A hypothetical question: you are given US$100,000, to be used for the betterment of the furry community. How do you spend it?
The first option is to simply spend the money on furry items. You'll be contributing to the furry community by strengthening the furry economy.
I'm going to define the 'furry economy' as the sum of all furry-to-furry (F2F) transactions, where the good or service exchanged is a furry one. So purchasing furry art from a furry is F2F; purchasing furry art from a non-furry (perhaps a copy of the Lion King from Disney) is not. Purchasing a ticket to a furry convention is F2F; purchasing a ticket to a sci-fi convention is not.
Your $100k is a lot of money, but it's small compared to the size of the furry economy. The money spent on furry conventions alone, assuming 100,000 annual attendees at an average cost of $200, is in the tens of millions. It's fair to guess that the money spent on other F2F transactions is also in the millions. So your $100k is not going to make a big difference to the size of the global furry economy.
Still, your money is going to help some furry providers. This is going to make the provision of furry services marginally more profitable, and you might choose to purchase items that can gifted to the wider furry community, such as furry art.
Option 1: Buy Furry Art
Your money will help some furry artists, although it's just a drop in the ocean and will have little benefit in the longer term. But the art will have secondary value if you allow it to be publicly shared.
You have a secondary consideration here: high art or low art?
Option 1a: Commission Furry Pornography
There is great demand for pornography within furry, a demand which isn't easily met because the production of furry pornography is labour-intensive. Your commissioned pornography will find an audience and be appreciated, but its value will decline over time: pornography tends to lose its erotic power on repeat viewings. Your $100k worth of pornography will have a shelf life.
Option 1b: Commission High Art
High art, on the other hand, tends to last because it has greater intellectual and emotional heft. So perhaps you might commission some thoughtful pieces. Perhaps your money would allow an artist, or author, to dedicate more time to a project. You are less likely to find a mainstream audience, but you may end up with something that endures.
Here's another way to add to the furry economy: why not invest in furry R&D?
Option 2: Buy an Experimental Fursuit
You could find a handful of fursuit creators, and spend the money pursuing risky suit ideas. Fursuit commissioners and creators will generally be risk averse, because neither party wants a bad outcome. So maybe you could spend the money in the hope of discovering a new technique or trick, which could then be adopted by suiters and creators worldwide.
Option 3: Fund a Website
Your $100k will find you developers and managers and testers. Perhaps you could build a website that provides a useful service, meets an unmet need.
Option 4: Fund a Convention
Our furry conventions are largely copycat; they're based on iterative improvements from sci-fi conventions. Your money might be used to create something risky, unusual. You can afford for your convention to fail, and maybe you'll create something that succeeds, and can be adopted worldwide.
But maybe you want to go a different route. By spending your $100k on the F2F economy, you're essentially helping the community through 'trickle down' economics: you're trusting that your money will indirectly help the wider furry community. Perhaps that all sounds a bit capitalist for you; perhaps you'd rather spend your money as a charity.
Most conventions have a charity event, and furries are generous givers. For an example, consider Confuzzled 2013: 872 attendees gave £11,484 to STA Ferret Rescue. Our convention charities are usually (always?) animal-themed, but why not spend your money providing charity directly to furries?
Option 5: Help Needy Furries
Okay, so the drama associated with this option would be off-the-charts. And your money wouldn't have much of an impact on the furry community as a whole. But you would make a big difference to the lives of a small number of people.
You could always be a bit more targeted with your charity. You could, say, give the money to furries with instructions on how to spend it. There are options here:
Option 6a: Help Furries Travel
You could help furries travel; to conventions, to overseas furry groups. Send a furry group to one of our newer international outposts, perhaps Japan or Eastern Europe. Or gift dozens of furries travel and accommodation to conventions.
Option 6b: Help Furries Buy Art
Or you could help furries pay for their own art commissions.
As it turns out, this experiment is currently taking place on a smaller scale. Fur Affinity user KrisPup is currently running a raffle, where the winner gets $1111 in commissions (that are paid for by Kris).
It's a compelling idea, and the size of his prize is interesting: it's big enough to be valuable to those furries without any disposable income, and small enough to be affordable to most people with a full-time job. I wonder if it might be repeated by others. It has generated enough interest to have crashed FA's creaky servers at least once as furries tried to enter en masse.
(Predictably, Kris's offer has provoked drama: accusations that his raffle is fake, or that he's trying to buy popularity, or simple jealousy. I wonder how he will be affected in the longer term, once the money is given and the excitement wears off. The raffle will be open until Christmas or so: see here.)
If the drama of giving charity directly to furries is all too much, you could use your money to subsidize loss-making furry enterprises. There are a few alternatives.
Option 7a: Subsidize Furry Websites
You could offer to pay for hosting and development time for non-commercial furry websites. Most furry websites are volunteer-driven, and most of them operate at a loss. [adjective][species], for example, costs Makyo about US$500 per year (including furrypoll.com). Undoubtedly the costs for larger sites are much higher.
With apologies to Makyo's bank balance, I'm not sure that this is a good way to spend your $100k. I have no doubt that the help would be appreciated, but you're unlikely to be helping the furry community in any way. You'll be saving money for selfless volunteers, but they are already choosing to spend the money without dipping into your pot. So let's look elsewhere.
Option 7b: Subsidize Conventions
Conventions sometimes lose money. It's a double blow for an organizing committee, who spend endless hours making a convention happen only to see that they've underestimated attendance or, more likely, total costs. They have to make up the shortfall and, in some cases, the convention closes its doors. So why not offer a safety net?
And speaking of safety nets:
Option 7c: Subsidize Successful Artists
The life of a furry artist, even a successful one, is tough. Many artists simply quit to pursue greener pastures. A bit of extra money might keep our artists in furry, for longer.
Finally, your choice isn't just between a furry economic stimulus or furry welfare: there is a third way. You could offer a reward.
Option 8: A Furry Art Prize
Your pot of money is large enough to create interest in a juried furry art prize. You could assemble some well-regarded furries and offer a windfall to the creator of a great work of art.
There are already furry awards out there, notably the Ursa Majors. But there is no prize for winning a UM beyond a signal boost, and this for an award judged on popularity. The outcome is that UMs are usually awarded to the best-known entrant, the one least in need of publicity. This is why Kyell Gold declined nominations for the 2012 UMs; he understands that the publicity is more valuable to others.
The Cóyotl Awards are a lower-profile award run by the Furry Writer's Guild (disclaimer: I am a member). They are different from the UMs in that only members of the FWG are allowed to nominate and vote. There is a jury, however they only determine whether a nomination is eligible for voting. Like the UMs, there is no prize.
A juried furry art prize, perhaps $10k spread over 10 years, would be valuable to our community. It would help the winning artist, and it would shine a light on lesser-known (but high-quality) emerging artists. Your prize would be the Oscars to UM's People's Choice Awards.
This list of options has come from a long series of conversations with furries around the world. It's not exhaustive.
How would you spend your $100k?