What I've learned about charity fundraising while living on less

What I've learned about charity fundraising while living on less

As promised, here’s the next instalment of what I’ve learned living on less.

If you haven’t yet read the prequels this may make very little sense to you. Go read them first. I’ll wait.

I’ve already discussed some of the parts of fundraising relating to people’s psychology so without further adieu here’s what I’ve learned about the nuts and bolts of charity fundraising during my first 24 days of living on less.

The focus

For years I followed a fairly normal trend of saying yes to fundraising when asked to, and in whichever manner was offered to me. This meant doing World Vision’s 40 Hour Famine with my friends growing up or doing Movember when my office did and maybe raising a couple hundred dollars along with thousands of other people.

The organisations I fundraised for were incredibly optimised for fundraising.

However, when it comes to giving and fundraising I’ve taken to being directed more by my head, aiming for impact. I’ve learned that if I figure it out I can use my heard to train my heart to motivate myself. I shifted my focus to try and have the rider (my analytical brain) gently steer the elephant (my emotions) and then in turn embrace the energy that emotions give towards rational well-thought-out positive outcomes.

It was 2014 that I actively started to change my approach. I decided I would do infrequent fundraisers, aim big and only fundraise for some of the most impactful organisations.

That year I did a 600km Cycle to End Poverty to raise funds for GiveReturn using the GoFundraise platform. In many ways the 2014 fundraiser was much easier and more successful fundraiser than it’s been so far in 2017.

There are three big difference here which I feel may have contributed:

  1. Sport / physical challenges seem to work
  2. Donation platforms matter
  3. Donor-matching is simpler

The challenge

I’m not entirely sure of the psychology behind it but I had a lot more positive responses with my riding challenge than this challenge. In hindsight that’s not entirely surprising given that it’s now a booming industry and you’d be hard pressed to find a large charity that doesn’t have physical challenges, nor a big sporting event which isn’t tied to a charity.

The execution

This year I narrowed in even further in trying to squeeze out every bit of value from the funds of all my supporters. This meant that I chose the most thoroughly vetted effective charities with room for funding and listed them so that they would be tax-deductible for all my donors. However, there’s a downside to prioritising charity effectiveness over fundraising effectiveness.


There wasn’t single platform that I could use to run this fundraiser according to my desired specifications. I instead had to rely on people following my instructions and for many it just seemed too hard (I had several people reach out and tell me so). For the first 20 days of the campaign the top link on my donation page required people to do a bank transfer instead of accepting a credit card (this has now changed).

In doing this I broke a ‘golden rule’ of web design – I forced people to think too much before they could take action. People were primed and I lost them.

It needs to be easy for people to take the most important action. Defaults really matter. Choice architecture matters.

My ideal solution would look like this:

  • An undirected donation to wherever the funds are most needed (but allow people to specify if they desire)
  • Credit card facility  (but allow other options if they desire)
  • Tax-deductibility already accounted for (just select your country and the appropriate charities will be selected – or select that you don’t care about tax-deductibility)
  • Personalised fundraising page (e.g. my GoFundraise page from 2014)

There is a big opportunity to improve in this space.

The incentives

Even though I’ve committed over an an order of magnitude more money out of my own pocket this time around ($2,500 in 2014 vs 30% of my salary in 2017) I actually had more success with simple donor matching. There’s something in the psychology of incrementally seeing each donor getting matched versus my supporters just knowing that I truly back the cause significantly with my own money.

The lesson

It is a hard ask to raise funds for charities that haven’t been highly optimised to raise funds (these charities been optimised for their program effectiveness instead). It poses a real marketing challenge to engage people if it isn’t super easy and obvious to donate.

As a marketer I should know better, people emotionally and it must be simple, easy and convenient. In the end I found it was easiest to primarily direct people to the one charity (Against Malaria Foundation) that was the best set up to raise funds via a fundraising page.

Fundraisers are a great way of drawing attention to a cause (not just the money it raises) so if we’re going to end poverty it must be easy for us to fundraise for the most effective charities. People’s first interaction cannot be ‘gosh, that was hard and confusing’.

I hope to find a way of helping to solve this problem.

What’s worked well in 2017

While passive posting nice images of my training via social media was effective at getting donations in 2014, social media is a much more crowded space in 2017.

I’ve had much more success with directly emailing people and speaking directly with people.

Another successful way of getting the word out was when Joni set up a Facebook event to celebrate the end of the month that emphasised a target donations to end the challenge a few hours early to host a dinner (1 hour before midnight for every $100 raised – limited to 7pm).

Furthermore, nothing quite brings attention to your cause like a major behaviour change. As I mentioned, food is social, so it was much more obvious that there was something going on this time.

This lead to many interesting conversations, which if I’m honest is actually a big part of me doing this. I want to encourage people to talk more about giving and how as ordinary people we can help to effectively solve big problems. The blog has been a useful arena for that discussion.

Final notes

Please use what I’ve learned for good – find something truly worthwhile and apply it…. and share what you’ve learned in the comments below!

Let’s not just normalise a culture of giving, but usher in a generous culture that experiences the joy of giving to highly impactful, underfunded interventions solving the worlds most pressing problems.

Shameless plug

Please donate to help end poverty, read about what I’m doing, and share if you haven’t yet.

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