How often have you heard THIS before? Probably hundreds of times already. And I will say it again and tell myself all the time: Think out of the box! Aren’t the creativity and the ideas for fundraising already exploited? I’ll however try to convince you that it will never be that way and give you some examples.
Arriving here in Edinburgh I joined the Dirty weekenders, a University based and student led conservation group with a simple principle: Get dirty and do good. This can include tree planting, path maintenance or clear-cutting of invasive species in parks, natural reserves or in cooperation with other conservation groups. First I thought that the bus trips and free lunches provided were supported by University funds, membership fees and donations from older members… until I realized the simple and straight forward concept: The project organiser of the Dirty Weekenders are in touch with Rangers and nature parks arranging projects and activities long in advance. The latter need the man-power to do special projects in their parks but do not have a huge budget. But by paying the Dirty Weekenders £5 per participating volunteer they can pay the transport and provide a free lunch for them(“for free” always attracts students). And on top of that it is affordable man and girl power for extraordinary projects which could not be undertaken within the normal budget.
Charging others for volunteering sounds a little bit contra-dictionary to the term of voluntarily working. Usually you will be charged a lot of money for big projects abroad actually. And although I opposed this at first I have to admit now, that as long the money flow is transparent your money is in a good place. During my volunteering in Borneo I learned that your contribution benefits not only conservation but the local industry, by creating jobs and facilitating long term research. All together this makes it one thing: sustainable.
So making other people pay for you volunteering does not always work. And there is a danger that work just becomes daily work. And working often becomes just tedious, right? And there we are again stuck in the common ways of thinking. In my hometown for example there is a day called “Mitmachen Ehrensache” which can be translated as “Volunteer? Obviously!”. Students work for one day voluntarily and their employers pay the salary to a charity. For the students it is the chance to get a work experience and an exciting day at the same time. And it can be much more efficient as well. If you have to fundraise only and not raise awareness you often get better profit, sorry for that economic term, just working than when you do fundraising.
A couple of weeks ago we did some fund-raising for our Expedition to Honduras this summer and raised £136 within five hours. Wow, that’s £27.2 per hour, not too bad. But wait, we had costs for ingredients and other expenses of around £36 distributed amongst four people. So when we redo the calculation it would look like this:
(£136 – £36) / 4people / 5 hours= 5£
Which means that we made £5 per person per hour not even including the effort and time for shopping and baking. And sorry now it is economic again, we had an opportunity cost of £6/h since we could have worked at that time as well and at the minimum wage in Scotland of £6.08 per hour. So the basic question to ask is: Do I want to fundraise money or create awareness?
During the bake sale my friend’s ukulele did the job in attracting people or even provided a little tune for a donation. That’s definitely creating attention, but not necessarily creating awareness. The ideas other young explorers had, however, like selling mud cakes or international dishes are good as well. Another group in the Uni upgraded their usual bake sale with a coconut throwing competition. I was confused but then like many others amused. And for a little bit of fun people are willing to leave some pounds in the donation box.
You won’t create awareness necessarily. Kony 2012 definitely did but is criticised on the other hand for not being very transparent when it comes to their donation policies and how the money of invisible children is spent. To break that down and keep this issue for another time: Investing time and effort in awareness can be very costly and give you some annoyed looks, but might encourage people to donate more in the long run by making them really care about something and not only inspire them to do their “good deed for today”.
Sponsored runs are of that kind. You will most probably meet people, like the young explorers during their clean in Singapore did and tell them about the issue. Or you get your bicycle and drive the amount of energy in wood around so that people can see what burning fuel actually means. What people get from this is a feeling of passion about something and what efforts others put into solving this issue: “If he walks 200miles for that cause, it must be worth supporting!”
You might have already guessed it and it sounds like the words from my marketing prof, but fundraising is like either selling a product, a service or on top of that an experience. A family friend of mine simply commented on our Cycle around the world project: “Honestly, how do you help the environment with this? Isn’t that just nice for you to go on a ride or a walk?” – On the other hand a girl from Scotland managed to raise over £1000 for cutting her hair. So probably many family friends will support our cause, but how will you get others involved in it?
Make it an experience or provide a service or give other incentives. Why not doing a sponsored clean-up and people will donate not per mile, but per bag collected? Why not collect donations with empty plastic bottles from which bottle taxes can be collected, like the SIFE groups in Germany? Why not turn waste into something interesting, like can cars or an educational eco-column just made of plastic bottles? Why not do an auction and people can bargain about an extraordinary adventure experience you will take them on? Why not asking the health department of your college if they want to advertise taking the stairs for example, to give their budget to the winner of a stair race you’ll organise and his or her cause? Why not create an extraordinary messaging service, where you will write the message on a toastie? Why not ask companies to get their share in your cause and you provide them with a story about your project related to their CSR goals?
Maybe one day, McDonalds will add tree planting vouchers instead of toys to their happy meals. And with smart phones all over the place children could immediately decide where, in designated areas, their tree should be planted, give it a name and see how it performs compared to their friend’s trees. Just like we played Pokemon when we were small. RedWood Barkos vs. Mangrove Aquaoot. But then, it would be much more realistic and for a good cause.