How to Start Your Charity in a Day

Posted by on Feb 6, 2014 in Charity, Talk | No Comments

The Digital Shoreditch Festival is an annual two-week festival in East London – Tech City – which uncovers the latest in the creative, technical and entrepreneurial space. My talk at Digital Shoreditch on Thursday May 23, 2013 explored if charities and startups can learn from each other.

“Charities today are nothing like charities 10 or even 5 years ago. Our internet connected world has enabled some passionate people to create completely new models for a successful charity. Charity:water has made smart use of social media, the Dutch 1%club is running a successful crowdfunding platform, and charity hack days bring together creatives, techies and charities. Much like startups, charities need to be creative and flexible, and raise money to fund their goals. How can these two worlds learn from each other?” 

Working as an interaction designer at unitid in Amsterdam and ustwo digital product and service design in London I have learnt to work lean, quickly developing ideas, prototypes and evaluating ideas by testing. I have also been active for The AlphaBet Club charity in Amsterdam and other charity initiatives and see a lot of similarities. Looking at the London UX and startup scene with its many new emerging business models I started to wonder.. Can charities and startups learn from each other? This idea evolved to exploring how you could start your charity in a day.

The easy steps to start your charity in a day:

1. Start a crowdfunding campaign
2. Join a charity hackathon
3. Develop a business model for your charity

Why would you want to start a charity?

Let me start with about our six basic human needs. Our human needs are certainty, we need to a certain level of comfort and predictability in life. But we also need variety, new challenges and ideas make us feel alive. We also want to feel significant, we want to feel like we life meaningful and important lives. We all want to feel loved and connected, and we want to grow as a person.

  • Certainty – the need to be safe and comfortable, the survival need.
  • Variety – the need for physical and mental stimulation, change, challenge and excitement
  • Significance – the need to feel special and worthy of attention
  • Love & Connection – the need to be loved and connected to others, for relationships and intimacy
  • Growth – the need to develop and expand, for fulfilment and self-actualization

Another basic human need that I want to talk about, is that of contribution. To give something greater then yourself to others. For me personally I have found this at The AlphaBet Club. For 12 years I lived in Amsterdam, and hen I learned about ABC a few years ago I loved the fantastic parties and events I and met a whole bunch of interesting friends from all over the world. But I didn’t know there was more…

The AlphaBet Club is also a non profit organisation. With the events the ABC funds education for children living in slums in Bangalore, India. Children between 3-6 years old attend these pre-schools and receive not only daily education, but also learn about basic hygiene and receive regular health check ups, 3 meals a day and a school outfit. The schools are run by our amazing partner Building Blocks. The quality of the schools and level of education is nowhere behind what we are used to in Europe. I can know because in 2012 I got to travel to Bangalore, India and visit the schools. Meeting the teachers and local community was very special. I also got to ask my friends for money and I could spend it on helping the families in the slums. With the help of friends I could donate waterdrums and kerosine stoves to 40 families. The feeling of satisfaction and happiness I got from that was incredible.

Lean at ustwo™

When I came back from India I started my new role as interaction designer at ustwo in London. Here I learnt more on how to work lean, how to develop and test ideas quickly in a sometimes unpredictable environment. At ustwo the word succailure went around, meaning if you test an idea and learn from it, it can be regarded a success no matter what the outcome. Ustwo invests in their own IP so we can play, make our own things, and fail and succeed with our own projects.

I started to wonder if the world of charity and the world of digital product design and startups can learn from each other. And traditional charities can do with some learnings and change. They are struggling… in 2012 there was a 20% decrease in donations in the UK. That’s a big drop which mostly affects smaller charities. For the larger charities there is increasing lack in trust. There are reports of excessive salaries and expensive ad campaigns in the charity sector, and people fear their donations are not used for the good cause. There is a desire for more transparency.

How to start your charity in a day

So how can we do things differently? By working the way a startup does! You can start your charity in a day and all you need is a cause you believe in. A problem you want to solve that’s close to your heart, and there are plenty of problems to be solved. Maybe you want to provide daily meals to homeless people in your area, or provide support for people experimenting with green energy?

1. Start with a crowd funding campaign

A simple way to raise funds for a cause you believe in is a crowd funding campaign. There are many options like Just Giving familiar to many in the UK. iCancer is a unique crowd funding campaign set up to fund a promising anti- cancer virus. The iCancer campaign uses social media to grow awareness around their campaign, which was put together in only a week and became a big success.

The 1%Club provides a platform that stands out since it allows you to gather not only funds but also skills. In 2012 over 90 projects were successfully funded and the platform keeps growing. You can find a project on 1% Club you want to help with your skills and money or create your own and start raising funds.

How to do it

  • Tell your story well, make it engaging and visual. Break down donations to something people can relate to.
  • Find 1 to 5 people to promote your project actively. That way you can use their networks as well as your own.
  • Ask not just for money but also skills. Why not find someone who can help you with design or photography to promote your cause better.

2. A charity hackathon

If you feel like you want to do more with your cause, you can. A charity hackathon is a great place to get lots of great ideas and designs by enthusiastic creatives, for free. We all know the traditional hackathon but charity hackathons are a little different. Two examples are working 8 hrs for a good cause and the global sustainability jam.

At working 8 hours for a good cause creatives from various backgrounds get together for 8 hours, working for a charity. Briefs can vary from a new logo to campaign ideas. Working 8 hours is a good example of a charity hackathon. It is an annual event, in which about 8 cities in Netherlands participate. In every city 5 or more groups of creatives work for 5 local charities. Outputs can be new ideas for campaigns, logo design or a design for your website. Creatives  get to work on a real project and help out a charity, it is fun and inspiring and you meet a lot of great new people. In 2012 the event Working 8 hours for a good cause has gone international, in 20 cities all over the world from Amsterdam, to Cairo and Berlin to Rio de Janeiro. More than 400 people participated. So next year London should be part of this, too!

In Lisbon a project was done in a slightly different setting. Eleven graduate students for Design and Graphic Printing worked for a non profit NGO called “Corações com Coroa”

How to do it

  • Join a charity hackathon like 8 hours overtime for a good cause or organise your own.
    It can be as small as finding 4 creatives and a brainstorm coach.
  • Find a professional brainstorm coach.
    Make sure a seasoned professional keeps all the creatives on the same path.
  • Create a clear brief (or multiple) with the coach.
    A clear brief is the recipe for an outcome you will actually want to use.
  • Find creatives from different backgrounds
    Students and young professionals. If you get them excited for your cause they may want to stay involved.

3. Your business model

Now you will need to evolve your cause with a proper business model, so you can make your charity sustainable. Define your value proposition, customer relationships, key activities, and all that jazz. To give you some inspiration you can look at innovative business models of other charities.

The AlphaBet Club model: About 55% of our funds raised comes from hosting events, mostly ticket sales. Added to that are donations from local partners such as Alternatives for Children.

Charity:water as implemented the 100% model. This means that 100% of contributions will go directly to the building of water pumps. Cost for employees, buildings and other overhead is paid from a different bank account altogether. The birthday project taps into people’s personal lives and gives them an easy platform to ask for friends to contribute.

Whatever model works for you, you can find inspiration in new charities and startups (the Business Model Canvas can be a good start), focus on transparency and tangible results.

What charity will you start?

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