The Funding Network held their first hybrid crowdfunding in April. Find out how much they raised and how they did it.
I log in at 5:45pm and am greeted by some toe-tapping 80s classics while I wait for the show to start from my couch (a sub-conscious reminder that in NSW it’s now legal to dance, perhaps?). It’s The Funding Network’s (TFN) first hybrid crowdfunding event held at AMP in Sydney, and online for those tuning in from their lounge rooms.
Traditionally, TFN events are held in person with space and refreshments donated by a corporate partner. There’s always a bright energy in the room, fanned by an MC (and maybe a wine or two), as the crowd is entertained with three pitches from three inspiring, up-and-coming charities hoping to raise some much-needed funds and awareness of their cause. Afterwards, the fun begins with an auction-style pledging system where people can put forward their monetary support, ask others to match them, and outbid their colleagues and friends. TFN has managed to capture all the best bits of donating (the warm and fuzzies) and funnelled them into a two-hour super-charged event that generates an immense return for charities looking for much-needed funding.
But how would a hybrid model hold up?
Last year, like everyone else, TFN moved to an online model raising a record $250,000 for one event, proving that they could still create that great generosity-inducing atmosphere while handling all the tech requirements and issues with an online event. With in-person events gradually becoming a thing again, could the hybrid model capture all the intimacy and energy of an in-person event, while also tapping into the benefits of an unlimited online audience?
Longstanding partner of TFN, AMP Foundation, gave TFN the power to test the hybrid model. Alongside the room and the AV, the AMP Foundation also contributed $90,000 in matched funding – $30,000 for each organisation. MC for the night was the entertaining James Valentine from ABC Radio.
This was the 11th TFN event hosted by the AMP Foundation. Their annual TFN event is “not only a highlight of the AMP Foundation’s year, but also the wider AMP community,” according to Head of the AMP Foundation, Helen Liondos. The yearly event raises funds for AMP’s Tomorrow Fund recipients – dubbed Tomorrow Makers. Every year AMP’s Tomorrow Fund awards $1 million in grants to Australians who are working to create positive impact across a multitude of fields from arts, sports, science, social innovation, music and medical research.
Applications for AMP’s 2021 Tomorrow Fund open 3rd May.
“There is so much to love about the TFN experience: the energy, the excitement and emotion, and the sense of community that comes from both in-person and live guests coming together to realise a fundraising target in a short space of time,” says Helen.
“They realise the type of figures that some grassroots non-profits could only dream over raising in a year, or years. There is nothing like it.”
The events also open up the opportunity for relationships between the charities and AMP employees. The Foundation selects a suitable advocate for each pitching charity to help champion the cause on the night and kickstart the pledging. The TFN events also open up skilled volunteering opportunities for AMP employees.
The three charities for the night include Tomorrow Makers alumni Plate It Forward, The Generous and the Grateful, and Deadly Science.
Online, the show transitioned between two camera angles: one on the main stage with James and the charities pitching, and one of the wider room so the online audience could see the donations pledged.
TFN CEO Julie McDonald announced the online donations coming through the chat box in between in-room pledges, a tough job considering there is a slight delay for the online audience. At one time she cheekily takes advantage of the separation between the online audience and the room by claiming as online pledge was requesting a match (they weren’t, but what’s another $2000 in the pocket when it can make a huge difference to someone in need?).
There are some lovely moments of generosity and excitement. Julie’s donation of $100 with a request for someone to “add a zero”, is taken up with gusto – the donor gives two zeros bringing the pledge up to $10,000 much to everyone’s delight. Table one is garnering for the award of most generous table.
At times it felt like I was voyeuristically tuning in to someone’s private dinner party with banter, personal in-jokes, and table-on-table competition. The online audience is woven in with the in-room crowd with challenges and matching flowing from both audiences.
On the night, a combined $270,500 is raised for the three charities, confirming that, at face value, the hybrid event seems to have been a success.
That sentiment is shared online with comments like, “Simply amazing! So inspiring. Thank you to every generous donor, fantastic result tonight,” and “Congratulations, what an amazing result and event! Thank you to TFN also.”
Behind the scenes
There are pros and cons for both in-person events and online events, but can you get the best of both worlds without doubling the cons?
This was the million-dollar question for TFN. They wanted to ensure they weren’t diluting the energy and success of their events by creating a third model. But the requests from their clients for hybrid events meant that they had to give it a go, at least once, to know for sure.
“TFN is all about human connection – people coming together, sharing the experience together and hearing from the nonprofits directly. While we managed to recreate some of that online, there really is no replication for human contact,” says Julie.
“We were concerned that we would water down both models for the sake of creating a third, but actually, I don’t think that happened. We still have to do some analysis on the night, but as a pilot goes, we’re pretty pleased!”
One of the biggest challenges for a hybrid event is sound. While speakers and the MC are mic’d up, the audience is not, so when it comes to pledging, the online audience can be left behind. Thanks to their longstanding partner AMP Foundation, they had an AV system and an online conferencing platform (Microsoft Teams) at their disposal.
“We wanted to make sure it wasn’t an online audience watching a room watching a charity. We needed to make sure that when the charities were pitching, it was a tight enough shot so they were talking to the virtual audience as well as to the room. But then when the pledging was happening, we wanted a roaming camera that could pick up some of the energy,” says Julie.
But it wasn’t only the tech component that they had to figure out.
Each charity receives personalised pitch coaching, helping them to hone their public speaking skills and engage people in their causes. Coaching for an in-person audience is different to coaching for an online crowd. Face-to-face, you want to make eye contact and appear animated. Online, you must stare at a dot and keep your hands still for fear of distracting the audience. What happens when you’re presenting to both an online and in-person audience?
“We do a whole segment on presentation skills and owning the stage and making eye contact. Now we’re trying to give them instructions on how to do both at the same time! I think it adds a lot of pressure [on the charity partners]. They’re trying to deliver their pitch and watch where they’re standing!” says Julie.
It’s this coaching element that is a drawcard for AMP as well.
“We have seen Tomorrow Makers with very little prior public speaking experience deliver killer pitches, taking their confidence to a new level. The professional development is often rapid and quite extraordinary, and it speaks volumes about the TFN pitching process and support systems,” says Helen.
After the event, everyone who pledged is sent an email to confirm their pledges. It’s an honesty system and in Julie’s years she’s only seen a couple of pledges remain unfulfilled. This is countered by people increasing their pledges at payment time and TFN sees an increase of around $7000 post event. In fact, when speaking to Julie the day after, the tally had increased to $285,000.
Julie and the team still have to analyse the results for the night. While the amount raised may signal a success, they want to compare their data from in-person events and online events to understand how the hybrid model performed.
TFN prides itself on being accessible, where people can see the impact of pooling resources. There are usually a diverse range of donation levels. But restrictions on social gatherings mean event attendees must be more carefully curated, which can challenge the accessibility of a TFN event – and intimidate people who want to donate at lower amounts. Virtual events can have limitless capacity, but the trade-off is a higher ‘no show’ rate.
“When it came to pledging, we didn’t want the virtual audience to feel as if they’re a tag on. We wanted their experience to be as valuable as the live audience. There’s always going to be a little bit of give and take with that – things where we need to let go of the control.”
While they’re keen to continue to explore the hybrid model, this depends on the support of corporate partners. Coming into an empty room and setting up the AV from scratch can be a costly exercise.
“We have to weigh up is there actually enough money being generated virtually to warrant all those extra costs?”
The charity perspective
One of the chosen charities for the night, The Generous and the Grateful (GG) act as a go-between for businesses getting rid of excess whitegoods and furniture and people in desperate need to furnish their new homes after escaping domestic violence, homelessness or seeking asylum. On average, after receiving the keys to their new home, people will spend 35 nights sleeping on the floor with nowhere to store their food or wash their clothes.
The pitch coaching is a priceless addition to the crowdfunding for grassroots organisations like GG. Understanding how to sell their organisation at the early stages of starting up can be the key to long-term success.
“I have to admit I thought, ‘Yawn, another consultant sharing prescriptively what I should do up there while battling nerves and trying to run the organisation 24/7’. Boy do I love being wrong!” says Carmen Platt, co-founder and CEO of The Generous and the Grateful.
“This has forever changed the way I will speak about GG and anything else from here on in.”
For Carmen, being part of a TFN night was a dream come true.
“I have dreamed of being on the stage for three years now ever since my first TFN night!” says Carmen.
“I am in awe of the incredible openness and support of all the people in the room. The pressure wasn’t on delivering a perfect pitch — with such a friendly crowd who all want the presenters to do well, it is more about connection and the cause itself than being a professional orator!”
Previous funding has predominantly come from corporate partnerships, one-off grants and giving circles. But funding, while important, is only part of the picture. With a mission to not only provide essential furniture and whitegoods to people in need, but also re-direct excess stock and secondhand furniture from landfill, partnerships need to be about more than just dollars.
Their business model is one based on building holistic and streamlined operations, and reducing overheads in order to ensure funds can go further. As a young organisation, it can be a constant battle of trying to prove you’re serious in order to attract long-term funders. But as someone without nonprofit experience prior to GG, Carmen is acutely aware of what she doesn’t know and what she needs to learn to have the impact she wants GG to have. She has approached corporate foundations asking, not for financial support, but for advice on how to become an organisation that they would want to support financially in the future.
“We believe in connecting excess wherever possibly to benefit people and planet. We talk partnerships and shared value projects before we get to funds. An amazing amount of social good can be achieved before we talk dollars. That is what makes it possible for us to complete so many hundreds of homes for such a small budget,” says Carmen.
Part of this picture is donated warehouse space from commercial developers and property owners for GG to store their stock, removing the need to pay for a commercial lease. GG also works on a social enterprise model. Agency partners who have funding pay them a fee for service. Each order is around $600 and turns a house into a home for a vulnerable person. Fundraising is directed towards capacity building and sponsoring orders for partners who have no funding.
Carmen’s vision for the future is a marketplace of sorts bringing together charities that can provide a wraparound service: all the material needs for a vulnerable person moving into their new home and starting afresh. Things like, clothing, groceries and electronics alongside furniture and whitegoods.
She is in conversation with a few other grassroots nonprofits who work in this space, sharing her learnings from the past four years and collaborating on how they can help each other. GG is also trialling a collaboration with OzHarvest to deliver food and groceries in their van to each order of GG furniture.
On the night of the TFN event, GG received $80,000 (another $10,000 was pledged the next day). For a charity only four years old, this donation is pivotal.
“First of all, we can breathe a little bit easier knowing we have almost closed our funding gap for this year,” says Carmen.
It’s this full TFN experience – the funding, the pitch coaching, and the chance to network and get the message out there – that creates an absolutely life-changing opportunity for charities like GG with all the aspirations and potential to change the world, but in need of some mentoring and support to make it happen. For GG, it was definitely a night to remember.
Interested in attending The Funding Network’s next virtual event? TFN Rebuilding Victoria, TFN’s crowdfunding event focusing on organisations in regional Victoria recovering from the 2019/20 bushfires. You can find out more here.
TFN also works with larger nonprofits as a fee-for-service activity helping them run their own private White Label live or virtual crowdfunding events. For more information, contact: [email protected]