Is it really a month since we returned from Israel? While I'm slowly but surely chipping away at the memory card, I promised various good people an insider's guide to how we achieved what we did regarding fund- and awareness raising, and rather then share it with a few who've requested it, I thought I might as well make it public in the hope that it might inspire and help other potential teams. For those interested in my usual photo-heavy bird and wildlife-related posts, look away now (I won't be offended!) - this one is for those interested in what it takes to raise $28,000 and unrivalled awareness for a cause close to all our hearts....
I decided to go for it and start putting the team together back in summer '17, a good eight months or so before COTF 2018 was due to take place. It might seem a little over-enthusiastic, but this allowed time both to put together the perfect line-up and to sort out any logistical funding early on (see below) – as well as lots of time to think up the perfect team name (I'll let you be the judge of the latter....). So if you're feeling yourself pulled into the COTF orbit, there's no time like the present to start building your ship.
Pick the right team
Sounds obvious, doesn't it? Well, it is and it isn't. Choosing people you trust, like and can count on, and who'll be good company (and willing to share the load) when you're out there tearing it up in the Negev during Race Week, is essential. The dynamic between team mates, especially when you're torn and frayed, can make or break the experience for all of you (undervalue the importance of the bullet-proof sense of humour at your peril!).
But if you're in it for more than an indulgent jolly in the desert - and here's hoping you are - then choosing team members who are not shy about hitting up their (ideally extensive) networks and communities, and who will each bring something different to the table, is essential. If you're serious about spreading the word far and wide and raising as much cash as possible to help save migratory birds, then weigh up your team's individual and collective profiles and then shamelessly exploit them to the hilt!
Funding and cost-cutting
Financing the basics of the trip itself can be prohibitive, and if self-financing is out of the question (which it was for us) then finding sponsors to provide logisitcal support is imperitive. There are various possibilties for this, including, for example, optics companies; Zeiss were good enough to step up early on in our preparations, and Wold Ecology were a huge help in stopping the well from running dry. Thus, we knew from the start that every penny we raised, every company we hustled and every arm we twisted was 100% for the birds and the birds alone.
We also looked at cutting costs whenever and however we could; for example, while the official hotel (where most of the teams were staying) was way out of our range, there were plenty of Air BnBs available in Eilat, and we found one for the four of us for a fraction of the cost. Likewise food and refreshments - Eilat is an expensive resort town, but bulk-buying in the supermarket, cooking / packing up your own meals and cracking open the cheap wine at the kitchen table saves an absolute fortune!
When it came to both awareness and fund-raising, we had a multi-faceted strategy that played out perfectly over several months leading up to the end of March deadline. We broke it down into several elements - talks and presentations, online activities (social media, blogging etc.), corporate and NGOs, personal appeals, and sales. By aiming our efforts in various different directions we hoped this would help us spread the message to a much wider audience, and raise funds from a wider spectrum of sources – rather than relying on just one or two options.
It worked – and regarding fundraising, each stream brought in a significant chunk of the £20K total; take any one out of the equation and we'd have fallen well short. While our specific strategy may not work for everyone, the basic principle of putting your eggs in various baskets is definitely worth taking on board.
Talks were an important cornerstone of our approach, and through our busy shedule we engaged and inspired over 2000 people at more than 30 talks around the UK (from Scotland to Sussex), raising thousands of pounds from these efforts alone.
It took a lot of effort and planning, and you may not have the opportunities to go for it as we did, but keep in mind who your target audiences are: there are many, many thousands of good people out there with some connection or commitment to wildlife who will listen and listen carefully if you reach them, and while the tentacles of the internet spread further than any of us could have dreamed of just a few years ago, you overlook the 'grassroots' at your peril.
The people who make up the legions of local RSPB groups, bird clubs, natural history societies, community organisations and others - who, by their very nature, are predisposed to care about such issues – are some of the most receptive and generous folk you're likely to come across. Perhaps surprisingly, less than 5% of attendees were even aware of the issue prior to our talks (and less than 1% of the Champions cause), but they're the ones most likely to listen, respond, donate and get involved. We thought about random, pop-up public appeals, but they arguably won't deliver real results regarding either leaving a lasting message or raising significant funds, so I'd advise targeting potentially sympathetic ears (and wallets) as a more productive use of time and effort.
We used our professional roles as public speakers and conservationists to work our contacts, call in favours, and piggy-back talks onto our existing bookings – basically using any way we could to exploit our working lives, and this often resulted in bookings and opportunities to directly deliver the message face-to-face.
Social media, blogging and other online platforms
Ah, the glorious internet - the most important tool in your kit, and when used positively and wisely, your best friend and supporter, day or night. The Terriers were responsible for the majority of most viewed, most retweeted, most shared, most popular and hashtagged (#COTF18, #flywaychampions etc.) Champions-related posts – a multi-pronged and steadily increasing four-month online campaign to reach as many people as possible and inform them of the cause and its goals. Many thousands of people – all 'connected' to us by variable degrees of seperation, from good friends to people many times removed – were engaged to varying degrees via message-based and fund-raising posts (usually both) on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Social media may be very much a mixed blessing generally, but as a tool for reaching wonderfully, incomprehensibely far and wide, it's beyond invaluable - there's simply no way on earth we'd have reached a fraction of our supporters or raised anywhere near as much brass without ploughing headlong into the ether and harnessing our reach. Have no shame in flying the flag ad nauseum and carpet-bombing timelines – after all, is there a better or more virtuous way to use social media?
All our team members used their blogs, newsletters, sponsor's platforms and other avenues to write extensively and in detail about the Champions cause, which were often followed by spikes in fundraising totals online. Writing in more depth about the cause (and the adventure) may not hold the attention during a casual Facebook browsing session, but there are always those who want to know more and learn about the background, issues and aims in more detail, and linking to longer pieces wherever possible provides that option.
Social media and blogging were the best ways for us to create a narrative and provide a window through which the story could unfold over the weeks and months leading up to the race, and indeed for race week itself. Connecting our supporters with our adventure provides a tangible link, rather than just blitzing them with the same messages over and over again.
Creating and strengthening your community online is not just essential for raising funds and awareness, but for creating a two-way street where you can inspire and, in turn, be inspired. The main reason our campaign snowballed as wildly as it did was because our community responded to us, we responded to our community, and so on – we were all Flyway Champions, and all ultimately on the same team, something that should be stressed at every opportunity.
Through our online campaigning, in tandem with our countrywide talks programmes and our more personalised appeals to our localised / closer communities, we were able to meaningfully deliver the Champions message to many thousands of people from far and wide – a worthwhile target and achievement in itself, outside of the funds raised.
Businesses and companies
Despite it being a hard sell (and despite the amount of effort required for relatively few successful returns), we had no shame in approaching and bombarding plenty of companies and businesses. In return for a substantial pledge, we offered a sponsorship package that included the company logo on our web pages, T-shirts and other publicity, appreciative tweets and facebook posts before and during race week, and the warm and fuzzy feeling that comes with helping such a great cause (of course); for more generous contributions, we also offered free company biodiversity audit services, complimentary bespoke paintings and more.
One of the main reasons for the team name was to create a sense of pride and connection with our home county, not just for our community but to ideally increase our sellability with locally-based companies and businesses. Again, this worked really well (despite a small strike rate), and our corporate sponsors contributed thousands to our final total. You only need a couple to bite and you're flying!
If you've got something to sell, sell it!
We decided to hold a sale via our team Facebook page, within which we put an item up for sale on most days over several weeks, at the same time every evening, available on a first-come-first-served basis. This obviously needs a bit of prep to organise and arrange, and a commitment to post daily and follow up all enquiries each evening, but it was well worth it. Darren's amazing art formed to backbone of our sale items, but we also sold guided tours, T-shirts and more. Not only is it great for fund-raising, it also keeps your portal constantly active, attracting more regular and ongoing interest.
Personal communities and networks
As mentioned earlier, choosing comrades who have substantial connections within their ideally wide circles translates into a wider and more varied reach for your team, which in turn translates into getting the message out to - and funds in from - a much wider, more diverse audience. As well as the above mostly public sides to our campaign, we also worked our less public circles - individuals, clubs and communites - via emails, private messages, whatsapp groups and the like. It sounds obvious, but when you're firing in so many directions it's easy to forget the good people under your nose, and as ornithologists / naturalists / conservationists, we're fortunate to have a good few of them close to hand.
Have a lie down in a dark room and don't get up for six months - your brain, partner, friends, online community and bank balance will thank you for it.
So there you have it - now go ahead and put a team together, beat our total, raise a record amount of money to save migratory birds, and we'll buy you a shandy when you get back.....