A crowdfunding masterclass with Help Refugees

In times of crisis, often the last thing on your mind is sitting down to write an arduous grant application. It’s also true that in times of crisis, people are desperate to help, but often they don’t know how. In the ‘refugee crisis’, in which more than one million refugees crossed into Europe in 2015, we saw these desires play out in the form of crowdfunding.

As boats upon boats of migrants and refugees moored into European shores, there was a desperate need for supplies, resources and aid. Volunteers flocked to the Calais ‘jungle’ to support the arrivals. And those who couldn’t offer up their time offered up their money.

their £1,000 strong crowdfunding campaign turned into a £56,000 strong campaign, and born was the organisation Help Refugees

Scores of crowdfunding campaigns hit the web. From crowdfunding to bring food parcels to refugees to crowdfunding to create a library in Calais – there was a campaign for almost anything. Hundreds of thousands of pounds of unrestricted funding were raised within hours of crowdfunding campaigns going live. One organisation, Help Refugees, did exactly that. Starting off with just a group of friends raising money to fill a van with donations for Calais, their £1,000 strong crowdfunding campaign turned into a £56,000 strong campaign, and born was the organisation Help Refugees.

I caught up with Philli Boyle, head of Community Fundraising from Help Refugees [since rebranded as Choose Love], about the tricks to running a successful crowdfunding campaign:

Trust in people

Philli Boyle: “Help Refugees is a movement of people working to improve the lives of refugees across Europe and the Middle East. We’re not just an aid organisation, we’re more like family. You can see it in the way we’re volunteer led, in our advocacy work – and in our crowdfunding. We at Help Refugees trust in our movement members. The new generation of individual donors doesn’t like to be advertised to or sold to. And we believe that keeping that grassroots side is important. The first crowdfunding campaign came at a moment when the British public was feeling particularly upset about the rhetoric around the refugee crisis. People were looking for a way to show that they didn’t buy into this negative rhetoric, and we provided them with that space. Even when we weren’t a fully formed organisation we were receiving tens of thousands of pounds and people were trusting us with that money”.

The Social Change Agency: Trust is a crucial element in a successful crowdfunding campaign. Help Refugees consistently run hugely successful crowdfunding campaigns. Speaking with Philli it became clear that Help Refugees have a unique relationship to their donors. It’s personal, it’s mutual, and it’s trusted. Those who have offered money to Help Refugees have most probably also offered their time at some point or another. Phili mentioned with a tone of surprise how much faith people put into their first crowdfunding campaign when it was just a small group of friends. Help Refugees have treated this fierce level of trust with impeccable responsibility, and this has formed a solid foundation for future crowdfunding campaigns.

Be transparent

Phili Boyle: “After our very first crowdfunding campaign we had an enormous responsibility to people who put their faith blindly into this page. We were – and still are – acting as a conduit for the goodwill of the public. So we keep them updated consistently. We’re clear and honest about the work we’re doing. We might not offer them a glossy campaign or video, but we’ll share an iPhone photo of the team who have just installed 10 toilets in a refugee camp in Serbia. We’ll show them where exactly their money is going.”

The Social Change Agency: Crowdfunding campaigns aren’t about spending thousands of pounds on glossy videos. As Philli mentioned, a video or image taken on your smartphone can often be enough. As long as the image supports your story – and it is crucial to have imagery or video footage alongisde your campaign – then it’ll be enough. Especially in times of crisis, people search for places to give their money, and the places that are most honest, transparent and clear about where exactly that money goes will succeed. Help Refugees’ crowdfunding campaigns do exactly that, and their unwavering success reveal just how important transparency and commitment to the cause is in a crowdfunding campaign.

Be raw and authentic

Phili Boyle: “We raise money when it’s really needed. A targeted campaign means people know where their money is going. People respond really well to it. For example, when there was a fire in Dunkirk, we raised around £25,000. People know that 94% of the money we raise will go directly to the causes we raise for. And when the centres that we fund in Syria were blown up a couple of weeks ago, we put out an emergency fund to help those projects. We raised £12,000 immediately. This is because of our consistent authenticity.”

The Social Change Agency: Authenticity goes a long way in crowdfunding. If people can trust that you genuinely care about the issue at hand, and that you will work tirelessly to ensure their money goes to that very cause, then your crowdfunding campaign is likely to succeed. Help Refugees have gained trust because of their fast-paced and reactive nature to moments of crisis. Right from the very first crowdfunding campaign, the authenticity of the few friends determined to go to Calais was laced into the heart of the organisation. Not only do you need to trust your donors, but your donors need to trust you.

It was inspiring to talk to Help Refugees. They have worked tirelessly to better the lives of refugees across Europe and the Middle East, and despite their growing organisation they have retained an authentic, trustworthy and responsible core. Their crowdfunding campaigns are hugely successful because of these values that they hold, which so many people can identify with. We wish them luck in their work!

If you’d like to find out more about Help Refugees and how you can become a part of the Help Refugees movement, you can visit their website here.

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