"We want Your money" -messages from iNaturalist

Is iNat some kind of trouble? I live in Finland, and in our culture that kind of messages (see below) are mark of very poorly business and possible mark of weakness of keep these services and webpages open. If I’m understand correctly example some Universities in USA, National Geographic and so on support on this. But maybe I am wrong? I allready put over 20 000 records in iNat. Is it wise put any new recordings in here? Maybe they are gone tomorrow.

Message that what I get every time, when open iNat webpages is this:

Can you spare a moment before you click away?

iNaturalist is a not-for-profit initiative making a global impact on biodiversity by connecting people to nature with technology. This year alone, 1 million people have contributed observations to iNaturalist, but only 0.24% have donated to support the operations that keep iNaturalist running. Thank you to the 0.24% of the community who are donors! When you donate to iNaturalist, we don’t send you any paper mail (or even ask for your address), we don’t share your email with other organizations, and we put it all back to growing and sustaining this vibrant virtual community. We know not everyone can contribute financially, but if iNaturalist has brightened your life this year, here’s what your gift can do:
-$13 stores 10,000 observation photos for a year
-$28 sends one day’s worth of email updates
-$112 stores 1 million observation photos for 1 month
-$333 keeps iNat servers running for 24 hours

Can you help?"

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Hi @terolinjama and welcome to the Forum!

It’s interesting to hear your perspective. It’s good for the iNat team to learn how different cultures interpret messages different ways.

In America, especially during the end of the year, it’s completely normal for non-for-profit businesses and charities to ask for money and run fundraising campaigns throughout the holiday season.

You can dismiss the banner by clicking the ‘x’. There’s a new one every few days I think.

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iNaturalist is not a business. It’s pretty standard fundraising practice for nonprofit websites (Wikipedia for example).

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iNaturalist is stable, so don’t worry about your observations.

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As paulexcoff mentioned, iNaturalist is not a business, but a non-profit NGO. In the United States, only 30% of NGO funding comes from the government, and most of that goes to non-profit hospitals. So a lot of non-profits solicit donations directly from users.

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It’s the same message you get from Wikipedia, etc. during fund-raising campaigns. As a not-for-profit, iNaturalist does receive substantial support from a range of organizations in different countries but they also solicit support directly from users of their site. It’s not just normal, it’s good practice, especially in light of the rapid growth of iNat use around the world.

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I work for a non-profit (it’s an arboretum, no surprise there.) We operate at the absolute limit of our budget at all times, doing as much as possible on as little money as possible. So in a normal year, it’s not so much “being in trouble” as a having a constant hobbling of potential. We do so many cool things, but what else could we do with another $10,000? Another $50,000? With enough money for an additional staff member? Normally I would tell you that iNat is asking for money because they are asking themselves how to support growth.

That being said, is iNat in trouble this year? Absolutely. I say that because we’re all in trouble in the American non-profit world right now due to the pandemic. Even before this we were squeezing every drop out of the budget, counting on receiving at least as much money as last year in order to keep doing what we are already doing. In a lot of ways the pandemic means that money isn’t coming. For me, I spent 7 months on furlough because that’s how long it took the public to donate enough money to put me back to work. I’m not saying it is that bad at iNat, that they furlough staff or otherwise scale back services; in fact I am guessing it isn’t that bad because the donation solicitation banner would say so if it were. (Ours at the Arboretum literally said donate to put the gardeners back to work!) However I have no doubt they are missing some funding this year and your donations will be the only way to make up for it.

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One option to raise funds would be to offer a licensing system for images/recordings. I know that iNat encourages open licensing, but not everyone takes that up.

Welcome to the Forum, @tim-mcnamara

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A year ago, I set up a monthly donation with my credit card to the California Academy of Sciences’s “Support iNaturalist” campaign. It’s not a huge amount but what I feel I can donate on a monthly basis. Given that I use iNat on pretty much a daily basis, and I even use it in part for my work and as a convenient faunal and floral reference, I’m probably not paying my fair share. Since I don’t miss the amount I donate each month, I should probably increase it in 2021. (Not bragging, just want to encourage others if they can afford to do it.)

And yes, non-profits are taking a beating this year.

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In a similar vein… I also set up automatic payments. It’s easy, and the least I can do for a service I use daily and which has changed my life.
But for those of you who can’t right now – that’s OK. You can also help identify things, greet new users, help translate, anything to help out :)

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Something most people don’t realize about institutions that get the majority of their finances from donations and grants is that it often takes years to recover from periods of economic crisis.

Individuals, organizations, and governments support NGO efforts in times of financial excess and economic prosperity (or at least stability) and when there is a large disruption in the economy those entities that donate funds are generally wary of doing so until they are sure that everything is back running smoothly at the global economic level. That means that funding for NGOs and other non-profit organizations can be disrupted for 3-5 years after even relatively minor economic upheavals.

In some cases supporting agencies have made prior commitments in writing (as is the case with the sponsors of the NGO I run) so funding is supposed to remain stable even then, but for many organizations even if they have that sort of arrangement those stable sources of support only supply a portion of the funds needed annually.

Don’t be surprised to see a larger than normal amount of non-profits fail over the next few years due to a lack of funds as a result of the economic problems of the last year. This is not in any way the fault of those non-profits, it’s just how the funding system is linked with the larger economy.

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This year I found out that there is a special Tuesday for this in American culture. I think it is related, but I am not sure. This topic does not have many translations, not available for Finland e.g.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giving_Tuesday

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Indeed, I realized I have been effectively putting myself through grad school again, this time DIY and as a biologist, by interacting with the site as I do. Voluntary “tuition” is cheap at the price!

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This was fascinating for me to hear. And, as others have said, it is very different in our culture in the U.S. This sort of thing is very common and is not at all a sign of weaknesses or problems. Sometimes you will see banners or requests like this if an organization is having trouble, but usually then the tone will be more desperate, i.e. they will be open about having to cut services if they don’t get funding. Plenty of organizations do it in a more forward-looking way.

And I personally have no issue with iNaturalist merely asking for money (although I do have a few quibbles about the organization and I wish they, and other non-profits, were more transparent in how they funds are used and this were linked to in the request for money.)

I have supported other sites such as Wikipedia, and I also subscribe to for-profit services such as Spotify and Clozemaster.

Interestingly though, I do think many non-profits in the U.S. do things that I find troubling or disturbing, when asking for money. For example, I gave once to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (because I use eBird and wanted to support them; I had seen a notice on eBird’s site itself) and I was troubled by the volume of paper mail I received. I donated a small amount, I think about $25, and in a year, I received a calendar, a “gift” of address labels (which I didn’t need, because they were not the only non-profit sending me address labels), and I received multiple mailings. I never consented to receive any of these things, and I did not want to receive any of them, because I would rather all of my money go to the cause. I would have preferred only a simple text or email thank-you and reminder to give again if I had signed up to give regularly. I also repeatedly called and emailed people at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology requesting to be removed from their paper mailing list.

Yet it went on and on. There was no clear or easy way to subscribe presented in the mailings either, but I tried contacting them through different channels. I never gave again, but two years later, I was still receiving mailings. I finally got very irate and I started looking up and calling and emailing more people within the organization. Finally someone got me taken off the list, and I haven’t heard from them since. But the whole thing made me incredibly sad. I gave a small amount because I cared about the organization and wanted to support their mission, and instead I found the amount of postage and printing alone that was sent to my home ate up much of that donation, not to mention it created extra work for me and for society to sort and dispose of that wasteful mail. And the poor handling of the situation, my wasted effort trying to unsubscribe from something I never wanted to be subscribed to in the first place, soured me on the organization and soured me on giving to non-profits across the board, because the organization had been one that I trusted so much to begin with, and one that was committed to an environmental cause. Like, the way it was handled was just unconscionable to me. I was left with feelings of betrayal and an inability to trust them as a competently-run organization.

So yes, non-profits, including “good” ones, i.e. ones like the Cornell Lab of Ornithology which are doing fantastic work and are widely regarded and respected, can do some incredibly aggressive, incompetent, and wasteful things in the course of fundraising.

But…these banners are not one of them! =) At least not as far as I am concerned.

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Well, I see your point about how irritating multiple asks become (and almost all nonprofits do that), but the banner did inspire us to donate this year.

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Yes, the iNat requests are unobtrusive and not annoying to me. Unlike the almost daily letter requests in my snail-mail asking for money from other non-profits, many of which my wife and I are already donating to on a monthly basis.

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What’s worse is that if I donate to one nonprofit, the address labels and other unsolicited “gifts” begin arriving from several other nonprofits doing similar work. It would rather pick one and go with it than spread my limited resources thinner.

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My view of iNat is that it is something I contribute to in kind. I submit observations in the hope that they are of value to science - they are of no value to me - and I spend a couple of hours each day identifying to improve the value of the observations of others to science. Consequently, I find the requests for money annoying.

To me iNat is a resource to science that should be funded through science support channels such as NSF is the US or RCUK (formerly NERC) in the UK rather than asking for funds from those who already contribute by giving their time.

At risk of getting political, the United States government is not exactly generous or equitable in its funding of the sciences…

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