Joining the crowd #9 – the first “miss”

And a fairly spectacular one at that…  Unfortunately Horses Helping Young People has now closed, raising only £327 against its £3,000 target.  As this was a “flexible funding” option on Indiegogo, the full amount pledged will now just go to the organisation towards its work.  In this case, I don’t mind as I’m sure they can make good use of the money, but I have to wonder how this works in more “commercial” projects – for me a donation to a small business or entrepreneur wouldn’t feel the same.

Also, sadly another update, regarding #7 Heart4More campaign.  I had a notification that Toby Alabi, the campaign founder had another collapse recently and is now due to have a pacemaker fitted.  It goes to show what serious problems can remain dormant for many years and makes the pressure for testing of professional footballers even more relevant.

The Project  – Send Mark and Dan to School

What is it?

A campaign by a young woman who met two children while volunteering in Kenya, who have been excelling at school and are keen to progress, but whose mother has now been diagnosed with breast cancer.  The campaign is to cover two years’ school fees for them both.

Why choose it?

The story just grabbed me.  As is the basis of this blog, I love to learn and value the opportunities I have to do so, both formally and informally.  I have heard many stories of children in difficult circumstances who are desperate to progress their education but are prevented by their circumstances and can see that this is just one such case that I had an opportunity to contribute towards.

Any updates?

Not yet!

The Platform – Zequs

Why choose it?

I’ve been curious about this one for a while as I first became aware of it through a large poster advert on the London Underground.  There I was, scanning the wall opposite the platform as usual, expecting to read the same old ad for the umpteenth time when Zequs caught my eye. It seemed to me an eccentrically traditional way for an online platform with a social networking focus, to be promoting itself and yet it clearly did the trick for me and might just crack the conundrum of drawing in new interested parties who don’t use Twitter, Facebook and the like…

The “User Experience” – Pros 

  • It’s a really “clean” looking site – the pages are not too cluttered and I liked the way that it was possible to hover over the pictures and get a brief synopsis of the project without having to click in.
  • That said, there is plenty of information easily available for those who want to dig below the surface.
  • From my perspective, I really liked this one as while not exclusive to charities it is free to use making it particularly suitable for them, although its  more of an amalgamation of an “organisation” based crowdfunding site and something like Just Giving where individuals are fundraising for a cause.  Either way, the site is free for charities -something I’ve not seen offered at all elsewhere and that the team are clearly proud of (usefully comparing their costs against the competition, which I may use in later posts!)
  • Linked to the point above, although the angle of this series of blog posts is to capture more of a “supporter” experience, it looks like it would be a really good site for campaign owners to use due to the zero outlay, simple layout and promised support from idea to inception the team of Zequs “Angels”.  There is apparently not even a requirement for a video or to issue rewards – in my case neither of these things are factors that motivate me and as such, I have previously relinquished rewards, hoping that it might save the campaigner a few vital pennies.  While some may find recording a video and dreaming up and administering imaginative rewards quite easy, I’m sure it’s a layer of complexity that others would be pleased to avoid.
  • There’s a really simple tick box option at the end of the pledge asking whether or not one would like the money to be returned in the case of the project not meeting its target.  I thought it was great to give the supporter this element of decision making, and should hopefully encourage relationship building between campaign owners and supporters in an attempt to maintain support whatever the outcome.
  • In terms of ease of use, I also appreciate the chance to use Paypal to make my pledge

The “User Experience” – Cons

  • I found it quite difficult to find a project initially – the searches I did clicking on the broad “charity” category brought up projects at complete opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of progress towards targets – many had met or surpassed them whilst others seemed barely off the ground
  • In addition it’s only once I removed most of my search criteria that I was able to find a set of projects that were clearly for charitable causes but must have been categorised differently and I couldn’t seem to get the filters to work either.
  • I had also clicked on “Partners” expecting there to be a selection of “curated pages” on display but these don’t seem to be in place at present, although such participation is invited with an explanation of the benefits

In all though, while I think there is a lot of scope for this one to develop and I hope it does although I can’t help being curious about the business model…

Joining the crowd #8 – it’s still March really!

Once more, I’ve managed to pledge at the eleventh hour on 31st March – too late to feel like blogging about it.  On which point, another thing I’ve learned is that bloggers block really does exist – or rather perhaps overload – lately something has had to give and it’s blogging!  Which doesn’t mean I haven’t been learning… in fact I’ve probably upped the ante on that score which is why my brain has melted!

As usual, a quick update.  Heart4More as per post #7 has reached beyond target so that’s great news! That said, I only found out just now by looking it up – again, there was no direct notification  – this is becoming a recurring theme and something that’s slightly irritating.  I suspect the onus is on the campaign holder to send the news through, so it’s quite frustrating to find that this isn’t being done, and yet there were updates during the campaign where other supporters posted a message up – something that wasn’t really of interest to me.  I’d definitely like to at least get an auto “campaign successful” note and thanks would be even nicer (and more in the spirit of building a community – apparently one of the key benefits of crowdfunding).

So, on to the next…

The Project  – Horses Helping Young People

What is it?

A bit of a theme here… instead of dogs being used in therapeutic treatment of young people it’s (in case it’s not obvious!), horses!

Why choose it?

In truth, this wasn’t the only project I funded this time – the other was a little more personal so this is the chosen blog topic.  Again, tapping into my belief in the therapeutic power of connection with animals, this one appealed immediately.   I am also working with someone developing a similar project in a different area of the country. It has, however, broken the mould completely in other ways as this project has received very minimal support to date and does not require the target to be reached for funds to be transferred – in essence this is a donation as at present the target doesn’t look achievable.

Any updates?

Not on the project directly, however, I forwarded details to my other contact who raised a few queries and concerns.  I decided to contact the campaign owner directly and was impressed to receive a response that same evening.

The Platform - Indiegogo

Why choose it?

Aside from Kickstarter,I would see Indiegogo as the other dominant player in the market at present and, while I had made a concerted effort to explore others for a while, this one had to crop up before long.

The “User Experience” – Pros 

  • There’s a wide range of interesting projects- on this occasion I browsed, selecting only UK base as a criteria ie not specifying social action.  This opened my eyes to a variety of options that I found appealing – most of which were still not likely to be profit making to any great extent.
  • This is the first time I’ve seen (or perhaps been aware of) a model whereby the campaign owner can choose between fixed (all or nothing) or variable funding – charges are based on this.
  • There’s also an interesting “Trust” page in the learning section explaining how online safety is managed , and among other things a “smart contributor” comment with a (admittedly very small) bit of advice on how to decide whether to back a campaign.  I liked the idea but didn’t feel there was any greater level of information on the pages than on other sites to back this up.

The “User Experience” – Cons

  • While it’s true that I didn’t spend much time looking into the site features before choosing, I did launch straight into a browse as there didn’t seem another option, unless searching for a specific campaign.  Only subsequently have I found that a number of search options would have been available and in addition, quite a selection of “partner pages”, collating projects backed by specific organisations.  These features could definitely have been made more obvious.
  • While there are UK options on here (and in fact and UK landing page, again, just discovered, but really only a shop window), this is very clearly a US focused site.  Not only do US based projects dominate, but there is a concession on fees, only for US registered charities.  To make the offer truly global (one of the things they promote on the site), I feel that a much broader range of not for profit registrations should be recognised.
  • Finally, while I found the choice between fixed and variable funding interesting, the charges for an unsuccessful project mean that it’s likely that quite a large chunk of my donation will go on fees.  I understand that this is supposed to create an impetus to push the campaign but it’s quite frustrating as a backer, and would certainly make me think twice on other projects.

Finally, I’ve received an e mail (as yet unopened) asking for my feedback on using Indiegogo – the first time I’ve had anything like this which rightly or wrongly gives the impression that the user experience is valued more highly than on other sites.

Despite some niggles, I’d certainly consider visiting and browsing/ searching the site’s campaigns again – particularly now that I’ve found out the options to do this in a more targeted way!

 

Joining the crowd #7 – support isn’t flooding in

First, a bit of learning.  As I aim to stick with the same format for each of these posts, I tend to use the previous one as a template.  However, it’s not as easy as a “save as” formula and, having forgotten to copy and paste, my last post just came out as an edited version of the one before.  As such all I had written on Thundafund is now lost!  Luckily, it’s based on the Buzzbnk platform so much of what I’d said echoed post #4 anyway, though one key differentiator that I did like, was the flow diagram on Thundafund.

So, here we are in March but I promise that I did make my pledge at the eleventh hour on 28th February, thereby still just about sticking to my goal.  As I suspected in my last pledge, communication about the FilLmiT project was minimal -I’ve only just looked it up and found out that it was fully funded.  I think this potentially misses one of the key “side benefits” of crowdfunding aside from the money – building and engaging a community of supporters – otherwise they’re “just another donor”.

The Project  – Heart4More

What is it?

At least 12 young people, aged 14-35 die suddenly from undiagnosed heart conditions each week – there have been plenty of stories in the news, each as shocking and saddening as the last.  Tobi Alabi, the project leader is one of the lucky (or luckier) ones – a collapse at the end of 2013 forced him to retire from professional football aged 19.  He is now campaigning for mandatory screening of all pro footballers aged 14 plus to be screened annually.  As part of this work, he is trying to raise £7,000 to screen 100 young people’s hearts before a Premier League game.

Why choose it?

I’d originally come to the site having seen another project that aimed to raise funds to support small businesses affected by the recent (and current) flooding.  I’ve been surprised about the lack of a large scale fundraising campaign to assist those affected by flooding as the extent of the damage to people’s homes and livelihoods becomes ever more clear.  I was involved in distributing funds after the 2007 Floods and read many letters showing how much the funds meant to the people and communities who received them.

However, in this instance, the campaign in question had raised 1% of the overall £100k target so I’m really not confident, despite some significant partners mentioned, that this one is going to fly and my pledge would come to nothing.  I decided therefore, to explore the platform further and to donate to the main UK Community Foundations Flood and Storm Appeal separately.

And so, I came across Heart4More.  As I’ve said above, it’s an issue that I’ve seen too often covered in the papers, local and national, and as such, I’m really surprised that such a campaign is even necessary when it comes to Pro Football.  As I understand it, the players are rigorously monitored in so many ways, and there is certainly no shortage of money to fund such testing.

While at 28% funded this is somewhat lower than I’ve backed in the past, there are still 23 days left to gain some momentum and I really hope it succeeds – and also to hear about the outcome.

Any updates?

Not yet.

The Platform - Crowdfunder

Why choose it?

As with most of my other experiences, it sort of found me- I’d read a blog piece covering the flood project and followed up from there.  It transpires, however, that this is a UK based platform with some great credentials – I really liked it, perhaps the most of those I’ve used so far.

The “User Experience” – Pros 

  • The layout and search functions were easy to use
  • While it’s not exclusively focused on social and environmental projects, these seem to dominate the categories so that I could review those particularly of interest to me.
  • Payment can be made through Paypal – so much easier!
  • There’s a really useful FAQs and a good deal of guidance on how to run a campaign – as a backer I haven’t read all of this but I would hope that this would enhance the experience for project owners and make for a higher percentage of successful campaigns.
  • There’s also a really nice blog section covering up and coming and ongoing projects and updates from the team as well.
  • This one’s back to “all or nothing” territory in terms of funding – I think it’s definitely my preference from a backer viewpoint

The “User Experience” – Cons

  • Again, as with most of the platforms, aside from Kickstarter that goes to the opposite extreme, there are perhaps not quite enough unfunded projects to make for an interesting selection, but then again, I still question how many people go out in search of projects to back rather than being prompted by a specific campaign.
  • A paypal charge is added….

I hope this one succeeds, as much for the longer term potential impact than the exercise itself ie in raising profile and interest in the overall campaign rather than necessarily the direct outcomes of screening at a single game.

All the small things

Towards the end of last year, a body called  “Alternatives” was recommended to me and, curious as ever I looked it up.  Given that the conversation that had led to this endorsement was around work based training, learning and mentoring, what I found, a not for profit organisation running a programme of talks, workshops and events on contemporary spirituality and personal development, wasn’t quite what I was expecting.

While some of the programme seemed rather too “other Worldly” for me to contemplate, I always like to keep an open mind and was confident that there would be something I would like to give a try, particularly once the 2014 programme was a bit more developed.  So, attending an “Alternatives” event was promptly added to my new year’s “list” and I’m pleased to say it’s an entry I can tick already (with a couple of others set to follow swiftly on its heels!).

On reviewing the scheduled talks again over the Christmas break, I was pleased to see a talk “How to Make A Difference” by John Paul Flintoff that sounded right up my street and was even happier when a friend said that she was also keen to go.

John Paul was an engaging speaker who I can imagine is never short of an anecdote, although he didn’t speak for the full hour and a quarter when he “had the floor” and had us all chatting to our neighbours – I never need telling twice!   While much of the talk was based on an assumption that many in the room might feel that their actions could not make a meaningful difference- not a view I share in my more positive moments, and didn’t reveal anything earth shattering, it had a great positivity about it and reinforced a number of key “Life Lessons” that really struck a chord and that I would do well to remember when things seem tough or I doubt myself.  In particular:

  • Be curious
  • Every task or achievement is made up of a number of small steps, so recognise them and take each at a time
  • Don’t just think, act!
  • Making a difference and creating positive change needn’t all be about “hair shirts” (although nettle underpants did feature!!) – it’s fine to have fun while you do it!
  • Some eccentricity also never goes amiss…
  • “Everything is an offer” – not one I’d heard before, but it’s apparently a phrase from improv and really a way of saying that whatever circumstance may occur, is an opportunity to act, and to be creative about it
  • One never knows where things might lead, but enjoying the journey is often more satisfying than reaching the destination

So, definitely a great way to spend a Monday evening in January and, inevitably, I picked up a brochure and am plotting my schedule of visits when I can open my ears to many bright ideas!

Volunteer Clusters

The thoughts stimulated by my recent reading of “New ways of giving time: opportunities and challenges in micro-volunteering” and which I blogged about on ivo.org caused me to revisit an idea I’ve had in mind for some time now but never fully written up.  It largely originated from some of my own frustrations as a (potential) volunteer and personal preference to largely volunteer on an episodic basis, across a number of activities and organisations.  However, my experiences as a lay member of my local Safeguarding Children Board made me think there could be broader benefits.

The basic proposal is to establish volunteer “clusters” or pools, shared across a small number of organisations (charities and social enterprises) with a number of common features- this could be a geographical area, a key stakeholder group, or a “methodology” eg the use of sport to further social aims.  I’m not necessarily advocating shared volunteer management or recruitment as it may not be appropriate in all cases and could risk diluting the connection an individual organisation would like to have with its volunteers but it may be beneficial depending on the number of volunteers, preferred staffing structures and current relationships with volunteers.  Another option might be for one organisation to “host” the cluster on behalf of those involved with management retained within each body.

The key features might include:

  • A shared database of volunteers, outlining key skills, training undertaken and confirmation of DBS checks which could be relied upon by all organisations sharing the cluster.
  • A standardised menu of key training modules (ideally largely online), developed in collaboration so that all could be confident of the quality and content.  These could be in areas such as safeguarding, health and safety or equality and diversity, recognising that each organisation would likely need to supplement these with their own tailored training elements.  The shared database would then record which of the volunteers had undertaken each cluster training module.
  • An “opt in/ out” option for all volunteers recruited by individual cluster organisations so that they could choose whether or not to be included in shared communications and opportunity alerts.
  • For cluster members working with vulnerable people, a single safeguarding lead taking overall responsibility for staying up to date with legislation, and for receiving and managing reports of concerns – overall I would envisage something of a “tree” structure to this so that information could be disseminated up and down the line (whilst of course, paying due regard to confidentiality).

For the organisations involved I think the key benefits could be:

  • The opportunity to access a wider pool of potential volunteers that could be quickly accessed, with confidence in the training and checks that had been undertaken.  This could be valuable at pressure points, to support irregular or one off events, or to service a need for a particular skill at a certain point in time, which may not be available within their own direct network of volunteers.  One scenario might be a single organisation holding a large, outdoor fundraiser requiring a number of volunteers who undertaken first aid and safeguarding training and had a valid DBS certificate.  The shared database could be searched to provide a list of potential volunteers who could be contacted with details.
  • Likely reduced training costs as shared modules could be developed and taught together to larger numbers.  Cost reductions might increase if volunteer managers were shared but savings would of course be somewhat impacted by the cost of administering the cluster which would need to be considered.
  • Opportunities to build firmer relationships with similar organisations which could lead to further beneficial collaborations in other areas, and at the very least, providing an opportunity to share good practice and learning in volunteer management which might be invaluable to someone new to the role.
  • Whilst awareness of safeguarding responsibilities would remain paramount, a shared resource would reduce the need to continually keep up to date with the latest legislation – the lead could research and receive such information centrally and incorporate it into procedures as needed.  Clearer lines of reporting concerns should also make this easier.

For volunteers, I think the main positives would be:

  • A faster induction and initial training process – there would hopefully be less time to wait before sufficient volunteers had applied to run a training course, or none at all if the training was online.
  • Wider recognition of training undertaken and a time saving in not needing to repeat certain elements when volunteering with other organisations within the cluster.  (One might also hope that certain elements of training could be more widely recognised and used beyond an immediate cluster group).
  • Exposure to a wider variety of opportunities or to take part in one off activities if time allowed, whilst maintaining the option to “opt out” if they preferred to devote their time solely to one particular charity
  • Linked to the above, the ability to support a number of organisations that may be in their area of interest (for example, in a community based cluster), with a simple transition between them.

Clearly there would be risks and challenges, and careful consideration would be needed to mitigate these but I hope that sufficient counterbalances could be put in place such that the benefits would outweigh them.  For example:

  • For organisations that have been used to wholly devising and running their own training, there may be compromise needed if standardised elements of training were to be devised and could be used sufficiently (ie without the need for additional in house training) to justify the investment of time and money to develop them.
  • Alongside key training elements, especially where direct volunteer recruitment and management was not shared, there would need to be additional protocols established to deal with certain issues that may arise – for example if points were raised on a DBS check which may not preclude someone from certain opportunities, but may cause difficulties for others.  This may require, a closer moderation of opportunities being shared with the cluster, and responses, which would lead to a more time intensive process.
  • In light of both of the above, as well as ensuring sufficient crossover interest to stimulate volunteers’ interest in sharing their skills across the organisations, the identification of suitable partners would be essential.  There may be some organisations which would find this particularly difficult, if for example, they worked in a niche or remote area, or across a wide variety of activities or beneficiary groups.  This may require some creative thinking, or perhaps an ultimate decision that this arrangement was not suitable in their circumstances.
  • While there may be cost savings on training and potentially volunteer management if this option was followed, this would inevitably need to be offset against the time to administer a cluster.  The method of shared financing would need to be carefully considered, particularly if organisations of varying sizes and volunteering needs were included.
  • As the proposal includes a shared database, data protection would also need to be thoroughly considered and clear communication made to volunteers about how their data would be used and stored.
  • Many organisations enjoy a close relationship with their volunteers, and vice versa and there is a risk that this might be diluted under this arrangement.  In the main, this could be offset by having an “opt out” for inclusion in shared opportunities, but would be one of the main arguments for individual organisations keeping some of the direct volunteer recruitment and management “in house”.  This would be a particularly important consideration where there is an existing body of long serving volunteers loyal to a particular cause.

I’m not aware of any such arrangement existing, which is not to say they are not in place, so it would be great to hear of anything similar and the benefits and challenges that this has entailed.  Also, from my own perspective this is an early stage idea and there are likely to be many more challenges but hopefully also benefits to consider.  At the very least, if not workable in its current form, I hope there are elements that could be developed to realise some of the benefits that I envisage.

The positives of micro volunteering

I read some interesting research on micro-volunteering recently which highlighted some of its attractions for potential volunteers compared to more traditional forms.  I felt there could be some lessons learned and shared across all types of volunteer positions and contributed a blog post on ivo.org

Helping, or being “part of the problem”?

I’ve just caught up on an episode of Channel 4’s “Unreported World” that was on some weeks ago now, but I admit, I’ve perhaps been putting off watching being reluctant to see what was revealed.  The episode focused on Nepal, where foreign donors and volunteers frequently give their time and money to support children in orphanages.  What is revealed by Evan Williams’ investigation  is the shocking story that many of the children being presented as orphans have been taken from their families, often with the promise of a better education which is never provided, as the level of foreign aid has made this a lucrative business for orphanage owners.

I’ve visited Nepal myself and the breathtaking beauty of the country versus the poverty in Kathmandu and some of the villages was brought flooding back by this short programme.  It’s also completely understandable why so many foreign visitors and even remote supporters are moved to contribute and, undoubtedly, there is a need for this aid – if used legitimately I’m certain it could make a positive difference to projects there.  Whilst I would personally be wary about contributing directly to an organisation on the ground if little information was available, and would be more likely to provide funds through a more established route, I’d also be keen to support grassroots organisations as opposed to established NGOs as, in a similar way to projects closer to home, I feel they are more in tune with the needs and potential solutions in a given area than larger scale interventions.

As far as financial support goes though, I think there is potential to strike a balance here – international organisations can still work through partners in situ, providing some assurance of the correct stewardship of funds, alongside a more flexible path to delivery.

What concerns me more is voluntourism.  Of course, the practice itself has been much maligned and the title somehow doesn’t help as it very much encapsulates the idea of a privileged “do gooder” who is prepared to take some brief time out of their comfortable life and naively “rolls up their sleeves” whilst enjoying the experience as a holiday.  Yet, I know that this is not always the case, that those involved have different intentions and that many find it a hugely edifying experience.  Is this wrong?  Perhaps it is, but the bottom line is that I’m certain no-one who takes part expects to become part of a problem.

While not in Nepal, I have done this myself, spending a week in an orphanage, where I was told that in fact some of the children had in fact been given up by their parents because they could not afford to keep them.    I travelled through an established UK organisation offering a range of such experiences, who provide assurances on their website about the relationship they have with delivery partners, but it’s been a wake up call should I decide to do similar in the future and has made me feel somewhat naive about the type of more practical questions I asked.  In truth, it would never have crossed my mind that corruption in country to this degree could be a possibility and I was willing to accept that “economic orphans” were probably a reality in some places.  I am certainly not alone.

There is a plethora of potential overseas volunteering on offer and I’m now certain that not all can be legitimate.  I haven’t done much further investigation on this since watching the programme, but now feel it’s something worth exploring.    I’m not sure now, how best potential volunteers can gain assurances but feel at the very least that all websites offering foreign volunteers overseas experiences, should need to state prominently on their websites and literature, their policies and safeguards in this area – I’m not sure this is sufficiently done.  If you have further thoughts on how this could be improved, please comment.

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