Project will also create an eager audience for the results of the larger, more quantitative and data-driven trials.

UBI fizzled in the 70s for many reasons, chief among them public ignorance of the issue. What is desperately needed is fuel to the flames in the form of a grassroots movement. This is the primary mission of the Bootstraps Project. We will bring the idea of UBI beyond academic and technocratic circles to the Rust Belt, to the South, to the East and West coasts, to the middle class, to the working poor, to politicians, to young and old, to the displaced, to the sick and to the healthy, to families and individuals, to those religious and secular, to all ethnicities, to coal miners, to immigrants, to conservatives, to progressives, and to everyone in between in an honest, verité format that engages their imaginations as a captive audience. We will discover and share with America the essence of human nature when coupled with the basic financial security that a UBI brings.

It’s a smartly-designed project, partnered with Netroots Foundation and Amalgamated Bank to smoothly deliver the basic incomes on a weekly, direct deposit basis.

All contributions are tax deductible, and there are multiple options for how to get involved.

To Sum Up

The Bootstraps Project stands to garner wider attention, both for itself and for other UBI efforts, than the large scale UBI trials themselves, and at less than 1% of their budget.

See the website for the general information, but bear in mind that most of our materials (those depicting our participants) are private for reasons of maintaining ethics and the integrity of the UBI trial.

We’ll share the private materials with interested potential donors and partners. We’ll show you the homeless man who opened his first bank account at 56, the inmate who is pushing forward his parole in greater confidence that he’ll succeed back in the world, the indigenous woman who moved back to her people’s lands to teach and lead, the family with a young child who has spent his entire first year in the hospital undergoing major surgeries, the hip hop dancing immigrant college student studying healthcare policy, the man who tussled with white supremacists in Charlottesville and went back to his minimum wage job the next day, the trans couple in Ohio, the suburban scientists, the southerner farmers, the retirees, and more.

Email the team at to learn more and help make a lasting mark on the world to kick off your giving in 2018.



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Conrad Shaw

Conrad Shaw


Writer, UBI researcher (@theUBIguy), Actor, Filmmaker, Engineer