Our first year was a success (we raised over $150,000 for effective charities), so now we are doing our first public fundraiser to cover our operating costs. We are raising $35,000 CAD ($29,602 US, £19,555) to fund all of our 2015 activities.
What is Charity Science?
Charity Science (previously Effective Fundraising) is an organization that conducts experiments in building awareness of and raising funds for the most scientifically based charities. We measure and evaluate this success based on money moved to scientific charities that would not have been donated to them otherwise.
At Charity Science, we focus on fundraising for the end charities that help the global poor, but we need funding to do this important work. Historically every dollar that we spent on Charity Science lead to us raising over $9 for our end charities.
Reasons to Donate
Why donate to us compared to other charities?
What have we done in the past?
An important question to consider when donating to any charity is track record, so what has Charity Science done in the last year? We have run 3 experiments in an extremely lean and cost effective way. Our one year report and 6 month report are publicly available (and these are the internal reports we use to make our decisions, not just glossy donor reports used for fundraising). That being said, here is the most up to date summary of what we have done in the last year.
Money moved over 2014 (all sums in Canadian dollars)
We raised over $9 for every $1 spent in 2014. Over the past six months (after moving to our current mix of activities) we raised over $16 for every $1 spent. This was far higher than our predictions for this year.
Money moved over time
Our fundraising has large spikes from our peer to peer events (which were run in September and December). We do not expect to be able to raise December level amounts every month, though we do expect that we’ll raise more money throughout 2015 -- especially in January - July.
What do we plan on doing in the future?
We make both our budget and our month to month activities public. Our plan is essentially to scale up our past experiments that have worked (peer-to-peer fundraisers like walks, birthdays and Christmas) and to continue to experiment with new ways of raising funds and awareness (sponsored events, online fundraising, local events, etc). For example, we are organising a large sponsored fundraiser which will be run simultaneously by local EA groups around the world.
What would we do if we raised more than $35,000?
In the past we have not accepted donations that exceed our basic costs or would have otherwise gone to our recommended charities. Now that Charity Science has a track record we feel confident that it is worth putting more money and resources into. Therefore, we have created an expansion plan for what we would do if we exceeded our goal.
Our expansion plan consists of hiring more staff to conduct more fundraising experiments. We expect each additional full-time staff member would cost around $20,000 with a part-time staff member costing half of this. The types of experiments we would try would depend on the skill set of our new staff member, but would potentially include corporate fundraising, gala events, legacy fundraising, and niche marketing. We’d also be interested in expanding our existing events, such as running the Charity Science walk in multiple cities.
What would you do if you raised less than $35,000?
If we are unable to raise $35,000 we would slow our expansion and, if need be, one of our current full-time staff (likely Joey) would switch to doing earning-to-give to support the project. This would slow down the project considerably.
Ways to donate
Donate in American dollars - http://bit.ly/15CmrSv
Donate in British pounds - http://bit.ly/1z2h7SU
Donate in Canadian dollars - http://bit.ly/18kDmuS
Donating through this website involves a small transaction fee. If you intend to donate $500 or more, please email us instead to arrange a bank transfer or a donation by cheque. We can give Canadian tax deductibility for any sized donation and can give international tax deductibility for donations over $500 (please email us before donating). You can also donate in US dollars and British pounds. You can donate monthly through this website or by emailing us.
Publicity seems to be one of the biggest factors to success, if not the largest.
How many people know about your P2P fundraiser is a huge factor in determining how many people participate. As it’s hard to predict which people will fundraise substantial amounts, it’s best to simply get lots of people signed up.
P2P fundraisers work great if they are not done too often
We found there was a burn out effect if people attempted to do P2P fundraisers too often. Even our two events, which were separated by over 4 months, felt too close together. We think two or three P2P fundraisers a year is about the maximum an individual could do.
Pick a really good P2P system
A part of our increased success for our Christmas fundraiser over our other ones was the use of a stronger P2P system. How long it takes to set up a page and how easy the system is to use can make a big difference in how many people sign up and how much time it takes you to run the campaign.
Offer lots of help and guidance
We had blog post examples of success, template messages, offered one-on-one Skypes for guidance, and we still could have improved in this area.
Give some reason why people should act now
People are very good at procrastinating so it's critical to create a sense of urgency. Some ways to do this are to center it around a particular date, such as Christmas, or to offer time-limited donation matching
More automation is better, but be willing to put in extra manual labor if need be
Automation really helped tasks that had to be done again and again (e.g. tax receipts) but sometimes we needed a feature but it was not available or automatable. For example, our system did not have a way to do donation matching. In these cases, we found it worthwhile just to put in the additional labor.
Setting up our own P2P fundraiser is likely a better plan than connecting with a pre-existing one.
We considered just syncing up with larger fundraising events (such as Live Below the Line), but found the benefits were often very small for much larger fees, and gave us much less control over what charities people would fundraise for.
Things to do better next year
More outreach to interested groups.
We did not expect our Christmas P2P event to do so well. In hindsight, we wish we had marketed it more and earlier to other possible groups that might have been interested in joining. We started marketing about a week into December. It would have been better to have worked on it 1-2 months before.
Solve currency problems
The biggest technical problem we had this year was that our system was not built to accept different currencies. People found this both confusing and likely donated less because we used the Canadian dollar instead of the American dollar. The Canadian dollar is a weaker currency and thus one dollar donated was only equal to about $0.80 USD. A few possible solutions we are looking into are changing P2P systems, using the American dollar as our main currency, or making several pages with different currencies (although we already tried this a bit, and it was confusing and difficult).
Highlight the match more
We had a match, which many people saw, but some donors did not notice it or said it was not highlighted enough. We plan on making it clearer for people in the future.
More distance between the Charity Science walk and Christmas
Above we talked about how it’s easy for people burn out. We have decided to move our Charity Science Walk to the middle of summer to give more distance between it and our Christmas fundraiser.
Set up two tiers of engagement
The final big improvement we want to do next year is to have multiple levels of engagement. Some people wanted to only do a little bit, whereas some people were more gung ho and would have appreciated a higher effort, higher returns option.We think it’s important to keep it really easy to join and sign up, but also put in an extra challenge for those who desire it.
Some other lessons learned
In this internal review, we describe and evaluate Charity Science’s progress after its first year of operations. We mainly focus on the most recent 6 months, as we have already shared information on and results from our first 6 month experiment. However we have compiled yearly totals for important metrics such as money moved to effective charities.
This review focuses on hard metrics rather than offering an in-depth narrative description of the lessons we have learned or how well we felt specific fundraising strategies succeeded. That information is linked to in the ‘Attempted experiments’ section.
We also want to thank our volunteers and donors for making it all possible. This could not have been accomplished without everybody’s combined efforts. This report is a list of everything we have managed to achieve. We look forward to seeing how many people we will be able to help next year.
We view money moved as the best reflection of awareness of and support for our proven charities. Here are the goals we have previously set for this:
Goal from July 2013
Benchmarks from April 2014
In-depth reports on our experiments
Here are the experiments we have conducted, with reports and data on them:
Here is a rough timeline of our activities so far:
We spent about 3 months working full time on planning and reviewing charities as well as some unrecorded time before we started working on this project full time. During this time we also worked on re-branding and getting charitable status.
We spent about 12 months doing full time fundraising, with the team spending about 78 hours per week on this. The breakdown of this time was the following:
Here is a breakdown of our time over the most recent 6 months:
A breakdown of our time over our first 6 months can be seen here.
The total cost of these activities (including salaries) was around $15,000. This is lower than the total we spent as we spent a portion of our personal savings to cover various costs.
We spent about $12,000 on salaries (three full time staff, two of whom worked full time on these fundraising projects), and about $3,000 on other expenses. At some points we experienced financial pressures due to not receiving a large donation which we were expecting. We plan on raising more money for operating expenses at the start of 2015 to guarantee that this does not happen again and slow down our work.
Money moved by category
These figures are in Canadian dollars. More donations are coming in in these categories, so we will update them periodically to reflect this. Currently we have had around 88 different donors from our CS walk, 9 people did birthday fundraisers and 9 people made one-on-one donations.
The totals above exclude $5,875 in donations ($11,750 counting the match) and the Google Grants that we obtained for various charities, because it was unclear whether these would have happened without our work, and unclear how much money in donations a Google Grant is worth. When we calculated counterfactuals we tried to take a conservative guess and ask individuals we were unsure about. We suspect that many organizations would include these excluded numbers in their totals. We also expect that several donations were made that we were unable to track this year due to our directly pointing people to GiveWell or to our proven charities, but we do not have a concrete estimate of their total size. We only counted donations for which we had tax receipts (or other solid proof that the donation was made), and which we were convinced could be attributed to a Charity Science staff member or volunteer project.
Money moved by charity
This is the total counterfactual amount donated over the last 6 months, organized by which charity it went to. Evidence Action got the most donations due to being the charity for which we fundraised through our charity event. SCI did not get very much due to us mainly promoting Evidence Action as the deworming charity and GiveDirectly as the cash transfer charity.
Below is a chart of the total amount moved to each charity (including funds from the match) over the last year to provide a visual sense of which charities got the most donations.
Money moved to effective charities by time period
Over our first 6 months: ~$10,000
Over our second 6 months: ~$45,974 (including funds from the match)
The large boost later on is mainly due to our Charity Science Walk (in September) and scaling up our birthday fundraising campaign (in August and September).
Ratio: 3.7:1 (over the year)
We are currently writing a separate post describing our future plans, including the changes and improvements referred to above. Look out for that on our operations blog, or consider subscribing to our operations blog's RSS feed.
This year we organized a walk to raise money and awareness for evidence-based giving. Here’s what we learned.
Pre-planning is key
We put a large amount of work into pre-planning our event. This really helped even though we thought that we overdid many aspects of it. It allowed us to have much more confidence when the event was happening and gave us more mental space to deal with unanticipated problems as they came up.
Cost effective events work
When we were considering many different event options, we were drawn to a walk partially due to its low cost (no need to rent space or food). Even though it was low cost, it worked at least as well as many high cost events that we were considering. The full cost of the event was under $250, and the time cost was about a month and a half, which is very low as far as events go.
Pick something that fits your demographic
We considered many different levels of walks, runs, jogs and many other physical activities. We chose a walk because our demographic was more of a walking crowd than a running one.
Have something “fun”
Many people enjoyed the dressing up as mad scientist element, even those who did not dress up themselves. It added some fun and was very eye catching as we were walking. It also made the event stand out in people's minds.
Direct and peer-to-peer donations
The walk was designed as a peer-to-peer event, but it also allowed people to donate directly to each other and to their own pages, so overall it ended up working great for both. We plan on doing events in the future that include a peer-to-peer element but also encourage direct donations.
Give prizes but make them surprises
We gave some prizes to our top fundraisers but we did not mention their existence until we handed them out. Many people commented that they liked the surprise element, and that it made the prize feel more special. Also worth noting, we excluded board members and staff from being able to win a prize and gave them personalized prizes after the event.
Things to change next year
Make everything very clear and simple
We tried to make everything as clear as possible. For example, we put up a map and directions the the meeting location, and put details of the time and location on Facebook, the website and the donations page, as well as emailing people the details. But even then we got many questions about this information. Some of this is inevitable no matter how clear you make things but we also think we could have improved some of this by picking a more well known starting location.
One person set up to lead on “damage control”
In the future we plan on having at least on full time staff just for “damage control”, such as helping a person who cannot find the meeting place. As we did not have that, there was always some ambiguity about who would work on each issue.
Plan some more events and volunteering around the event
Many people who came to the event asked what was coming up next and if we had volunteer opportunities. In the future we plan on having volunteering days right before the event (as it would have been very handy to have some volunteers then) and right after the event, as many people wanted to help out after having a good time at the event.
When giving volunteers roles we should make sure people have actively committed to volunteer roles and then make sure we give them a shout a week before the event to make sure they remember and are still interested.
We also could have used volunteers whose goal it is to make people who don’t know anybody feel comfortable, make introductions, etc. We also ideally would have the next large event (e.g. a Christmas event) planned by the time that the walk happens, so that we can talk about it while everyone is around.
Some other lessons that we learned:
Networking is a valuable tool in growing a donor network, but the way that we did it made it much slower than we expected. We believe that other forms of networking could be more effective in spreading the idea of evidence based giving, given time and experiments with different approaches.
One benefit of networking was that it allowed us to meet quite a few people who were interested in Charity Science, many of whom later donated during the event and birthday fundraisers. We also gained many side benefits that cannot easily be quantified, such as volunteers, presentation audiences, and guest blog posts.
We found that although our ability to predict which events would have people who were interested in effective giving was quite good, our ability to predict which individuals would give or volunteer was quite poor. Due to this we are more inclined to follow a broader outreach strategy and not focus as much on individuals who seem promising but have not yet made a donation.
Another conclusion we came to was that networking by itself was not a catalyst for donations. We needed some sort of ‘ask event’ for them to connect with Charity Science and make a donation. (e.g. the Charity Science Walk).
We also found that connecting to our personal pre-existing network was extremely time effective, as most of these people already had a strong personal connection to us. However this approach is not scalable and thus will not be our focus while we try to grow.
How this experience has changed our view on networking
We feel that in the future we need a more consistent and slightly modified strategy, which connects people to Charity Science rather than us as individuals, and which is substantially more time-effective. Nonetheless, we think that our previous view that networking leads to a wide variety of subtle and scattered benefits is still true.
Networking raised $9,680, the vast majority of which came from our pre-existing networks. We suspect that the donors will continue to support evidence-based charities, creating a higher net return over time. We also suspect that a large amount of the donations (more than half) raised by our personal birthday fundraisers and the event were due to networking.
Total networking events attended and hosted
We went to around 65 events of all different forms. We hosted around 10 events (excluding the Charity Science Walk).
Estimated time and money spent
We estimate that we spent around $500-$1,000, not including staff costs, on both hosting (excluding the Charity Science Walk) and attending events (including traveling costs).
We estimate that we spent around 40%-50% of our time over 6 months on networking, communications related networking, and networking related research, planning etc. This means that it took about 3 months of full time work.
This is a blog that details our month to month organizational progress as well as the more technical ideas we have. The RSS feed is just for this content, not for normal blog content.