Schumacher College in Dartington, South Devon seeks to inspire, challenge and question people as co-inhabitants of the world. They are an international centre for nature-based education, personal transformation and collective action. They offer a range of residential courses on ecological themes and transformative courses for sustainable living.
A number of co-creators from the college developed the Deep Time Walk App which provides a walking audio history of the living Earth, giving people a detailed and dramatised experience of the planet’s 4.6 billion year history. During this educational walk, people walk a distance of 4.6 kilometres whilst listening to the Earth’s story (via the app) and are encouraged to connect their own short-lived experience of time on Earth with the vast expanse of geological time.
The college needed funds to complete development of the app and with revenue generated from the sale of the app hopes to raise sufficient investment to fund a number of bursaries for the college. On World Earth Day in April 2016 they set out to raise £21,000 on reward-based crowdfunding site, Crowdfunder.co.uk.
Hatty Fawcett, experienced crowdfunder and Founder of Focused For Business and Crowdfunding Accelerator, asked Robert Woodford to share what he learnt from this crowdfunding campaign and to offer advice to others thinking about doing crowdfunding.
“Schumacher College has a strong alumni who share the Deep Time Walk ethos and vision for the world…it was a project born out of the work of the college and it was natural for us to reach out to this pre-existing community for support”
Hatty: What attracted you to crowdfunding?
Robert: Schumacher College has a strong alumni who share our ethos and vision for the world. Many of our alumni had undertaken the physical Deep Time Walk at the College (from which this project arose) and so had a strong affinity for the project. It was natural for us to want to talk to this pre-existing “crowd” (via a mailing list of 17,000 people) and share our vision. Crowdfunding enabled us to turn a shared vision into a tangible financial commitment of support for our project.
“It proved crucial to have advice upfront …we would have missed out if we hadn’t had all the elements of the campaign lined up well in advance.”
Hatty: How did you approach your crowdfunding campaign?
Robert: We did a wide review of best practices associated with crowdfunding and spoke to a number of people that had already managed a campaign, including yourself Hatty – your advice helped us think about the common pitfalls involved in the process of crowdfunding. The team at Crowdfunder were also a great help in providing support and advice both before and during the campaign. It proved crucial to have this information and advice upfront because, once live, the campaign moved very fast and we would have missed out if we hadn’t had all the elements of the campaign lined up well in advance.
I have to say, it was tough work and enduring attention to detail was needed in the weeks up to launch and then constantly throughout the campaign. Gruelling but rewarding!
“Crowdfunding takes longer than you might think. It’s gruelling but rewarding!”
Hatty: How long did it take to prepare your crowdfunding campaign?
Robert: We starting thinking about our campaign six months before we went live, and then planning started in earnest three months before. Crowdfunding takes longer than you might think. We’d expected to launch about a month before we actually did. It was the right decision to delay the launch as it meant we had everything lined up and, importantly, we secured upfront financial commitments which ensured the campaign was a success.
“The biggest challenge was getting the timing of these pre-pledges lined up with the actual day our crowdfunding campaign went live.”
Hatty: How much of your campaign target had you had promised by the time you put your crowdfunding campaign live?
Robert: We had about 20% ready to be pledged before we went live. The biggest challenge was getting the timing of these pre-pledges lined up with the actual day our crowdfunding campaign went live, and then timing the push out to the wider support base after this.
“One thing that worked really well for us was having incentives that were, effectively, limited edition.”
Hatty: What advice, tips or successful tactics would you offer to anyone preparing for crowdfunding?
Robert: Planning is essential – I can’t stress that enough– as is keeping the momentum going throughout the campaign.
One thing that worked really well for us was having incentives that were, effectively, limited edition. The rewards were also of high value to our target base for support. We made exclusive audio recordings with Satish Kumar, Martin Shaw and Stephan Harding, and provided an set of lectures which totalled over 4 hours. We also have put in the effort to produce an exclusive book and audio cd, which was attractive to potential supporters. And, we would only release a certain number for each reward category and when these were taken, that was it, they were gone. This encouraged people that visited our crowdfunding campaign to pledge, there an then, whilst they were on the site. If they’d waited the reward might have run out.
We used several tactics here:
1) We kept the number of each reward low so that people were encouraged to pledge before a reward ran out.
2) We offered an incentive that the first 50 people that pledged would receive access to an early version of the product, which really helped bring in the early pledges.
3) Half way through the campaign, we launched a match-fund campaign, which brought in a substantial mid-boost to our crowdfunding campaign. It worked so well it enabled us to add stretch targets which provided further momentum to the project.
“We launched a match-fund campaign…and what started as a £1,000 commitment became an £8,000 investment.”
Hatty: How did the match-fund incentive work?
Robert: Essentially, I got three donors in place who each promised to contribute a relatively large sum if we raised matching funding through the crowdfunding site. It was difficult getting the first major donor but, once we had one on board, it was easier to encourage others. The first donor offered a commitment of £1,000 if we could match it through the crowdfunding site. I then got a commitment of a further £3,000 from another two donors. This created a theoretical match-fund pot of £4,000. All we had to do was raise the same amount of money through our “crowd” and that would trigger the match-fund investment. Our wonderful “crowd” came up with the goods on the same day we told them of the initiative! So, what started as a £1,000 commitment became an £8,000 investment. In fact, we actually went over the target amount before the match-fund was pledged and so we pushed on to reach towards our stretch target. Originally we’d hoped to raise £21,000 but we actually raised over £26,000.
Match-funding really incentivised our crowd and our match-funders were excited by it too. They felt they were doing something special which boosted support generally.
“We’re no longer a team of eight, but a community of 267 with a common passion and commitment to the project”
Hatty: Would you do crowdfunding again?
Robert: Yes, it’s an exhilarating if sometimes stressful ride, and it was wonderful to be part of a project that not only delivered the investment, but also has the potential to change people’s perspective on their place in the cosmos and how Earth formed over 4.6bn years.
Perhaps even more importantly, we’ve created a growing community around this project. And that’s more compelling than the app on its own. We’re no longer a team of eight, but a community of 267 with a common passion and commitment to the project and it’s potential to give anyone, anywhere on the planet a perspective of deep time and where they came from”. If we nurture this relationship there are lots of opportunities down the line to do other things. Now, that’s exciting!
To find out more about the Deep Time Walk, visit deeptimewalk.org or join them on their facebook page at www.facebook.com/deeptimewalk