How a charity used NFTs to raise funds – and blazed a trail for good
In a studio located at Metta Welfare Association, artists with special needs under the Arts@Metta programme were busy with their work. They did not shrink away from what would have been a challenging task. Providing employment for such individuals by a charity like Metta required funding, and it was this quest to pay their salaries, and buy dyes and other art materials that prompted Metta to look at the use of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) as a non-traditional method of fundraising.
NFTs have gained prominence in recent years, so much so that Collins Dictionary crowned the word “NFT” as “Word of the Year 2021”. However, following the collapse of cryptocurrency exchange FTX in November 2022, NFTs began amassing substantial bad press.
As Metta Deputy Executive Director Felicia Wee put it, the association was venturing into uncharted territory, and a nagging concern for her was whether the sale of NFTs would be a safe and viable fundraising avenue for the charity. What if a future sale were to be hacked? What if NFTs were to be outlawed one day? The what-ifs appeared daunting, but if selling NFTs would help fund Metta’s efforts to get its artists employed, Wee was willing to forge ahead.
About Metta Welfare Association
Metta was founded in 1992 by Venerable Chao Khun Fa Zhao, who was President of both the Golden Pagoda Buddhist Temple and the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum. Metta ran nine welfare centres across Singapore, serving over 1,000 beneficiaries with special needs and disabilities.
Under its Youth Employment Support Programme, young adults with special needs could work on commissioned projects and draw an income. Batik paintings and pottery pieces were some examples of what the young adults produced. These artefacts were sold physically at Gift by Changi Airport and Metta Café, and also online at e-commerce marketplaces such as Metta’s e-shop, Singapore Airlines’ KrisShop, Sift & Pick, Fairmarch, and Shopee.
Leveraging digitalisation and gearing for Web3
In 2019, Metta had already begun its digitalisation journey. According to Wee, digitalisation was crucial for the charity to ensure compliance with its status as a charity and an Institution of Public Character (IPC). Should organisations lose their IPC status, donations made to them would no longer be tax-deductible, making them less attractive as prospective recipients of such donations. While much of Metta’s internal processes had been digitalised, this was not the case for key external functions like conducting donation drives.
Fortunately, Metta’s management committee was far-sighted. At its management retreat in October 2022, the committee had instructed the association to prepare for how the metaverse could affect it. They also tapped on the expertise of Dr Graham Ng, Chief Operation Officer, NFT Ventures LLP, a volunteer with Metta’s Information Technology (IT) Committee, which oversaw all IT-related projects undertaken by Metta and its IT strategic plans.
As the management explored the use of NFTs, it was concerned about the risks of money laundering, since cryptocurrencies were commonly used when NFTs were traded. It finally decided to conduct an NFT sale pilot on the condition that all sales would be transacted in Singapore dollars, not cryptocurrency. Additionally, buyers would use their credit cards to pay for the NFTs they bought.
The NFT pilot was eventually conducted on January 19, 2023. Among the images of the paintings produced by the artists, one was chosen to be converted into an NFT. Dr Ng and his team guided the Metta staff along as they conducted the NFT minting process before it was finally sold. Wee was the first customer so she could experience first-hand what the process was like.
Following the successful pilot, the actual NFT sales project was officially launched during the Lunar New Year period from 22 January to 20 February 2023. Buyers, who would be purchasing both the ownership and intellectual property rights to the NFTs, were given three options: buy the painting only, buy the NFT only, or buy both the painting and NFT. The fundraising project was marketed through Metta’s various social media channels like Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, and TikTok, with Facebook being the one that gained the most traction with its followers.
As Metta’s staff learnt about the minting process, this project had another benefit – helping Metta staff prepare for Web3, the third phase in the evolution of the World Wide Web, which was supposed to be a decentralised ecosystem built on blockchain technology.
Building an ecosystem of good
After the success of the NFT fundraising programme, Wee was invited to speak about it at a local charity conference. In addition, Metta’s partnership with NFT Ventures and its sister company Mega X World LLP, which offered polling and pledging solutions, had also given a higher profile to these two start-ups. Both had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Metta to take on this project at no cost.
Explained Dr Ng, “To make the buying process more convenient, we make it seamless as the buyer is taken from NFT Ventures' webpage, where he or she selects the NFT, to the Mega X World webpage to make payment via credit card. After the payment has gone through, the buyer would then receive a confirmation message.”
The experience has shown that NFTs can be a force for good in Singapore, said Rick Ng, Managing Director, NFT Ventures. He said, “It helped us to get good publicity as more and more organisations, including some government bodies, got to know about us in the process.”
For Wee, she only wished more people would give artists with special needs the recognition they deserved for their dedication and resilience. If they had not produced the paintings to begin with, there would be no NFTs to speak of, much less a sale of the said NFTs.
The case “Blazing a Trail in the Charity Sector: Singapore’s Metta Welfare Association Raises Funds by Selling NFTs” is written by Associate Professor of Information Systems (Education) Lo Siaw Ling at Singapore Management University’s School of Computing and Information Systems; Dr Graham Ng, Chief Operation Officer, NFT Ventures LLP; and Thomas Lim, Senior Case Writer at Centre for Management Practice, at Singapore Management University. To read it in full, please visit the CMP website by clicking here.