Crowdfunding conservation

Published 19/09/16

Australians have taken to crowdfunding with some zeal with new platforms and the range of campaign themes expanding quickly. Crowdfunding results in small donations from a large number of people enabling start-up ideas to develop into real projects. 

In 2015 the Victorian Government launched a collaborative pilot with Pozible, a leading Australian crowdfunding platform, to encourage and support community initiatives to help protect threatened species. 

Michelle Butler, Senior Project Officer with the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning(DELWP) implemented the pilot and Amanda Dodd, from Cairnlea Conservation Reserves Committee of Management, was one of the first five campaign producers. 

Here they share their views. 

Michelle Butler 

A FRIEND had sent me a link via Facebook to a conservation research project seeking crowdfunding support. It piqued my interest immediately, and so I pledged. I began investigating different crowdfunding platforms and approaches, including attending a workshop that provided a more detailed understanding of crowdfunding. As a public servant working in the community and environment grant space, I was interested in exploring if governments had used crowdfunding campaigns before in a cost-share arrangement. 

In 2013, the WA agency ScreenWest, won a public sector award for its 3to1 Crowdfunding Initiative that supports independent Western Australian film makers. In 2014, Arts Tasmania launched Crowbar, contributing fifty percent (up to $2000) to artists’ campaigns that successfully reached their target. While there were some examples of partnerships in the Arts space, limited government application had occurred in conservation. 

I thought, crowdfunding could enable government and the community to leverage funds to support more conservation projects. It could also provide community groups with an avenue to drive digital and social media skills, tap into other types of support, expand their funding base and build awareness of their group and conservation activities. 

The idea was discussed internally including with the Project Control Board for the Threatened Species Protection Initiative. Along with a more traditional grants approach, the board was supportive of trialling crowdfunding but needed further operational detail. Claire from Australia’s crowdfunding platform Pozible, provided options for different partnership approaches. 

The model that was settled on enabled a matched grant approach and we gained approval from Lisa Neville , MP the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water, to proceed. It allowed us to engage with groups that would be receiving funds from the other grant processes from within the program so that they would have a safety net if their campaigns failed. The campaigns would be housed in a collection on the Pozible website which would bring greater awareness to all of the projects. 

To create a space for community groups to test their involvement, a facilitator helped them build their campaigns. Pozible also offered information sessions and advanced workshops to interested groups. The campaigns were then presented to the board for approval and after some amendments, seven campaigns were approved for the first collection. The tight timelines and novelty of the process was a challenge and resulted in two groups postponing their involvement. 

Those remaining continued to bounce ideas off each other, sharing materials and enthusiastically barracking for each other’s success. 

At DELWP and at Pozible, media materials were being produced and circulated to highlight the five campaigns which launched as a collection in November 2015. Over three weeks we watched the campaigns build, stall and then build again as media and networks were busily tapped. In the end, three campaigns successfully reached their target funds. 

We evaluated our efforts which identified that the funding was only part of the benefit, regardless of the success. Campaigners also noted that they: 

  • Learnt new skills in video editing, marketing and promotion 
  • Engaged with new people, locally and internationally 
  • Built awareness of community group activities and programs 
  • Built new networks and useful contacts, including ongoing links with businesses 

As a result of the input from our generous community pioneers, we have revised and broadened the scope which will be tested in the next iteration. 

Amanda Dodd 

THE FRIENDS of Iramoo and the Cairnlea Conservation Reserves Committee of Management have been discussing alternative ways of obtaining funding for years. While we appreciate the grants and support we receive from local, regional and state government agencies, sometimes there are lulls in grant rounds where the future can look quite stressful. 

The end of 2015 was looking very stressful for us. All of our existing grants were coming to completion and it looked like we would have very little funding for our works program in 2016. 

Thankfully DELWP released the application forms for the first round of the Threatened Species Protection Initiative Grants in August 2015. At the bottom of the application was a small tick box – would you like to be involved in Crowdfunding trials – Why not? I ticked it. 

Nothing happened for a few months until I received an email inviting us to attend an information session and then an advanced workshop with Pozible and DELWP. It was full steam ahead from there – we needed to submit our project pitch, preferably with the draft video only six days after the workshop. We called an emergency meeting of the committee and the friends group for ideas and stayed up late on a Friday night working out our program, what we wanted funding for and our rewards. 

After a few stressful days of program planning and script writing, I sat in the Featherheads Grassland Reserve and filmed the pitch. 

Once DELWP gave us confirmation that our program was eligible for matched funding we planned our campaign launch night – an ecological trivia night at which 46 people across eight teams competed to win prizes and adulation. In the end we raised $1350 which went straight on the campaign. 

The three weeks that the Saving Six Grassland Species campaign was running was both exhilarating and highly stressful. Our most popular reward that people selected was to adopt and name a Striped Legless Lizard. The names people chose for their adopted lizards were amazing, and included Mr Pickle, Putuguq, Legolas and Hermione. 

In the end we received donations from over 191 amazing supporters and not only met but exceeded our target of $12,000. The Victorian Government matched the target and co-contributed $12,000, bringing our total funding for the project to $25,800. 

The five crowdfunding projects showed that there is support for threatened species conservation. I would highly recommend groups try out crowdfunding as a way to obtain funds and also as a way to learn new skills and connect with new people. 

The Saving Six Grassland Species campaign would not have been possible without the support of DELWP, Claire from Pozible and Jen from TBL creative partnerships and everyone from Cairnlea Conservation Reserves Committee of Management and the Friends of Iramoo who donated their time and energy. 

Keep an eye out on the Pozible website for future campaigns that support threatened species projects.