Joke or genius? A crowdfunding campaign aims to bail out Greece

An Indiegogo campaign raising $1.8 billion to pay off Greece's debts has received donations from more than 13,500 people.

Daniel Ochoa de Olza/AP
Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis is surrounded by media as he leaves from his office in Athens, Tuesday, June 30, 2015. Greece is set to become the first developed nation to not pay its debts to the International Monetary Fund on time.

Hours away from its deadline to repay its loan to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Greece is getting help from an unlikely place: a crowdfunding campaign.

Exasperated with politicians' response to the situation, a British man has turned to ordinary people across the globe, with an Indiegogo campaign that aims to raise the €1.6 billion, or $1.8 billion, required to pay off Greece's debts. 

So far, the campaign has raised €210,024 ($235,183) from 13,531 people, or about 0.01 percent of the target.

Surprisingly, many of the donations have come from Britain and Germany, two countries whose leaders have taken a hard line on Greece's debt repayments.

Compared to the white-knuckle negotiations European leaders have engaged in, the Indiegogo campaign's approach is downright breezy.

"The European Union is home to 503 million people," campaign founder Thom Feeney writes on his crowdfunding page, so "if we all just chip in a few Euro then we can get Greece sorted and hopefully get them back on track soon. Easy."

Of course, it's not quite that simple.

Greece is supposed to make a €1.6 billion ($1.8 billion) loan repayment to the IMF Tuesday, but the country doesn't have the money to make that payment, so it will most likely default.

Greece has been negotiating for months, unsuccessfully, to extend the bailout program. Prime Minister Alex Tsipras has refused to accept some of the strict austerity measures lenders have demanded, like cuts to pensions.

And as the government appears to be poised to miss a debt payment with no deal in sight, scores of Greeks, worried that their country may be forced to leave the eurozone, are running to the banks to withdraw money that may soon be worth less, leading to a potentially disastrous bank run. That has led Athens to close banks for a week, limit ATM withdrawals, and prevent Greeks from moving money abroad.

Which is why Mr. Feeney of London wants to step in.

“I was fed up" with politicians' posturing and "dithering," he says on his Indigogo page, and decided that perhaps the people of Europe could help the people of Greece. "I just thought, sod it, I'll have a crack."

And he's offering perks.

For 3 euro, donors will receive a postcard of Greek Prime Minister Tsipras, sent from Greece; for 6 euro, a Greek feta and olive salad delivered to your door; and for 10 euro, a voucher for a small bottle of Greek Ouzo.

For those with deeper pockets who give 5,000 euro, Feeney is offering a Greek holiday for two – but only for citizens of the European Union.

The list of perks also originally included a private Greek island for whoever could come up with the 1.6 billion euros in full, but Feeney had to retract the offer because Indiegogo said it had no proof he could actually offer that.

If the goal isn't reached, all funds will be refunded.

Feeney's Indiegogo campaign, which also has a Twitter handle, @GreekBailout, may be idealistic – it's certainly not likely to reach its goal – but it is indicative of how problems are solved today.

Crowdfunding, which raises funds via small contributions from many people, usually over the Internet, is booming. Ordinary people have turned to hundreds of crowdfunding sites to raise money for disaster relief, citizen journalism, artistic projects, political campaigns, startup businesses, even scientific research.

The industry raised $16.2 billion worldwide in 2014 and is expected to reach $34.4 billion in 2015. According to the World Bank, that number may swell to $96 billion by 2025.

"Many major news organizations are now highlighting noteworthy campaigns," Bill Clerico, CEO of WePay, a payment service provider for crowdfunding, told Business News Daily. "That's not just good for the campaigns, but it also normalizes the behavior," he says, which leads to more people donating to crowdfunding campaigns.

Feeney, whose campaign has been derided for its outlandish goal, says, "I can understand why people might take it as a joke, but crowdfunding can really help."

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