Whether we like it or not, there’s simply no getting around the fact that no matter how wonderful or life-changing our project or charitable venture is, we’re going to need money to fund it.
The internet is a great way to reach more people and today there are more crowdfunding platforms online than you can shake a stick at. But for those who have tried their hand at raising money via websites such as KickStarter or Indiegogo, they’ll tell you that reaching your fundraising goal takes a lot more than just uploading your campaign information and watching the dosh roll in.
Christian Shearer, a permaculture design educator who teaches permaculture design courses as well as doing consulting for various organisations and individuals around the world, wanted to raise funds in order to create a free online documentary on tropical permaculture called Seeds of Permaculture. The film was going to help bring permaculture to people around the world and inspire a course of action towards a holistic lifestyle. His application to start a crowdfunding campaign for the project on Kickstarter was declined so he came up with a better solution.
“I think creating sustainable communities and making a video about compost and soil and sustainable living is awesome but to Kickstarter it didn't pass their criteria. So as permaculture people we don't act as victims in the world, we act to create the world we want to see. I got together a few people that I've had in my courses, people I knew who were project managers and who've been working on lots of web stuff and asked them if they wanted to join in this project with me to develop our own crowdfunding site for permaculture projects”.
With that, the concept of We The Trees was born. Starting with a shoestring budget, Christian and four of his permaculture design students developed the entire platform and the campaign to raise funds for the Seeds of Permaculture documentary was the first to be hosted on the site. Although it has been specifically created with the permaculture movement in mind, We The Trees is a crowdfunding platform open to any project that works towards making the world a better place.
“The permaculture community is the one that we've focused our attention on because that’s where we have most of our connections. We’ve had a couple of musical album campaigns, some other film campaigns as well. But we're excited about hosting activist campaigns, art campaigns, things that are focused on shedding light on the current state of the world or bringing about a better place for all of us,” says Christian.
As a crowdfunding platform host, Christian and his colleagues have seen campaigns that have been hugely successful and campaigns that have completely failed. This experience has allowed them to explain to their fundraisers the importance of having a proper campaign strategy in place through their online strategy guide.
“We get a lot of campaigns that get zero dollars or get ten dollars contributed or something like that because the person thought that it was enough just to put up a campaign and then hope that people found it. If your campaign is amazingly inspiring and it has some really cool rewards it's possible that something like that can happen especially on a website like Kickstarter that has traffic in the millions per month.
“But even on their website, even on Indiegogo, even on our website, for the most part you need to do a really good job of outreach, a really good job of promoting your campaign, letting your friends, your family, your contacts know about it, asking them to share it with their friends and family with passion. Because there's a lot of people asking for money in this world so if you're not really showing your passion and showing that there's real meaning behind it, it's not going to get very far”.
When it comes to fundraising for any project it’s best to acknowledge from the beginning that what you’re basically doing is ‘selling’ your idea. If people resonate with the passion and love you have for what you’re trying to achieve, they’ll also get excited about it and are more likely to not only give what they can but share the project with others to help with your outreach efforts.
Most crowdfunding platforms require fundraisers to provide their donors with rewards. Christian explains how choosing rewards that are thoughtful and relevant to your project can really boost a campaign’s success and create a two-way relationship between donor and fundraiser.
“There are a couple of different kinds of rewards that you could choose. Some are just like a small thank you token which doesn't necessarily have anything to do with your campaign. It could be that someone is raising funds to travel to Ecuador to work on an organic farm project and when they’re there they will buy some handicrafts made by the local people and send you a pair of earrings or a little handbag or something to thank you.
“Another kind of reward is one that relates to the campaign that you're doing. For example if I wanted to set up an apple orchard and make cider on my property, I might create a campaign where those who contribute will receive a bottle of cider or vinegar. And it's great for you as the campaign creator because it's like pre-selling. So before you've even started your business you already have five hundred items sold, which is great. It pays for all your materials, gets you started, gets you rolling, gets you some motivation to get all these things out there.”
There are also some campaign rewards where people offer to perform a service for the donor. For example, when someone's fundraising for a permaculture design course, they'll offer two hours of consultation time with you once they’ve finished the course. These sorts of campaign rewards help build strong connections with people and remove the whole emphasis of the money as being the sole thing of value. It’s more about what we can offer each other.
Christian continues: “We all have resources to share and for some people that resource is in the form of economic resources and for other people it's really in the form of physically being able to do something, or having an inspiration or information that they can share. So when you get the campaign rewards right it does feel like a really joyful exchange for both parties.”
As the founders of We The Trees, (and like the majority of other crowdfunding sites) Christian and his colleagues are given a small percentage of the funds raised from each campaign, which goes to cover the costs of running the website and which each of them use to fund their own permaculture projects. Christian and his wife are currently building an Earthship, an eco-house built with salvaged tyres, and they also use the money to buy plum and apple trees for their orchard. Their colleague Jerry has used part of the money he’s earned to buy solar panels for his house.
“One of the differences between us and other more generic funding sites, which I know for the permaculture community is a great difference, is that we are connected to permaculture in our lives. So the profit that goes to us to cover our time and our efforts to make this happen, gets recycled into stuff that is within the ethics of what we all agree with. It goes to support permaculture and a better world”.
With so many crowdfunding platforms out there it pays to explore your options and work out which -platform best suits your campaign and ethics. Perhaps, like Christian, you may be inspired to set up your own crowdfunding website.
Christian says: “If you find that We The Trees resonates with what you want to achieve and we can help you to host your crowdfunding campaign we'd be happy to do that. We're very personal; I'm going to be the one answering the emails. If you ever have anything you're wondering, any questions, I'll be here to do the best I can to help your campaign succeed.”
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