Emotions, Economics and Reflections on a “Raise or bust”​ crowdfunding campaign

On Friday 31 August 2018 at around 9am, Grameen Australia hit our crowdfunding target of $102,000. We had 19 days to raise this amount.

It was the purchase price for a critical plot of land in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

By 5pm that day, we exceeded our target and closed on $103,160 thanks to the donations of 115 very generous people.

Given the average crowdfunding campaign raises just around $10,000, we have been asked how Grameen Australia did it. Below are my reflections.

As the campaign was a first for all of us, we offer no professional insight other than sharing our lived experience.

What was the goal?

Grameen Australia set up a Social Business in Cambodia – and we needed to scale it.

A Social Business is a business designed to solve a social problem, where all profits go towards solving the problem, instead of simply financially enriching shareholders. Shareholders can get up to 100% of capital returned but no more, which is an advantage over traditional philanthropy.

The problems to be solved in Siem Reap Province, according to locals, were 3 fold:

  • Extreme poverty
  • Malnutrition
  • Food insecurity

The solution, which we co-designed with the community, was to build a chicken farm that reared local chickens in an international best practice operation. The protein-rich chickens were sold for eating, which supplied a secure source of nutrient-packed food. Importantly, the farm trained and employed local dumpsite scavengers, increasing their income significantly and taking them off the dumpsite forever and helping lift them out of extreme poverty.

The revenue comes from the chickens being sold into the booming Cambodian tourism market. We had created Cambodia’s first Social Business Chicken Farm. We have broken even after 4 hard years but have not yet made enough to fund our own expansion.

Our goal was to buy a second plot of land to scale the operation. This would help over 2000 local farmers increase their livelihoods.

However – the only land available around us was being bought up by commercial interests. This meant our plans were time sensitive.

The land we wanted cost AUD$102,000 and, due to the competitive nature of the buying process, we only had 19 days to raise the money.

We launched the campaign on 13 August and closed it on 31 August.

Who did we use?

The platform we used was StartSomeGood, founded by Tom Dawkins.

It was a “raise or bust” style campaign which means that if we did not raise the entire amount – then the campaign failed, and donors don’t have to pay their pledge.

We paid $2000 for the premium package. This offered us guidance on how to structure the campaign, but didn’t structure it for us, nor did it include the writing of the campaign communications.

Due to the large amount we were raising, the material reputational risk if we publically failed and how inexperienced we were (exactly zero of us on the team had never done anything like this before), I specifically asked for Tom Dawkins to be our lead on it.

StartSomeGood has a super experienced senior team, but I already knew Tom and I knew there was trust there. By mitigating this supplier-client-relationship-risk up front, it meant there was one less risk for us to juggle in an already high-risk project.

We had weekly calls to make sure we were on track (4 or 5 max, from memory – so we had to be smart with how we used the calls). We also had a support team in Kate and Patty to review our communication pieces.

How did we design the campaign?

The one thing I took away from their guidance was the 5 C’s (see Tom’s article here for more info):

1. Clarity – be specific about how much you are raising and what the money is for

For example: Grameen Australia needs to raise AUD$102,000 to buy a plot of land in Cambodia. This is a specific amount and it is being invested in land.

2. Credibility – demonstrate expertise in our domain to build trust with donors.

In our case, Grameen Australia leads the Yunus social business movement in Australia. However, we couldn’t rely only on the Yunus and Grameen brands, as they are not as well known in Australia as overseas. We had to show a track record in Cambodia and our other projects.

3. Community – convene true believers instead of spending precious energy converting haters.

We identified these communities:

  • Supporters of Professor Yunus and Grameen
  • Purpose-led entrepreneurs
  • People passionate about women’s empowerment
  • Cambodian diaspora

4. Channels – identify where the communities live online and offline and go to them

We partnered with the following channels:

  • Grameen Australia’s existing donor and database of around 2000 people
  • The Entourage – 400,000+ purpose-led Australian entrepreneurs passionate about advancing civilization
  • Rotaract – an group of adults aged 18-30 passionate about taking action in their communities
  • Secret Sisterhood – a social business with a 10,000+ online community passionate about women’s empowerment
  • Australian-based Yunus Centres in each state
  • Ideapod – a global collaborative media platform with over 2M monthly readers
  • Instagram and Linked In influencers – two influencers with over 5000 entrepreneurial followers
  • Cambodian community in Western Sydney
  • On Purpose – a strategic purpose-led organisational consulting platform
  • Capital Pitch – a tech-powered VC firm that grows the next generation of high impact start ups

5. Courage – hold your nerve.

Even when you are 48 hours from the deadline and still have $40,000 to go. Hold your nerve.

This was the most challenging of the 5 C’s.

I thought going into this campaign that I was a woman of courage. In fact, I created something called F-OFF: Fear of Failure Forum to encourage people to overcome fear, grow human potential and hack their way into courage.

This campaign had me sweating bullets.

I have Tom to thank for reminding me (often) that the campaign was in good shape, and that I was exactly where I needed to be. At the time this was hollow comfort. But I very much appreciate it now, and so do our beneficiaries.

How did we promote it?

The crowdfunding campaign took A LOT more work than we had anticipated. Note we did not have a public relations company or professional marketing specialists help us, so it was much harder than if someone who was an expert was writing our communications.

We spent a lot of hours simply thinking, let alone writing and reviewing. I wish we had started preparing way earlier than two weeks before 13 August – or could have found a marketing and communications specialist-volunteer who knew how to write this kind of copy.

The things we thought carefully about were:

  1. The message. Refining the message and getting it clear.
  2. Which communities would be inspired by our project?
  3. Who could we partner with as a channel for our message and who had an aligned audience?
  4. How much did we need to have raised at which timing points?

Our strategies were as follows:

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  1. Key Partner: Line up key partners with large audiences to reduce the stress of having to do lots of pushes to smaller groups of people. Our partnership with The Entourage was a life saver and we couldn’t have achieved as much as we did without Jack Delosa and his team’s (and their members’) support.
  2. Events: We knew we could inspire a room. We ended up running a dinner event with The Entourage and Grameen Australia’s board to talk through the Cambodia project in detail.
  3. Traditional social media and EDM pushes: We had a calendar of when we would push our reminders through our email database, Facebook page, Linked In, Twitter and Instagram.
  4. Grassroots: As part of a grassroots strategy I did some interviews with Instagram and Linked In influencers with 5000+ audiences. This was intended to raise say $5,000 from 250 people at $20 or $10,000 from 500 people at $20.
  5. Facebook ads: It wasn’t much lead time however we experimented with Facebook ads targeted specifically at our email database and a lookalike audience.
  6. Rewards: We designed an exciting rewards program depending on the tier someone donated at. This included Jack Delosa’s book “Unwritten”, Professor Yunus’ book “A World of Three Zeros”, a Social Business Masterclass, sheds and pens named after larger donors and the invitation to visit Cambodia on a Social Impact Mission in March 2019 with the Grameen Australia team for those who donated $5000 and above.
  7. Day 1 Donor Strategy: We had a strategy to ensure as many people as possible donated on Day 1. We arranged for a Day 1 Donor celebration party if we achieved our target.
  8. Pre-Day 1 Donor strategy: We knew that to accelerate momentum we needed to kick off the campaign with a bang e.g. at least $10,000-$15,000 on the ticker by Day 1.

Timing of pledges

We were told that the donations come in rapidly in the first 48 hours and the last 24 hours with a dip in the middle. We were advised to prepare and then buckle in for the ride.

Timing wise, we raised (roughly) the following amounts over the following timeframes:

· Day 1: $10,000

· Day 2: $15,000

· Day 3: $20,000

· End of Week 1: $30,000

· End of Week 2 (before event): $40,000

· End of Week 2 (after event): $60,000

· With 4 days to go: $65,000

· With 3 days to go: $70,000

· With 2 days to go: $88,000

· With 1 day to go: $97,000

· 9am on last day: $102,000

· Close of campaign: $103,160

What worked?

The Top 4 strategies that worked for us were:

  1. Existing donors – our amazing existing supporters and some newer members of our inner circle were the biggest source of support. We raised around $65,000 through our existing network.
  2. Major Partner: Partnering with someone like The Entourage, who connected us to their massive audience, and who share an aligned vision with Grameen Australia, was instrumental to our success. The #askjackd Facebook interview I did with Jack Delosa exposed us to amazing people we never would have met (shout-outs to the Thompsons who flew to Sydney from Melbourne just to attend the Day 1 Donor party – having never met us!) and facilitated a fundraiser that supported us getting closer to our goal.
  3. Event – being able to galvanise the excitement of aligned philanthropists in a room was key. We raised around $20,000 at the fundraiser dinner we hosted with The Entourage.
  4. Day 1 Strategy – we started the campaign with around $10,000 on day 1 and this grew to about $15,000 by day 2, then $23,000 by day 3. By the end of week 1 we had raised $30,000.

What did we learn?

The number 1 thing we learnt is that people are generous beyond imagination.

We cannot thank our donors enough!

Although it was nail biting, it was inspiring in equal measure to see how many people – exactly 115 in fact! – rallied behind Grameen Australia and this cause.

The other Top 4 learnings were:

  1. Ads needed more time: The Facebook ads we ran in the last week of the campaign apparently got more click throughs than average, but did not convert into donations, which we anticipated would be the result. The benefit of running this strategy was we cultivated audience engagement for the next campaign (though we hoped that we might get lucky and inspire donations). I am told we normally need three months to plan something like this, so our campaign was too short notice. However, we wanted to try this strategy anyway and even though it didn’t necessarily convert into donations, it helped to create the buzz that kept the energy levels high in the last days of the campaign.
  2. Grassroots campaign did not succeed to the degree we had hoped: I did a few live interviews but due to technical issues they did not perform as well as they had the potential too. More planning next time and a strategy to engage even more closely aligned audiences would have improved this strategy.
  3. Australian farmers drought: We ran the campaign just as the drought affecting Australian farmers was garnering (and rightly so) significant media attention. We ended up asking people to support an outside jurisdiction at a time when local support was prioritised and emotions were already charged. We couldn’t help the timing of the campaign, as we needed to raise the funds at the time or we would lose the chance forever. However I would, if you can, try and avoid clashing with another sensitive drive, as it was daunting running a parallel campaign when local struggles were a focus.
  4. More events: Instead of the focus we had on the online strategy, if I had my time again I would have run more in-person events and engaged the help of corporate sponsors. If we had run 5 in-person events @ $20,000 each we would have raised our target more efficiently.

Update on the land and the purchase price

So where are we with all the hard-earned money that our heroic donors helped us raise?

Two things to remember when buying land as an NGO in a developing country:

  • It is very different to buying land in a Western country, from a timing perspective and a title perspective. The process is slower and ownership structures more opaque.
  • Due to political sensitivities, the way we go about buying the land needs to be managed appropriately.

The plot of land we originally wanted to buy was taken off the market by the time we raised the purchase price. Commercial investors approached the landowner and persuaded them to take it off the market. We knew this was a risk and had a contingency plan if it came to pass.

Because we are committed to helping our beneficiaries and scaling the best practices of our chicken farm, we continued to look at alternative pieces of land. Our goal is to positively influence structural change in the Cambodian poultry industry as well as alleviate poverty in Siem Reap Province and this mission drives us to keep going.

To date, we have reviewed and assessed 12 plots of land in the area. The top contender is land option 10, which is 4 hectares and about 25km away from the first chicken farm (it needs to be at least 2km away for biosecurity reasons). We are currently negotiating this piece of land – which we can do with confidence given we have raised the purchase price, thank you again for your support! – and will update all donors shortly about the outcome of the purchase.

Final reflections

The key takeaway for me is how generous humans are, and how strong our sense community and contribution is in Australia. We launched this campaign not knowing what would happen, and we have been blessed a hundred-fold with a result that exceeded our already ambitious expectations.

Beyond the economics, the key takeaway is the emotional journey a crowdfunding campaign activates in the organisers, the platform hosts and the donors.

Given its “raise or bust” nature, a lot of trust needs to exist between the supplier and the client, and therefore between StartSomeGood and Grameen Australia. Looking back, I can’t emphasise enough how important this is.

Perhaps I am too conservative, but if it was anyone other than Tom Dawkins advising me on the matters he did, I am not sure I would have given their advice as much weight or credibility – not because they wouldn’t have been as credible, but I simply wouldn’t have had the same emotional capital banked with them as I did Tom.

I certainly would have been less willing to extend my comfort zone and take the risks we did. I would advise anyone undertaking a crowdfunding campaign to price in the emotional discomfort you will experience if you run one, and make sure the trust between you and your platform-provider is strong enough to withstanding the nerve-wracking times (obviously I recommend you just straight up use StartSomeGood).

I also recommend spending time anticipating distractions, unforced-errors or fear-points, the more you can remove these from your path, the more you can focus on succeeding.

Finally, I recommend having as much fun as possible when designing, executing and messaging the campaign. It was challenging but when we got the buzz and hype going, even though it was scary at times, we felt so supported, loved and cheered on by everyone in our network.

The 7th principle of Yunus Social Business is #DoitwithJoy and we definitely did it with joy!

I certainly felt an overwhelming amount of joy when we hit our target!

So that’s it! My wrap up of Grameen Australia’s crowdfunding campaign.

I cannot wait to take some of the donors over to Cambodia in March 2019 next year.

If you want to be part of this global movement of Yunus Social Business, or to be part of what Grameen Australia is building, you can donate now to scale the impact of your dollar or join our mailing list.

Thank you so much to all the heroes who donated to the cause, Michelle Sawyer our Operations Director for her incredible hard work, Prometheus Siddiqui our Projects Director for his exceptional behind the scenes support and generosity, Duncan Power our Group CEO for leading the charge in Cambodia, our chair Peter Hunt AM who supported us as we launched this high-risk experiment, all of our board members who are generous in more ways than one, Tom and the team at StartSomeGood for your guidance – and of course to you, our community of supporters, without whom humanity’s light would shine that little bit fainter.

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Written by Kat Dunn

I like to connect Ideas & people. I talk about discomfort & inspiring failures. I'm trying to sleep more and shift to a growth mindset.

Former lawbot, pilot & leader in finance. Founder of F-OFF: Fear of Failure Forum & working with Ideapod to help companies leverage our collective intelligence & achieve breakthrough thinking.

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