I’ve spent the last month in Vancouver, Canada visiting family and friends before I start a new job in Siem Reap city in Cambodia next week. I’ve been extremely fortunate in my life and everywhere I go from Asia, Mauritius and Canada, people are extremely kind to me. It would be selfish of and I would have bad karma if I didn’t pay it forward.
Because I had a month free before I begin working again, I had no excuse no to put in some time to raise money for the Landmine Relief Fund because I knew they were effective, transparent and addressed the urgent and continuing problem of millions of unexploded landmines around Cambodia. The organization is a US-based charity that funds the work of the Cambodian Self-Help Demining (founded by Cambodian Aki Ra), some projects of the landmine museum, and an orphanage for 36 children.
I have visited the Landmine Museum in Siem Reap twice last year and all the proceeds from donations and the $5 US entrance fee for visitors funds their projects. I learned a lot about the devastating economic and social impacts of landmine victims who have either lost limbs or died. A third of the casualties are children, predominantly boys because they are much more likely than girls to play with explosives.
Because I was out of Vancouver for the past year and a half and only had regular communication with a grand total of three friends, one whom lives in Switzerland, I wasn’t sure how many people would donate, let alone show up to a pub fundraiser after not seeing me for so long. But I thought I would just try anyway for the sake of an important cause. What’s the worse that could happen anyway, right?
But people have surprised me and I was again reminded how generous they are in the community and how quickly people can come together for an important issue.
I’m writing this detailed post to profile the incredible work of the Cambodian Self-Help Demining Group and Landmine Relief Fund but also to share the successful promotional strategies so you can apply them to your own efforts. I go into a lot of detail in this post to explain why I chose specific time-saving tactics.
The key message for this post can be expressed by a quote from a Canadian icon and hockey hero extraordinaire Wayne Gretzky, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
At the Landmine Museum, we learned more about the incredible and inspiring story of Aki Ra, who was featured as one of CNN’s Top 10 heroes of the year in 2010. He was nominated by Bill Morse, the international project manager of the Cambodian Self Help Demining and Project Manager of the Landmine Museum.
When the brutal Khmer Rouge regime took power in 1975, the leader Pol Pot and his team led a genocidal campaign against his own people and killed two million people while they were in power, which at the time was almost 1/3 of the population in the country.
Pol Pot’s government forced people out of their homes, killed doctors, artists, teachers and killed anyone, no matter how young or old, who was to weak to work in the fields. He had a vision of creating an agricultural revolution and systematically tortured people while he was in power, particularly intellectuals.
The Khmer Rouge killed Aki Ra’s family and recruited him as a child solider. He was trained on how to put landmines around the country. During the war, millions of landmines were planted around the country to prevent people from escaping.
After the war, Aki Ra dedicated his life to removing landmines until Cambodia is landmine free. He began removing landmines on his own and would use nothing but a stick and his bare hands to deactivate the mines. It’s a miracle that he’s never lost a limb with his work and he used to remove up to 300 landmines a day on his own.
When Aki Ra got calls from people in the village, he would go immediately if they reported a suspected land mine in their area. He began the Cambodian Self-Help Demining team and to date his team has removed 50,000 landmines.
The fundraising event
Because I was only in Vancouver for a short time, at first I thought of setting a goal of $500 for the month to be realistic. But I believe you get back what you put in. If you aim low, you’ll get lower results. And for such important work, we might as well set a high standard. If we don’t reach the moon, at least we’ll hit the stars.
My friend and I did a pub funraiser at Darby’s Pub in Kitsilano in the past because they were very nice to give us a free venue and a microphone to tell people about what we were doing.
People had the option to donate in the following ways:
- Donate directly to Landmine Relief Fund with PayPal or their Visa and report the donated amount to me so I could track our fundraising progress
- Come and bring people to Darby’s Pub on September 20 to learn more about the organization with a chance to win draw prizes.
One of the key messages I wanted to get across was that it didn’t matter if they donated $1 or $1,000, every little bit counts. Everyone has a different budget and living in Vancouver is expensive so I didn’t want to put too much pressure or have a cover charge to attend the event.
Promoting the event
When I’ve raised money with events in the past, I’ve used the same three channels:
Thanks to WordPress, it was easy to choose an appropriate template for our fundraising page to update people on our progress and give more information about the Landmine Relief Fund and the work of Aki Ra’s team. It’s easy to embed YouTube videos and pictures on WordPress.
I set up an event page three weeks before the event and made it public so people could share the page and invite their own friends.vI also reminded people about the event on my Facebook status once a week. But it’s important not to shove the event in people’s faces too much or they’ll just tune it out. Every time we got a prize donation from a sponsor like a restaurant gift certificate or a gift basket, I posted it on my status so people wouldn’t be reading the same thing all the time.
Three weeks before the event, six people said they were going. With events like these, people tend to RSVP in the last week. We had 29 RSVP by the day of the event and probably about 40 people show up throughout the night.
- Newspaper event listing
My friend had a great suggestion and told me to write to the Georgia Straight newspaper event page, which lists events for free. I didn’t even realize they ended up publishing our event until an old woman called me and asked me questions about the event. One of the servers at Darby’s Pub also said people have been calling the restaurant to ask about the fundraiser.
I just sent one email five days before the event to the friends I’ve kept in touch with and people who didn’t have Facebook to remind them about the event. If you email people too early, they may forget about the event. Email too late, then you don’t look organized.
I don’t email acquaintances I haven’t kept in touch with because I don’t like it when people only contact me when they need something when they don’t keep in touch with me. So I don’t do that with other people either. Treat others as you would like to be treated.
- Inviting people in person
Whenever I met up with friends, I told them to come to Darby’s if they could make it or encourage their friends to come.
Getting $400 worth of prizes with three hours of work
I knew if anyone showed up to our event, they were going to come primarily for the cause. But because I have high standards for hosting, I wanted to have at least a few prizes to give away for people who came to the event and donated. I initially thought I would have maybe 15 people come to the event, so if I got around five or six prizes, almost half the attendees would get something.
When I’ve tried to collect prizes like gift certificates or gift baskets from businesses in the past, I knew I would much more successful by contacting smaller businesses or socially responsible businesses. When I’ve gone to chain stores or international businesses, it takes much longer for them to say “yes or no” because they have to go back to their head office and they also have so many more requests. And to be honest, the bigger chains who make much more profit tend to give less anyway.
When you approach a small business, you get a response much faster because they don’t have to ask permission from any head office and they often support great causes, even if they do get a lot of requests.
In exchange for their donation, I featured them on our fundraising page that would be sent to our networks, thanked on Twitter by my friends who have thousands of followers and linked their Facebook page on our Facebook event page.
In sales, you have warm leads to cold leads. Warm leads are the contacts you already have some kind of relationship with and cold leads are people you have no connection with. Best to start with warm leads so I contacted businesses in the following order to save time.
- Businesses who gave us prizes in the past
I first started with businesses and restaurants that have given us prizes in the past and three out of four of the businesses were able to donate gift certificates again. Here is an example of a custom email I wrote to a warm lead:
My name is Melissa and I’ve been away the past year and a half doing volunteer work for an NGO in Cambodia. I’m back in town for a few weeks and looking forward to eating your food again!
I am actually going back in a few weeks in Cambodia for work but I am doing a fundraiser at Darby’s Pub with a goal of raising $1,000 for the Landmine Relief Fund, an organization that support the work of clearing landmines around Cambodia.
Last time [company] was very kind to offer a gift certificate for our 50/50 prize draw. I was wondering if you were able to make a similar contribution this time around.
If so, we would be happy to recognize you on our fundraising page, our Facebook events page. We especially want to promote ethical businesses such as yours.
Thanks a lot!
- Businesses where I was a regular customer
My theory businesses were more likely to give me a prize if I was a regular customer and explained how many people I have brought over the years. I do something for you, you do something for me. I of course didn’t bring customers to get something in return, I brought them because I loved their food or service. But it didn’t hurt to bring it up.
Even though it’s more intimidating, it’s easier and quicker to get a sponsored prize if you call instead of email. It’s also easier to ignore an email than a phone call and email can easily end up in people’s junk mail folder. I defaulted to email first so people could have time to think about it. If they didn’t reply to me, I followed up with a phone call. Some of my prizes were approved two weeks after an email. But two of my prizes got an immediate yes after a phone call.
- Businesses I had absolutely no relationship with (cold leads)
I knew it was going to be a long shot for me to get a donation from businesses I had never bought products from. But if I don’t try, I won’t know.
Even though I didn’t have a direct connection with cold leads, I would still write custom emails to them. I wanted to first contact businesses with a social and environmental mandate, so I looked up, “vegetarian restaurants in Vancouver.” I wrote essentially the same email as you’ve read so far with he exception of the sentence, “I am looking for donated prizes from socially and environmentally responsible business such as yours.
Many of our friends love wine so I decided to just try and email wine shops in Port Coquitlam and Vancouver so I could easily pick them up. All of these shops were cold leads. I spent an hour researching and writing custom emails to wine shops. I wrote the following email:
- Feature your logo on our Supporters page to be distributed to all of our friends and networks
- Mentioned on Twitter among our friends who have many followers
- Promoted on our Facebook event page
To my surprise, one wine shop emailed me back the same day and donated a private wine tasting tour for four that was worth $100, our highest value prize. Another wine shop was kind enough to give $50 worth of gift certificates at their shop. One employee there said, “This way we can help out the community and get some publicity too.” Win-win.
One of my good friends who won the grand prize $100 private wine tasting tour asked me how I got the prize donated and I just said, “I asked.”
Once we got 6 prizes, I stopped contacting businesses because I thought we had enough prizes to give away for what I thought would be 15 people showing up to the event. But business contacts were replying to me right up until a few days before our pub fundraiser to donate a prize.
I also had a family member who was so kind to give away brand new housewares, candle set and an aromatherapy candle. And my friend from Cambodia donated organic palm oil, organic pepper from Cambodia and tea.
In the end, we had 14 prizes to give away, more than double what I was hoping for.
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”-Wayne Gretzky.
Help from my friends
I’ve been so touched and grateful for all of my friends who have helped me from their hearts and making time in their very busy schedules.
Most of my friends who helped me the most and donated are friends who weren’t in regular communication with me while I was way simple because life is busy. But everyone supported in their own way and everyone’s time and contribution made this fundraising effort a huge success. It’s funny when people come back into your life and support you when you need even after long periods of silence. Or with some people, you can just pick up where you left off.
I couldn’t believe about 40 people came out throughout the night and it was so busy that my friends naturally helped out to make the event run smoothly. One of my friends helped me thank sponsors to her thousands of Twitter followers and brought seven of her friends. She got her mom to donate $50 and another two of her friends to donate $20 each.
Another friend brought some of her friends and wonderful colleagues. One of them said, “I don’t know what the cause is but I told her to just tell me what to donate and I’ll do it.” She ended up giving $30 and at the end of the night. After spending a few hours at the pub, she just handed me $10 extra. I said, “What’s this for?” And she just shrugged and said, “Just because.”
I was so lucky to meet a new friend named Nary, who is Cambodian, and she’s been living in Canada for the past eight months. She was invited by her friend to speak in Norway for a fundraiser she was doing for a children’s organization and she raised $1,000 in one night. She was so brave to speak with me in front of a group of people she had never met before that night to give more background on Aki Ra.
My friend’s friends were so nice to volunteer to handle the raffles and collecting money. They even walked around together and gathered almost $200 within 45 minutes of asking people around the pub who weren’t there for our event.
Everywhere I’ve gone in the world, one consistent observation I’ve noticed is people who have less give more. This has also been true of past fundraisers I have done. This past month, people who I know have a lot of expenses as a single income earner, grad school student who is not working or working hard for low salaries donated $15 to $80 and I will never forget that.
Exceeding our targets
People and businesses have been extremely generous and we were able to beat our goals. A week before the pub fundraiser on September 20, we were at $180 in donations. Three days before the event, we had $330. Judging by the number of guests who were coming, I thought we would probably raise about $400.
Was I ever wrong. We made $700 just from the pub fundraiser and by September 21, we had $1080, exceeding our goal ahead of schedule. Of course we are continuing our fundraising campaign to see how much we can raise by September 30, 2014.
Here is the total amount of time it took to get to $1,000:
- Securing a venue for the pub fundraiser: 10 minutes
- Making the fundraising page: 1 hour
- Calling and emailing businesses for draw prize donations: 3 hours
- Collecting the prize donations: 4 hours (I didn’t always have a car and rollerbladed around East Vancouver and Kitsilano to collect prizes to save on transportation cost)
- Making the Faceboko event page and inviting people: 20 minutes
- Continuously promoting the event through social media and thanking sponsors: 1 hour
- Event submission to Georgia Straight: 15 minutes
- Darby’s pub fundraiser event: 5 hours
- Reporting to donors and updating our communication pages: 15 minutes
- Updating businesses on the fundraising success: 30 minutes
Total hours: 16 hours/2 business days
If I had more time, I would have written a press release to a few relevant news papers, but we were able to exceed our goals using social media and peer to peer recruiting.
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”-Wayne Gretzky