Crowdfunding for Social Impact

Since it was founded in 2011, Small Changes is a Malaysian youth organisation aiming to bridge education inequality while also instilling the value of volunteerism and creating social consciousness among our youths. It has organised several flagship programmes, including the Seeds of Deeds (SOD) empowerment camp and Project Aspire to Inspire (ATI). SOD is a camp where underprivileged students are exposed to various education and career opportunities, opportunities to hone their soft skills and empower them to use the English language. On the other hand, ATI focuses its impact on a more specific group of beneficiaries, which tackles education inequality within indigenous communities and refugees in Malaysia. Carrying the same sentiment to empower communities through education, Project Beanstalk is a new education empowerment programme in 2020 curated for orphaned children.

As Small Changes is an organisation consisting of youth volunteers, it has always opted for crowdfunding as a method to financially sustain its initiatives and programmes. Siti Nur Aliah Bt Mohd Zainuddin, the current Vice President overseeing the Finance Department, shared that crowdfunding is a reliable method for them due to its low cost and relatively quick results. It also allows donors to “donate as little as RM1” and allows fundraisers to “personalise certificates of contribution to donors as a token of appreciation”.

“There are no pre-investments or deposits required, all we need is a credible campaign and a creative promotion strategy to attract donors,” she added.

However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, its initiatives in 2020 had to be cancelled or delayed to the following year. It was truly unfortunate that the pandemic brought unprecedented changes to their initial plans, but Small Changes was not one to sit back when e-learning has evidently made education inequality worse.

Despite the limited time and resources, it managed to make an impact on underprivileged communities through the funds they acquired. For instance, RM3,450 worth of essential supplies were allocated to families of students from PPR Kerinchi under the Bantuan Sinar Cemerlang initiative.

“The latest crowdfunding initiative from Small Changes is the Ramadhan Fundraiser, through which we managed to crowdfund a total of RM 14,243.38 for five different communities in need within 2 weeks,” she said.

This includes 24 families under the Persatuan Kebajikan Tatwamasi who received food supplies worth RM1,992, while RM1,500 worth of supplies was donated to 10 refugee families, and RM5,058 was allocated for the refurbishment of on-site facilities at Save School and Stepping Stone Orphanage.

Their fundraising efforts did not stop there as the organisation also collaborated with Anaabu and Bambina to crowdfund for the manufacture of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) under the Chip In! Shield Our Frontliners initiative. A total of 1,400 sets of PPE were distributed to Hospital Sungai Buloh, Pusat Perubatan Universiti Malaya, Hospital Alor Gajah, Klinik Kesihatan Bukit Pelandok, Hotel International Kuala Lumpur and Klinik Kesihatan Puchong.

According to Aliah, while it is relatively easy to set up a crowdfunding campaign, but detailed planning is crucial for every fundraising campaign to be successful.

“Ideally, we try to make a space where we can develop a budget together as we can learn from each other and combine the input from the project management side and the financial management side to produce the best budget.”

Aliah shared that research will be done by the respective Project Directors so that they have a rough estimate of expenses for each project. With that, the team will have a clearer picture of the amount that needs to be fundraised for the projects. This is then followed by evolving it into a more defined fundraising goal.

“Usually, our goal begins as an amount, which then evolves into a more detailed campaign-specific and impact-related goal. For example, we can say: Small Changes wants to raise RM12,000 during a Ramadhan online crowdfunding campaign over one month. This money will be distributed to 5 communities in need including refugees’ families, orphanage home and for the refurbishment of schools,” she explained.

Once all the preparatory work is ready, the crowdfunding campaign is launched, and communication materials are posted on their social media platforms to spread the word. However, with a lot of other non-profit organisations tapping into the same pool of financial resources from the public, the market can become saturated easily. Hence, Small Changes strives to strategise its approach by connecting the right people with their cause.

To do this, the team at Small Changes prepare money go-to charts to help potential donors understand where their donations are being channelled to and the impact they can bring. A well-targeted chart can also increase the chances of a bigger donation, according to Aliah.

“For example, a donor might start off wanting to donate RM 30, but if we mention that a contribution of RM 50 can help 1 student to attend the camp, they may consider adding RM 20 to fulfil the impact.”

Furthermore, peer-to-peer fundraising is another strategy incorporated in their FundRangers initiative. The idea of the FundRangers initiative rests on a multi-tiered approach, where supporters of Small Changes’ values become fundraising advocates by helping the organisation to raise funds instead or in addition to them donating. This is an effective approach as it increases the visibility of the organisation and expands Small Changes’ donor database.

“Potential donors are also more likely to support someone they trust, like family members and friends, instead of a stranger asking for donations”, Aliah said, adding that this creates an emotional connection for potential donors to the organisation’s campaigns.

Of course, when it comes to handling funds from the public, transparency and accountability is key to build trust from past and future donors. The organisation utilises trusted crowdfunding sites such as Simply Giving, as they are known for their transparency and quality of service which makes all the transactions safe and efficient. The team also makes it a point to always keep donors updated on the progress of the crowdfunding campaigns through social media. The total amount raised is also made known to the public followed by “subsequent updates indicating that the funds have been distributed to the beneficiaries”.

Post-campaign, Aliah shared that a post-mortem session will be conducted with the team to conclude the successes and mistakes along the way.

“We also discuss the lessons learnt and whether or not the outcome was worth the effort, even if we did not reach our target.”

Aliah also emphasised that it is “crucial to acknowledge the downfalls in each campaign so that similar mistakes are not repeated in the future and crowdfunding strategies can be adapted moving forward”.

“Malaysians are generous and quick to offer help during times of crisis or when word of a person in need spreads around,” she noted, but this often translates into hastily set up donation drives, lack of regular updates on fundraising progress and improper mechanism to channel the funds to its intended beneficiaries. Hence, she hopes to see an improved level of transparency and accountability in the local crowdfunding scene.