Environmental Crowdfunding

Imagine a world where you could pick and choose what environmental projects you wanted to support. Joining a wildlife charity is all well and good but it can be limiting and after paying the annual subscription, contributing to yet another email appeal for what can often be a rather generic cause can sometimes lose its appeal. Well, that world is almost upon us, through crowdfunding or what I term ‘’environmental crowdfunding.’’ Crowdfunding is now big business and is well known in the music and Hi-tech sectors as a way of raising capital, yet it is less well known in the environmental sector, either by the organisations themselves or by the potential funders. To me, environmental crowdfunding has huge potential to both help raise funds and to raise the profile of your project and what you are trying to achieve. There are risks of course as any campaign will require a well thought out structure and even then there is no guarantee of success. Yet I believe the advantages of running a crowdfunding campaign outweigh the pitfalls. In helping numerous environmental organisations consider crowdfunding campaigns the comments I have heard against taking the crowdfunding plunge include:

  • Risk of failure
  • Not a proven way of fundraising
  • No digital fundraising strategy in place.

These comments have not just been restricted to small organisations, but to large environmental charities as well. Some have said they just don’t want to be the first to try it out – the embarrassment of failure would be just too much! So as with most innovation it has been left to the smaller enterprises and the less risk adverse to test the market and for others to follow in their footsteps.

Case stories

The three case stories below illustrate what can be achieved through crowdfunding using different crowdfunding platforms. Hendrikus van Hensbergen of Action for Conservation has recently been successful in raising over £7,000 for their work in inspiring a new generation of nature conservationists.  The advice from Hendrikus is to plan well, build up your networks before launching and use social media as much as possible. Their crowdfunding campaign also prompted separate donations from charitable trusts which were unlikely to be forthcoming without the profile being raised by the crowdfunding campaign.

The crowdfunding platform chosen for this initiative was Crowdfunder. A place focussed project was from the Red Rose Forest. Here the Forest successfully raised over £39,000 for a major tree planning initiative in the heart of Manchester. The advice from the Forest’s Director, Tony Hothersall  is that crowdfunding has great potential as long as the projects are carefully selected and well thought out in terms of project costs and who in the team will manage the crowdfunding campaign. The Red Rose Forest chose Spacehive who specialise in supporting public space initiatives. In their campaign the Sensory Trust chose Kickstarter  to help them raise £2,500 to produce and publish a card game called Gofindit!

The card game is a natural treasure hunt activity, with cards representing different sensations and sensory characteristics you can find in nature. It’s a simple and fun game that can be played almost anywhere outside. Stuart Spurring, the Trust’s Director said of the campaign, ‘’it is hard work and certainly not easy money but the rewards can be high in terms of reaching new supporters and new funding with a number of our supporters pledging from the USA. It’s certainly important to pick the right crowd funding platform for the campaign.

In the end we raised £3000, more than what we asked for – and this extra funding will further develop the product.’’ Environmental crowdfunding is certainly not restricted to the UK and numerous other platforms and campaigns have had various levels of success. One is the WWF’s Earth hour. Another is Flora and Fauna International’s campaign to generate funds for the Mountain Gorilla with a video appeal from David Attenborough through the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo (who are now operating in the UK)  A recent fundraising success which captured people’s imagination and a favourite one of mine is the Crees Foundation campaign ‘’I bought a rain forest’’ which used Crowdfunder to host their campaign.

What are the lessons?

There is no single crowd funding platform focussing on the needs of the environment.

Take care in researching which crowdfunding platform to choose. Some platforms focus their efforts on different sectors so do some background work first to see which one is right for your cause. I reckon at some stage in the not too distant future one of the more popular crowdfunding platforms will see there is a gap in market and will invest in promoting environmental campaigns and will focus their efforts in cultivating the sector.

Limited knowledge of the potential of crowdfunding. Much of the learning to date on environmental crowdfunding is anecdotal.  Few of the bigger environmental NGOs have yet used crowdfunding to any great extent. Until they do, it is likely to be the more entrepreneurial and less risk adverse environmentalists who will try this method of income generation.

Greater public confidence in the use of on line spending.

There is still some public suspicion about spending and donating online – until confidence grows in the wider public then pledges will always be limited. Crowdfunding though should be seen as additional fundraising method – aimed at specific projects and a new and perhaps younger audience.

Raising funds is hard work!

And it’s no different with crowdfunding. It is important to have a good campaign and a good video to support your cause in the first place as evidence shows that having a promotional video will increase your chances of achieving your fundraising goal. Also encouraging a number of supporters to pledge funds as your project goes live will help boost profile and generate activity. In addition some grant making trusts and private sector companies are now willing to use crowd funding as a way of funding worthwhile projects. Once the campaign has gone live keep the momentum going with regular newsletters and updates to your supporters and donors. For more information and help on environmental crowdfunding contact, Pete Johnstone: pete.Johnstone@pjelements.co.uk


Notes: 1. PJ.elements is a consultancy aimed at delivering project development and fundraising advice to environmental and community enterprises: www.pjelements.co.uk 2.  Nesta in The UK are providing some useful leadership and general support on crowdfunding: http://www.nesta.org.uk/project/crowdfunding 3. At the time of writing Eco Propagator is being launched to combine equity crowdfunding with green technology.

Pete Johnstone