8 Unexpected Lessons I Learnt about Fundraising

Some of you may know that I have been fundraising to build a school in Laos with Pencils of Promise (apologies to those I have been hassling over the last few weeks), but it’s done!  Between 8-Oct-15 to 26-Nov-15, US$25,050 was raised from 80 super generous friends in 46 days which will build a school to benefit 80–100 kids.

AND I got an email reply from Seth Godin! (Heart attack moment!)

Here are the 8 Lessons that I learnt:

1. I have very generous friends.  Thank you to all who donated.

I gave myself 12 months to raise US$25,000. Using Classy’s guide and my list of contacts and their recommendation of a 3% conversion rate at US$10, I guestimated it would take me a year to raise US$25,000 but it happened in 46 days which goes beyond my wildest expectations. The average donation is US$310 which is very high compared to international benchmarks.

Day 46: Average Size of donation


2. The value of education counts.  47% of donors were friends of mine from school

Day 46: Total DOnations: $25,050

Cutting the data this way was a little tricky because everyone more or less falls into the “friends” category. And some span across multiple categories (Cambridge, Wharton, Bain — you know who you are!)

Raffles is my high school. My donors from Cambridge, Wharton, Bain and Partners Capital are a consequence of my education.

3. I have a lot friends that I did not go to school or work with.

What was interesting to me were the 21% of friends in grey that are my “social friends”, i.e. I didn’t go to school with or worked with.. which turned out to be the second largest category.

4. Twitter has been and continues to be a surprisingly successful component of my campaign.

On Day 30 of my campaign, I published a post “The Value of a Tweet” which showed at that time, Twitter comprised 10% of my donations, with the average Twitter donation at $174 (Day 46: Ave Twitter donation is $184). These are anonymous donors, except for one. Andrew Coppin from Australia — he was my 8th donor and my first Twitter appeal.

Here’s the back story: I remembered a Tweet about Warren Buffett that got good engagement and I posted a simple quote.

7 minutes later, I got a $240 donation from Andrew.
Tweet from Andrew Coppin after his generous donation

Thank you Andrew (and apologies if you’re being spammed for donations the way I’m being spammed for other people’s fundraising campaigns).

Day 30- Average DOnations
Day 30: Total Donations US$13,995

(Read the post if you want in-depth insight into my followers and my views on Twitter Audience Analytics.)

I subsequently scraped Followerwonk with a tool I’m not going to mention (because import.io doesn’t work anymore after Datanyze posted about it!) for Twitter bios with Investor and Philanthropist and I got a lot of Retweets, Likes Followers and donations.

The possibilities are endless — now that I can tweet from my spreadsheet thanks to Blockspring, I can scrape Educator + Philanthropist, Parent + Philanthropist etc… and send 1,000 tweets a day with my free API calls.

5. Mummy and Daddy helps too

26% of donations came from my parents’ friends: older, wealthier, more philanthropic, donating very large amounts.

6. Men donate competitively, backed by science

I was researching the psychology of fundraising and came across very interesting research done by UCL which showed that men donate 4X more if they see a large donation by another man and if the fundraiser is a attractive, smiling woman (even for altruistic causes — it’s called “competitive altruism”).

Deborah Kay - That's ME!

This goes back to evolutionary biology where signalling comes to play at a subconscious level (or so we hope). Wealth is a signal of attractiveness to women, whereas good looks is a signal of attractiveness to men. Fascinating.

After I shared that the average Twitter donation from a stranger was $174, the average donation rose to $340 almost all coming from men.

Whether it’s coincidence or correlation, it doesn’t imply causation.

Hidden landing pages on my website. That’s all I’m going to say. And it doesn’t work on women.

7. Learn to build websites and basic code

8 months ago, I embarked on a mission to build as many websites as I could with different code free website builders. Go ahead, search:

debbiediscovers.wix.com (#AVOID!),
(#Hated the first version, love the upgraded one, very easy to use with lots of functionality including inserting custom code in the header and editing the HTML / CSS)
debbiediscovers.strikingly.com (♥),
debbiediscovers.webflow.com (Nice animation but a bit of a learning curve!),
debbiediscovers.wordpress.com (#Like!),
debbiediscovers.tumblr.com (#LOVE! My Swipe File)
debbiediscovers.squarespace.com (discontinued – liked the ease of use and the stylish templates, but didn’t want to pay fora demo site.

It’s not the prettiest but the one I’m most proud of is debbiediscovers.github.io because it’s the first website I actually coded myself – not with a code-free website editor.  There’s debbiescovers.github.io/disney/ where you can find 37 Disney Quotes and the images I made to post it out into the universe (this inspired my very first article on Medium “Let’s Make Magic – A Story of Singapore’s Growth and my Whimsical Dreams for it’s Future”)

This allowed me to build my fundraising website (and my hidden landing pages) in less than half a day. And it allowed me to change the colour of the buttons on my free Weebly site thanks to Neil Patel (on how to create the perfect Call to Action) and Shay Howe (thank you for your amazing HTML / CSS lessons!!)  Changing the color of a button on a Weebly site continues to draw the most traffic to that website! I even had someone ask me for CSS advice on how to add hover animation to the buttons on Disqus!  Imagine that!!

I have 50 Webydo sites that I don’t know what to do with and #XPRS freaking ROCKS. The Grid has been a massive disappointment though.

That’s also how the @debbiediscovers nickname came along — I wanted it to seem like I was “discovering” all these new website builders while building free sites. It’s also a parody of a 1980’s film — I’m sure the boys know which one I’m talking about. (OMG no one gets this, ok it’s about some girl called Debbie in some city called Dallas).

The interesting (but not deliberate) consequence is if you search Deborah Kay or Debbie Kay on Google, you get 16.7M search results and I probably don’t even feature.

Search “debbiediscovers” and I rank Google Page 1–6 on almost every single search result except for the unfortunate British soap Emmerdale episodes on YouTube titled “Debbie Discovers She’s Pregnant” or “Debbie Discovers Her Boyfriend is Having an Affair” or “Debbie Discovers Her Husband is Dead” — which I don’t think I can outrank unless I start making YouTube videos of the Dallas variety…

Note: I subsequently added more bunch of videos and renamed them with my keyword and HAH now I outrank those stupid episodes.

8. Don’t Ask Don’t Get

Though I was posting on my Facebook page, my personal Facebook profile, Twitter, most of the donations came from Direct Asks. This is not something that is within my comfort zone — I hate asking people for money.

Seth Godin Quote


But Seth Godin has probably been the biggest influence in my life in the last six months (after Guy Kawasaki which came after Canva to which I owe the success of my campaign!)

What I discovered about myself is that if it is a cause that I really believe in, I have no problems asking people for money.
100% Bar for sum of donations and no of donations


What really touched me were the people who donated spontaneously, like Tunku Ali from Cambridge, Tina from Bain, Sachin from my Learning Team at Wharton, and Gene Kim who took us over the $25,000 line without me even having to ask. And many others too many to name…

The key is to ask one-on-one directly. Group asks are not effective.

But my skin is thicker, this campaign ain’t ending EVER (I’ve committed to raising another US$50,000 by the end of the year with really fun Xmas campaigns).

If you’re one of the friends who I’ve asked and said you’d donate but haven’t, I understand, you’re busy. But I’m going to keep pestering you.

If I haven’t asked you, I will soon enough.

If you’re one of my girlfriends who hasn’t donated, I KNOW HOW MUCH YOUR HANDBAGS COST, so you might as well just donate now and save yourself the pain of me hassling you. 🙂

Pencils of Promise do not do charity work. They make long term investments. They’re data driven, ROI driven, and 100% of your donation goes to the school build, all their admin / marketing costs are covered by private donors. They’re also collaborating with TED prize winner Sugata Mitra to test his Self Organised Learning Environments in Ghana.

Learn more about Pencils of Promise and my other fundraising campaign ideas here: http://deb.bi/WantstoBuildMoreSchools.

If you liked this post, like it, share it, make a $25 donation here: http://deb.bi/WantstoBuildaSchool-Donate

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