In early 2013, when we were on the hunt for our very first crowdfunding campaigns, I met up with Rob Caslick in a rather unglamorous hotel lobby in King’s Cross, Sydney. Rob was an engineer by day but at night transformed into volunteer-extraordinaire, running a weekly Organic soup kitchen for 50 people at his parish church.
We chatted about a potential campaign for the soup kitchen, but it wasn’t until November that year when Rob approached us about a Refugee Rooftop Garden he wanted to crowdfund, that we really got down to battle planning.
Rob launched their campaign on December 2. In 50 hours, he’d hit his target of $15,000. By Christmas he’d raised $30,000, been featured in the Sydney Morning Herald and ABC Radio, and was fielding calls from the 7:30 Report and TV celebrities wanting to be part of the campaign.
Here’s how he did it – in his own words
HOW TO RAISE $15,000 IN 50 HOURS
To say that the Refugee Garden had a long incubation period would be a massive understatement. I had been talking up the idea for 12 months to anyone who’d listen but it wasn’t until a meeting with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), which is located directly above the Soup Kitchen I ran, that the idea for the Rooftop Refugee Garden idea really became a reality.
Then of course there was the issue of money. We had planners cost out the project and the absolute minimum we needed was $15,000. We did the usual thing of applying for grants, but when they didn’t work, we turned to crowdfunding.
The team at Chuffed talked us through exactly what we needed to prepare to make the campaign a success and since I have a military background, I thought I’d theme the campaign as a military battle. It added an element of humour to the campaign (at least to me).
Here’s my battle strategy.
Tactic A: Multiply myself with foot soldiers (worth $5,000)
By myself I could only raise so much, but with 10 of me, we’ll clean up
After stripping my Gmail contact list and realising I had about 500 people to send the campaign to, it became pretty clear that only sending the campaign to that list was going to be a failing strategy. The team at Chuffed suggested that I needed a list closer to 3,000 people to make the campaign work and the only way to do that would be to recruit more people to the cause.
Step 1: Recruit your soldiers
I knew foot soldiers for this campaign were going to come from three sources:
- People involved in the project: I had the full project team commit early – the landscape architectural company produced a budget, the structural engineer looked for drawings and started to comment on how much weight we could hold. All of these people became automatic soldiers.
- The super keen-beans: While I’d been talking up the project to anyone who’d listen, I kept note of the ones that got excited. They also became automatic soldiers.
- General recruitment: One month before launch date, I sent this recruitment email to my 500 Gmail contacts:
Sat, Nov 9, 2013 at 6:41 AM
Subject: Rooftop Garden update and Invitation to tour Wayside Chapel Rooftop Garden
We are about to launch a crowd funding campaign to raise the funds to build our garden above JRS. I am looking for some campaign soldiers. You get a free Refugee Garden T-shirt and all I ask is that you send out an email to all your work colleagues and friends on December 1st. Asking them to donate to our project. The email will be a link to the campaign website (www.chuffed.org) where we will be hosting our campaign.
I met with Indira Naidoo who set up the Wayside Chapel Rooftop Garden yesterday. She has invited us to tour the garden with reverend graham long. They have a great garden with bees and indigenous herbs.
The tour needs to be a Thursday and I have penciled in November 28 at 5pm. Let me know if you would like to be involved.
Four weeks out from the campaign, we’d recruited 15 foot soldiers.
Step 2: Engage your foot soldiers like crazy
These 15 foot soldiers were pure gold. They were our first donors and our biggest evangelisers. I wanted them to feel part of the inner circle – like they were part of the team, not like I was asking them for something.
We did three things with them:
- Three weeks out, we sent out the campaign to the soldiers and asked them for feedback.
- Two weeks out, we personally called every soldier and ran them through what the attack plan was.
- 7 days out, we leaked the video to the soldiers and updated them on the great contribution of other soldiers so far. The email was really the first call to action. We asked the soldiers to send out the link to all of their friends now and be ready for battle on the next Monday – Launch Day. I made it super-simple for people to share the campaign by actually typing up an email for people to use. Honestly, it felt a little controlling but I thought it would help to maintain a unified message.This is the email we sent:
Date: Tue, Nov 26, 2013 at 6:47 AM
Subject: St Canice’s Rooftop Garden for Refugees – “Meet James”
Thanks for offering to go into battle for the Refugee’s Garden in Kings Cross. The campaign runs for December and January, but our target is to raise $15k by Christmas. This gives us about three weeks starting Monday December 2.
We need to go in hard.
We have selected the finest 15 soldiers. Your campaign mission is to raise $1000 each and/or send the campaign link out to 500 people.
We have had a lot of support so far.
1. Corporate Katrina Torres has designed a cool tshirt for people who donate $50
. Sargent Christine Manfield (celebrity chef and author) has offered to cook for the first 40 people to donate $150. Dinner will be in the garden mid Feb 2014 (no pressure).
3. Lieutenant Danielle Zorbas has put together the attached campaign video. Thanks also to Frances Yeoland for her graphics, Dappled Cities for the music and Mr James for being part of this campaign.
Your first mission: Please can you send out an email to your friends, colleagues and clients this week, with a link to this video introducing them to James and establishing the need for the garden.
For convenience I have typed up the below email for you to copy paste. (Feel free to amend to suit).
The campaign goes live on Monday December 2. We will ask you to send a follow up email on Monday afternoon to officially launch the campaign and to start collecting donations.
Feel free to call me with questions or comments.
A sincere thank you again for being part of this.
Meet James. A new resident of Australia. From arriving by plane, James had to wait almost 5 years for his refugee application to be processed. He suffered depression and anxiety.
His story is common.
To help James and other Asylum Seekers living in Sydney we are building a garden. The aim of the garden is to provide a place of meaningful and familiar activity. An opportunity to give back to the community by growing foods for the soup kitchen below. An opportunity to start engaging with the community and improving conversational skills.
Please watch and share this 3 minute video we have created.
Our goal is to raise a total of $15,000. All help welcome. Our campaign starts next week.
We are offering the following perks to donors:
1. Donate $50 and receive a Refugee Garden t-shirt,
2. Donate $75 and receive tickets to the cocktail opening of the garden,
3. Donate $150 and receive tickets to Dinner in the garden with Christine Manfield $150 (40 tickets only) date mid feb
4. Donate $250 and receive 1 x Garden Membership (Cocktail + Dinner + Tshirt)
5. Donate $2000 and be an official Garden Sponsor (4 x garden memberships plus recognition on plaque. Plus invitation to future harvest events)
6. Donate $5000 and be an official Garden Founding Partner (4 x garden membership plus greater recognition on plaque and invitation to future harvest events and free hire of the garden for corporate event)
Please help raise awareness by sharing this video and campaign with others. I will email you again on Monday when the campaign goes live
You’ll notice that I quite explicitly talked about the actions that other soldiers had made. This was deliberate. Talking up the contribution soldiers have already made, inspires the other soldiers to action.
If we had more time we would’ve had a launch party with the soldiers. By the Friday before launch, I had soldiers calling me up asking me when the damn campaign would open – all their friends were already asking them how to donate. To keep the momentum (and the suspense) up, I sent out this email to the soldiers:
Date: Fri, Nov 29, 2013 at 5:59 AM
Subject: Early Success
Well done. Our preemptive strike has been successful.
Many people are already emailing me wanting to donate. Once the campaign goes live donations are simple.
The plan now is to finalise our online crowdfunding campaign. I plan to do this on Saturday.
On Monday please be prepared to send out your emails again. Studies suggest that people are more ‘giving’ after lunch. I aim to send some out at about 130pm. Tuesday’s after lunch are also a good time.
Step 3: Launch hard or go home
“Every battle is won or lost before it is ever fought.”
– Sun Tsu: The Art of War.
The first three days are do or die. If you don’t get to 30-40% in your first few days, you’re dead in the water. Since we didn’t really have our own list to launch to, launch day was all about getting the foot soldiers revved up. Again, I used the pre-written email tactic to make it super easy to share:
Date: Mon, Dec 2, 2013 at 7:05 AM
Subject: It’s almost time
Soldiers, Time to break out the face paint.
The campaign goes live at 1pm. Our campaign message: We understand Christmas is a time of giving. If you give to one charity this Christmas, please give to us.
Here is the link to our campaign. https://www.chuffed.org/project/rgkx/
From 1pm, please also copy the link into your social media or press share/like when you see others have done it. I have typed up the below email for you to send. Feel free to amend to suit or create your own.
A sincere thank you for your support in the campaign so far. See you on the other side!
It can take five years for a refugee application to be processed. This means five years in limbo without work permits and without meaningful, five years of vulnerability, without family and friend support networks.
We are building a rooftop garden for these asylum seekers. But our rooftop garden will grow more than food; it will grow opportunities. Opportunities for refugees to participate in familiar activities and grow traditional foods. Opportunities for meaningful activities during periods of uncertainty. Opportunities to increase self worth. We understand that Christmas is a time of giving.
If you give to one charity this Christmas, please give to us. It’s not all about giving, in return for your donations, we are offering t-shirts, a dinner with Christine Manfield, a cocktail reception and garden memberships.
Click here for more: https://www.chuffed.org/project/rgkx/
The result was extraordinary. We raised $4,724 in our first day. A third of the way there.
Step 4: Keep the momentum going by keeping your soldiers updated
The momentum of Day 1, spilled over to Day 2 and by the end of the day we were just shy of $7,000. Thanks to Tactic 2 (below) by Day 3, we hit our target. At each milestone, I emailed the soldiers to keep them excited – everyone loves to be part of a team that’s winning.
Here’s the email after Day 2:
Date: Wed, Dec 4, 2013 at 5:50 AM
Subject: Almost half way
You have fought well. In just over 36 hours we have raised $6734. We have only 7 tickets to Christine Manfield left!
This afternoon back up arrives. An email goes out to the entire Parish of St Canice’s. If you yourselves were going to purchase tickets to Christine [one of the perks] please do so before 2pm. If you can’t and would like me to put a ticket aside for you, let me know.
And here’s the Victory email, where we decided to raise the bar:
Date: Thu, Dec 5, 2013 at 5:36 AM
Subject: Victory – $15,000 raised.
Soldiers, you have fought a great fight.
Together we raised $15,000 in one of the fastest social crowd funding campaigns in Australia. Congratulations, to each one of you.
No doubt, there will be more battles to fight. But with the huge support we have had it gives me confidence and courage that we are on the right path. I look forward to sharing the journey with you.
As a thank you, I have added your names down for a t-shirt and a ticket to the opening cocktail event. The intention is to leave our campaign live and go for $20k. An additional 5k will allow us to build a pergola with hanging vines and a seated area for reflection.
A huge thanks to our friends at Chuffed.org. They have mentored me in this campaign and also provided us with a $1,000 bonus. (2,000 if we get to 20k). Enjoy your day.
Tactic B: Leverage the influencers – people who care about the same things that you do but have far wider reach (worth $8,000)
The second part of our battle plan took a very similar approach to the first, but with a different audience – the influencer organisations. We had been working with quite a few partner organisations at the Soup Kitchen for quite a while and I knew they were extremely influential in the food industry.
Two months prior to the campaign starting, I began engaging with two large influencers (Food Connect and Feather & Bone) about the campaign. I asked them if we could add their logos to our Chuffed page to add credibility and weight to our campaign and then asked if they could send out the campaign to their mailing lists.
Here’s an example of the email I sent:
Date: 27/11/2013, at 12:26 PM
Subject: F&B Logo
Hi Grant and Laura,
The campaign for the garden will go out to quite a few people next week. I was thinking to put the Feather & Bone logo as a supporter of the kitchen and garden. Is this ok with you?
I can’t overstate how important the support of these influencers was to our campaign- and in particularly the email that they sent out. They multiplied our reach several fold, celebrated our victories with us, and added credibility to the project.
Click here to read the email that Feather & Bone sent out to their mailing list.
And here’s what happened when these two influencers sent out their emails:
The Welcome to Australia team (a refugee support organisation) also helped by reposting our campaign on their Facebook page – the post received 455 likes and 28 shares.
All these influencers had one thing in common – they all cared about an issue that we also cared about. Luckily for us our campaign hit two big issues – food and refugees.
Our main lessons
So, all in all, here’s my top 5 things I think you need for success:
- Listen to the guys at Chuffed. Without doubt their advice helped us raise more money. They have done this many times before and actively helped us better engage our audience. They did everything from helping us write emails and media releases to campaign strategy advice to fielding calls from the media.
- The campaign is won or lost before it begins. It is all about the four weeks prior to the campaign and how you launch. If you don’t launch hard, you won’t make it.
- Multiply yourself. Allow other people to own your campaign. Don’t just ask people to donate, ask people to treat the campaign as their own and have them raise funds for you. The more ownership they have the more money they will raise.
- Engage the influencers. Our campaign had a huge kick once the influencers told their audience. The best influencers are people who already support you, but next in line are people that care about the same issues you do. Involve them early, make it easy for them to share your campaign, and you’ll be amazed how much their support will mean.
- Confidence matters. When you communicate to your soldiers, you have to remain in control and remain confident of success. You don’t start a battle by telling your soldiers ‘if we’re lucky we might win this one’.
And finally, running these campaigns is hard work, particularly if you’ve got a day job! Just check out the times those emails were sent! But it’s also extremely rewarding – we didn’t just raise $30,000 for our garden, we built a whole community around it.
That’s the power of crowdfunding.
– Rob Caslick