In 2010, after 2 years of traveling that was funded by computer businesses that I created while traveling, I decided that it was time to give back. I decided to create an NGO to help poor children in India get access to computers—and I wanted to do it in less than a week.
Our first day of classes from SaveThem.net
It’s almost impossible to recognize how fortunate we are when we are surrounded by other first-world nation residents, but our generation is far richer and capable than any other in history. Never before has it been so easy to stay connected, access information, or learn. Beyond Angry Birds and video chat, I believe that the biggest change that the Internet is producing is worldwide access to education. Through websites like the Khan Academy or MIT OpenCourseWare, anyone in the world has access to the same instruction, no matter where they are.
And, after two years of using technology to allow me to build a completely outsourced, passive income business, I decided that it was time to give back.
I was inspired by the Hole-in-the-Wall project, an NGO that truly demonstrated the power of technology. This startup NGO installed computers in the slums of Delhi, near schools, and monitored the success of children over time. They provided no instruction to the kids…just maintenance when computers broke down.
Most people think that an approach like the Hole-in-the-Wall project wouldn’t help. You need guidance, instruction, and teachers to learn–right?
Surprisingly, the answer is not always. With no instruction–just a computer terminal sitting in a village—test scores skyrocketed. For example, the level of content assimilation in one school measured from 16% before the introduction of computers, to 56% after–a 250% increase in just one school year. You can see the results here.
With no instruction and no guidance, with just a simple machine, dozens of poor students’ lives were radically transformed.
With the Hole in the Wall project as my template, I set out to raise money and build a similar NGO. The most common question I get about this project is “How did you raise money for an NGO in a short period of time?” I’m going to show you exactly how.
How to Raise $5000 and Fund an NGO in 7 days
Answer: Just go f’ing do it.
Whether it be becoming a ‘famous’ DJ in 90 days, losing 25 lbs in a month by living in a desert, or founding a business that required fewer than 4 hours of work / week, I believe that the key to success is stripping away the minutiae and jumping immediately to success.
When I decided to start SaveThem.net, I started researching how to found a legitimate NGO. It required a board of directors, mounds of paperwork, and six months to fully establish.
“Fuck that,” I said.
I wanted it to be up and running in just a few days. So I skipped the paperwork, threw up a website (SaveThem.net) and started accepting donations.
So let’s talk about how the specific steps I took to raise money for my school.
The New School Under Construction (in background)
How to raise $5,000 in 7 days
Have you ever been in a situation where you wanted to raise money for a project in a short amount of time? (You’ll be surprised how applicable these strategies are to fundraising for a vacation, creative project, or anything else you can dream of).
1) Decide on the project that you want to fund
First of all, you need to decide on what your fundraiser is for.
I spent weeks considering my options, and I finally settled on a technology theme. From there I started talking to people in the city where I was living—Udaipur, India—until I was introduced to a school principal. Within 48 hours, and several cups of chai, I had presented my idea and had the principal’s full support.
2) Throw up a web site
The site contained some basic information and calls to action (CTAs).
As you can see from the arrows I drew, it’s very clear how to donate–I’ve put links twice in the header, once in the sidebar, and once near the footer. The goal is to make it VERY clear for the steps the reader should follow to donate.
If you aren’t good with web design or themes, you can use weebly.com to make a site in minutes.
3) Find your preliminary donors
Getting seed capital immediately is important, both for the funding and for the mental clarity that you are actually going to follow through.
Ask your parents, family, friends, and facebook friends for donations, and get your seed funding going.
Are you confused about how to ask your friends and family for money? Check out the next section – How To Ask For Money.
4) Accept donations via Paypal, and understand that there will be fees
I use Paypal to accept donations. Sure, a small percentage of the money is lost to fees, but the ease of use for potential donors more than makes up for the lost fees.
5) Start promoting on various blogs and sites
Once you have your preliminary donors and sites developed, you can gather mass donations by teaming up with other websites and blogs.
When I founded SaveThem.net, I had the opportunity to make a video for the 4 Hour Workweek blog. I created a video that appealed to visitors of the site, and then pitched my NGO idea at the end.
Because I was utilizing other websites’ audiences, I suddenly had a whole lot more people with knowledge of my product–and a whole lot more donors. I ended up raising $5,000 in one week from a single video.
Joint opportunities exist everywhere, and here are some of the best ways to raise money with the help of other bloggers. Some good examples of joint ventures: guest blogging, co-hosting a webinar, or having a blogger promote your fundraiser to his email list.
How to ask for money
People always think that fundraising is the hardest part of starting a new project. Once you know exactly how to solicit donations, fundraising becomes much easier.
Most people are afraid to ask friends for donations for fear of pissing them off. The first thing you need to recognize is that, while some people might get annoyed, the majority of people will think it’s cool that you are trying to help others. They’ll regard you as remarkable — not annoying.
So, follow these steps in your fundraising activities, and you’ll be successful.
1) Make Direct requests
The biggest mistake that people trying to raise money make is to send out mass emails and Facebook requests. The innocent bystander effect explains the failure of mass emails–it’s extremely easy to disregard an email sent out to several people. But most people will respond to an email addressed directly to them.
2) Understand that video requests convert very highly
One of my focuses at Stanford was persuasive technology. Once, my professor B.J. Fogg asked for donations for a project he was working on. He used video to send a direct request to his friends and family, making personalized videos for each person.
The percentage of people who actually donated was staggering.
Personalized video is one of the most effective ways to quickly rack up donations. Follow these steps.
i) Write an email directly to everyone you know who has even a small possibility of donating
You can use this sample email as an example.
Subj: Helping children in India
I don’t know if you heard, but I’m starting an NGO in India to teach poor village children how a use a computer. I’m trying to raise $5000 in 7 days to make this happen.
I recorded a video for you, specifically.
Could you check it out?
The website is [url].
ii) For each potential donor, record a 30 sec – 2 min video
I’ve gone ahead and designed a sample video that you might follow. Read on, and then check out the sample video.
The video format should follow this structure.
Say the person’s name. Then remind them who you are.
Something like: “Hey John! This is Maneesh, your old friend from college. I am in India right now trying to start a school to help children get access and learn how to use computers.”
b) Rile emotions
Now, you have to combat peoples’ natural tendency to think in a financial perspective by inducing an emotional perspective.
Inducing an emotional perspective is a fundamental of copywriting. The best way is to use keywords to make the listener feel connected, but also sorry for the people you’re trying to help. Show how even a small donation will contribute greatly to your project.
An example of building an emotional bond is by showing pictures or video of your project. If you can embed them into you video, it will be extremely effective. As always, showing cute children works very well.
c) The Call to Action
This is extremely important, in both your emails and your videos. The viewer must know EXACTLY what to do.
I tend to mention 2 different options in the outros. My exit call to action usually reads something like this.
‘So, you probably now want to know how you can help. John, for only $250, we can buy a new computer for the school. Even a $50 donation would feed the students for a week.
Can you please help out? Donate any amount by clicking on the link below.”
Below the video, embed a Donate button (if you host the video on your own site). If you use YouTube, you need to make it clear that the user should go to your domain to donate.
The specificity of the Call To Action is important – the viewer should know exactly what to do, and what their money is going towards.
So let’s see what the final cut looks like! Super simple, made in less than 5 minutes. If you worked hard, you could produce 20-30 of these every hour.
Follow these steps on a video donation letter, and you’ll be surprised how many donations you’ll earn—often from people who you never expected to donate.
What’s your project?
The great thing about the framework I outlined is that is can be used for anything with surprising speed and ease. You can use the strategies here to:
- Fund an NGO or nonprofit
- Raise money for a creative project
- Launch a business
- Help out a family member in need
- Much more
Now that you’ve seen how easy it is, how are you going to use this in 2014? What’s a passion project that you’d like to launch this year?
Let me know in the comments.