Saving Animals on the Edge
24 August 2016 at 10:48 am
A new campaign has people taking on challenges outside their comfort zone to raise money for wildlife on the brink of extinction, writes Ellie Cooper in this week’s Spotlight on Social Enterprise.
Sam Marwood, an environmental scientist, worked in environmental policy and management in the Victorian Government for more than a decade.
He came up with Edge Pledge, a challenge-based fundraising platform, after years of observing the funding gap for essential environmental projects.
“I was helping to write the threatened species strategies three years ago. And we were sitting around a table and thinking about, well how do you get additional sources of funds for wildlife and for animals going extinct, and it just came out and I said where’s our Movember for the environment? Everyone else laughed,” Marwood said.
“I got together with some good friends and we thought about this idea of how do you support animals on the edge and Edge Pledge came up and we looked at all the different challenge-based charities out there, and analysed them and picked apart the good things and threw out the things we didn’t think were so great.
“We think we’ve got some new, world-first concepts underpinning the concept of doing challenges to raise money.”
Marwood said the “challenge generator” his team built has never been done before.
It asks three personality-related questions to generate a list of potential challenges – from abseiling to wearing a onesie to work to holding a snake. The list is narrowed to three challenges and friends vote on social media for the winner.
“Some charities either tell you, you’re doing this one thing, one challenge, or they say, do whatever you want, but they don’t help you to decide,” he said.
“So we thought if we created this fun, little challenge generator it would take the stress out of thinking about what challenge you might want to do and make it a fun process. You can find three challenges for yourself in a minute just using our generator.
“Then there’s the voting, so usually it’s asking people can you please donate, now it’s hey I’m going to do a fun run, knit a scarf or do a skydive, can you guys please still donate but you decide with your donation which of those three I end up doing.”
The campaign, which launched 15 August, runs for six weeks, returning annually. Marwood said it would likely be held in August each year and follow the successful models of Movember and Dry July.
“We’re trying to follow that model, but also there are some that are open all the time, so we’re just trying to figure out what’s a good balance for how long it should be running for,” he said.
“We probably need six weeks because voting for your challenges goes for three weeks, and then you’ve only got a few weeks to organise getting the winning challenge completed so you probably need a little bit of time, around six weeks, to make that all happen.
“It gives us a focal point or a period to consolidate our message and our effort and we can use the rest of the year to rest and then prepare and do the background work you need to do to get partners on board to participate.”
Marwood said “there’s many different ways a social enterprise can be structured” and Edge pledge has a for-profit and a Not for Profit arm working together. Apart from a small administration fee, the money raised will go straight to charity partners.
As Edge Pledge grows, he said he’d like to offer marketing challenge providers to offset the costs of running the enterprise.
“People will come to our site and be able to find great challenges and then they’ll probably need to go, say if it’s skydiving, find a skydiving provider and we can get an affiliate marketing fee that way so we don’t have to charge much in our administration fees,” he said.
“Hopefully that’s the way we’ll be heading in the future.”
Edge Pledge has 10 environment partners, which include Taronga Zoo, Zoos Victoria, Mt Rothwell Conservation Centre, Conservation Volunteers Australia and Greening Australia, to support 16 species of Australian wildlife.
Marwood said the funding gap for programs was huge, with scientists predicting it will cost at least $1 billion a year to protect Australia’s environment and wildlife.
Australia has lost 30 mammals since European settlement, and more than 1,700 native Australian animals and plants are on the brink of extinction.
He said having an environmental science and policy background was essential to getting partners on board.
“A lot of this is through contacts we’ve got already… people know who we are and trust us and understand that we understand the issues that are in the environment, and so they were really willing to jump on board,” he said.
“Also I think we’ve realised what our value is, is not in doing the on-ground work or helping the animals directly, it’s [helping] environmental organisations who we are partnered with to get on and do their job… we don’t want to duplicate.
“If we didn’t have this environmental science background we probably would have gone off and started our own, new on-ground delivery type of charity, which I don’t think is what’s needed at the moment, it’s getting new funds to support the great organisations out there already.”
In addition to raising money, Marwood said awareness was a significant part of the enterprise’s social impact.
“I was with friends talking about Edge Pledge and we spoke about a few of the wildlife, and they said we didn’t even know there was this possum up in Queensland that was endangered, we just thought there were common possums everywhere in Melbourne, and we didn’t know about the corroboree frog up in Mt Kosciuszko, that there’s only a handful left and their skin is rotting and they can’t find enough mates to breed with,” he said.
“[We wanted to] create this fun, interesting way for people to find out about the environment and our wildlife, because I think the concept of looking after the environment seems overwhelming sometimes to a lot of people and a bit depressing.
“So that’s one of the big things we want to push, to be able to tell a simple and fun story around the environment and show that there are things you can do, ie do a challenge, to make a difference for the environment.
“Also it’s part of that concept of wanting to have some fun with videos and comedians as wildlife to try to put a bit of a fun spin on extinction if you can, again just to try to break through and get people to hear about the animals that are out there that are in trouble and give some fun content to watch.”
Marwood said there were three main challenges in setting up Edge Pledge.
“One is what is this concept that you’re trying to do, so even explaining to people it’s a challenge-based charity, what does that mean, and we’re saying well then we’ve got a challenge generator and you find three challenges and you vote. Getting people to understand that concept is tricky, and they’re busy and they’ve got other things to do,” he said.
“Two would be all the business requirements or the backend administrative requirements around setting up a Not for Profit and fundraising licences and all the legal arrangements for what you need to set up a website where people donate.
“Then it’s getting business credibility so you can open doors to people who can help… ie funders or environmental partners or people in the media or others who can help you either build the business or get the word out. So it’s that credibility we have to keep on building over time.
“That’s the key thing for us, it’s just taken time to get our name out there and to ask people for meetings and discussions. And through those meetings you get more meetings. It’s taken us at least two years to go from an idea to be able to launch.”
He said he was pleased with the uptake so far, and especially with the support of celebrities including singer-songwriter Gossling, actress Anna McGahan and media personality Ash London.
“It’s just that slow build up… but we’re on our way,” he said.
“We want to be the place people go to find great experiences for themselves. They’re not just about challenges but great experiences.
“And we love the idea of being a fundraising platform for all environmental organisations across Australia and we’d also love to be able to expand worldwide with the concept and help the environment everywhere.”