Learning How to Crowdfund to Send PGS Students to Kenya

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By Allyn McAuley (C19)

Published 12.4.14

Everyone hears the tremendous success stories of crowdfunding campaigns that raise loads of money to help needy fundraisers. However, you do not hear about the much more common failures, campaigns that do not come anywhere close to their goals due to inadequate planning. So nine Presidio Graduate School (PGS) students in the International Sustainability Club (ISC) did not take the decision lightly when they chose to run a campaign to fund their January trip to Kenya.

At the start of the new year, the students will be working with Zawadisha to provide business assistance to rural Kenyan women. The ISC club has worked in Nicaragua, Bali, Chile, and Thailand since 2010 with the mission of increasing dialogue around international development. Zawadisha is a non-profit organization working to alleviate poverty through micro-lending, preventive healthcare, and education. The students will be administering the Grameen Foundation’s Progress out of Poverty Index as part of an evaluation of the financial, social, and environmental impacts of micro eco-loans provided by Zawadisha.

To help fund their trip the team ran an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign during the month of September despite having no prior crowdfunding experience. The campaign was a resounding success, reaching $20,343 from 165 contributions, 2,685 page visits, and 562 referrals on social media sites! These results did not come easy though, for it was only through a true PGS community effort and months of planning that the successful campaign came to fruition. As evidenced by the enormous number of contributions and referrals, there was an outpouring of support from PGS students, alumni, faculty, and administration. Crowdfunding consultant and current student Deborah Lindsay (C20) guided the team through the campaign process from the initial planning steps in early summer through the final bell on September 30th. PGS alum Scott Bright (C17) and current student Lily Laurence (C17) donated their filmmaking and artistic expertise enabling the team to craft a professional and compelling campaign video.

The ISC team traveling to Kenya held weekly calls beginning in May to plan the crowdfunding page, video, perks, and social media outreach. This included tasks such as selecting team leaders, choosing a crowdfunding platform and goal, writing the story, creating the video including storyboarding, filming, and editing, coming up with and acquiring perks, and creating a social media calendar and scheduled posts.

The team set an aggressive goal to raise $7,000 within 48 hours to show strong campaign momentum and strengthen the “gogofactor”, bringing increased visibility to the campaign and enhancing the likelihood of receiving donations. In order to achieve this goal, each team member designated their “inner circle” of donors whom they would be willing to ask to donate as soon as the campaign opened. They let these individuals know in advance of the campaign launch date and sent them personal email donation requests as soon as the campaign opened. The ISC team achieved their target thanks to the tremendous support of their inner circles as well as a hefty matching donation from PGS. This enabled the campaign to be the #1 trending Community campaign featured on Indiegogo’s home page for most of the month.

However, the team did encounter the dreaded u-shaped curve of crowdfunding donations, as momentum slowed severely after the first few days before an expected resurgence in the final days. The crowdfunders planned for this lull by scheduling some publicity, urgent messaging, and the release of exclusive perks to keep the campaign moving forward. Jennifer Gurecki, founder of Zawadisha, published an article in Nick Aster’s (C2) Triple Pundit, discussing the role of nonprofits in the microfinance industry. The team posted updates to their social media pages documenting the campaign’s progress and setting short term goals to reach specific financial milestones. They waited until the lull to release some Kenyan jewelry made by a Maasai women’s cooperative and unique upcycled wallets and totes made by ISC team member Christina Johnson (C21) and Upcycle It Now.

These efforts and the frequent sharing of the campaign through social media, blogs, and email by supporters enabled the campaign to surpass the goal of $20,000. The nine crowdfunding novices learned a lot from the process, starting with the pre-summer planning and culminating with the joy, fear, gratitude, anxiety, and nonstop excitement of the campaign in September. It was a great opportunity for the team to be able to learn the ins and outs of this new fundraising tool. Above all else though, the campaign was yet another shining example of the fellowship of the PGS community and the exceptional support from the students’ inner circles and the campaign’s generous donors.

ISC is always looking for more people to get involved and to make further connections. If you are a current PGS student please come to an ISC meeting, or if you are not a current student but have an opportunity for ISC please email isc@presidio.edu.

Allyn McAuley (C19)

Allyn is an MBA candidate at Presidio Graduate School. When he is not slumped over his laptop, he is an avid traveler having visited countries such as Saudi Arabia, Japan, Uruguay, and the Czech Republic.

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