A COVID pivot that resulted in an outpouring of generosity.
“Have you attended a livestream crowdfunding event? Last night I did, and I am still blown away… I did not know what to expect heading in to the event or what it would be like. The reality was 90 minutes of warmth and community spirit.”
– Catherine Dix, Event Attendee –
The COVID–19 pandemic has been an unprecedented event, and has given rise to unprecedented challenges. Yet– as all of us at The Life You Can Save discovered at our first Live Virtual Crowdfunding Event – it has also given rise to an outpouring of generosity.
At this event, we came together as a global community to support three wonderful charities. Even more, we demonstrated creativity, unity, and resolve in the face of new, unforeseen challenges. We were so inspired by the global network of organizations and supporters that united to make an event like this not only possible but a great success, that we wanted to share how it all came together, with the hope that you’ll find it as powerful and uplifting as we did.
Here is an account of the extraordinary 90 minutes where individuals got together to raise over A$200,000 in the fight against extreme poverty: A testament to our collective spirit in these supremely challenging times.
First, Some Background: Exemplary Charities Working in a Global Pandemic
For readers unfamiliar with the work we do, The Life You Can Save is a nonprofit founded by Princeton University Professor Peter Singer. Our mission is to inspire people to give more and to give effectively. And to do this, we promote highly cost–effective, impactful charities that save or improve the most lives per dollar. You might think of us as a meta–charity: we shine a light on exemplary charities around the world and find ways to multiply their impact.
Our organization has been growing steadily since 2013. At the beginning of 2020, we were set to have another banner year, with many events planned to support the work of our phenomenal charities. We were excited to inspire new audiences to unite against extreme poverty. We had even planned to tour Australia and New Zealand with our founder, Peter Singer!
Then COVID–19 struck.
“COVID-19 has impacted the ability of many charities like The Fred Hollows Foundation to raise much needed funds to continue our life-changing programs. It is particularly difficult given that this is the peak time where charities raise funds – leading into the end of the tax year when Australians are thinking about giving.”
– Nick Martin, Deputy CEO, The Fred Hollows Foundation –
All of us at The Life You Can Save had to find ways to adapt to the realities of the “new normal”. Our top priority was to look to our recommended charities, see how they responded, and then determine how we could best support their response. As the pandemic unfolded, all of our recommended charities began to pivot rapidly and take extraordinary measures to safeguard their staff and continue saving lives. Many of our recommended charities put specific programs in place to mitigate COVID-19’s potentially devastating impact among their beneficiaries and ensure safe delivery of their basic programs. It was clear that those in extreme poverty would be amongst the hardest hit by the crisis: it was imperative to respond quickly.
As the crisis unravelled our previous plans, The Life You Can Save began to look for innovative ways to support our charities in this new reality. The global crisis had made it difficult to meet in person. Consequently, we decided that online crowdfunding — a new virtual fundraising format where people could make pledges and match other donations in real time — would not only allow us to continue our mission but also to break exciting new ground. For the first time, we would be able to bring our global network together at once, online and in real time.
Enter: The Funding Network
The Life You Can Save partnered with Funding Network Australia (TFN Australia), which believes in the collective power of people to solve our most pressing social challenges. Through their exciting live crowdfunding events, they connect people who want to make change with people who are doing it. And in these times of self isolation, their crowdfunding events are now online!
“By bringing benevolent crowdfunding to people’s living rooms, we are making altruism accessible to anyone.”
–Andrea Heffernan, State Director (VIC), The Funding Network–
In the heady days leading up to the event, TFN Australia assisted us with event strategy advice, pitch coaching for our recommended charities, rehearsals, and extensive tech support. And for the event itself, they enlisted as MC the brilliant Jacinta Parsons.
The result of our partnership: On 24th June, 5:30 pm, The Funding Network Australia and The Life You Can Save co–hosted a Virtual Live Crowdfunding Event. Over 150 people joined from their living rooms across Australia and around the world to raise over A$200,000 for three remarkable nonprofits: The Fred Hollows Foundation, Sanku Project Healthy Children and GiveDirectly!
“The Fred Hollows Foundation, Sanku Project Healthy Children and GiveDirectly are three charities I’m proud to support, where your dollar goes the longest way it possibly can through high-impact, life-changing programs.”
– Peter Singer, Founder, The Life You Can Save –
When the night arrived, we invited our event participants to get comfy in front of their computer or mobile devices. Our founder, Peter Singer, shared introductory remarks and then introduced the representatives from each charity, each of whom delivered a brief pitch about their evidence-based, cost-effective, high impact work. Along the way, each representative shared heartwarming tales of kindness and courage in the face of adversity: Stories that were beautiful, powerful, and inspiring.
Pitch Perfect: Our Charities Go Live!
Nick Martin, Deputy CEO of The Fred Hollows Foundation, spoke first. “May I ask everyone to close your eyes?”, he began. “Just close your eyes for a couple of seconds.”
All of us, listening in from our living rooms from across the world, shut our eyes.
“Now open them”, Nick instructed. And we did. “Welcome to the world of sight. An amazing privilege for those of us lucky enough to live in a Western nation, lucky enough to have access to universal health coverage, lucky enough to have access to an ophthalmologist, an eye check, and glasses shops.”
“But there are 36 million people living with blindness around the world. 90% of them in developing countries. Blindness for them isn’t a tragedy. It’s an injustice. 4 out of 5 people who are blind today don’t need to be.”
I felt my eyes well up. He was right.
Nick’s organization, The Fred Hollows Foundation, develops cost-effective treatments to prevent blindness and restore sight. He mentioned that for as little as A$25, The Fred Hollows Foundation performs cataract surgeries that cure blindness. Nick illustrated this important work by sharing the story of Cesaria, a three-year-old girl from Burundi who was born blind but underwent surgery to restore her sight.
Sanku Project Healthy Children (PHC) was another of our recommended charities present at the pitch–and–pledge event. Felix Brooks-Church, the Co-founding CEO and President of the organization, spoke next. Sanku Project Healthy Children (PHC) provides children everywhere with the simple, inexpensive, basic nutritional support they need to survive and thrive. Micronutrient malnutrition is the leading cause of preventable intellectual and developmental disabilities in the world. It also kills 3 million children under five each year — that’s over 8,200 deaths per day, and nearly half of all deaths in children under five.
Felix described how his organization uses food fortification to fight malnutrition in Africa (the subject of a recent New York Times Article). The Sanku initiative helps small local mills fortify their food. Sanku equips millers with a machine called a dosifier. Named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Best Inventions in 2019, the Sanku Dosifier fortifies staple foods with the correct dosage of micronutrient premix (including iron, folic acid, B12, and zinc). On average, PHC’s Sanku program costs only 53 cents to fortify food for one person for an entire year.
Our third presenter for the night was Caroline Teti, Director of Recipient Advocacy with GiveDirectly. GiveDirectly is the first and largest nonprofit that lets donors send money directly to the world’s poorest people. GiveDirectly provides unconditional cash transfers using cell phone technology and uses a rigorous, data-driven model to oversee the entire transfer process end-to-end — without a middleman or partner charity. The need is greater now than ever before. As governments impose lockdowns to limit the spread of COVID-19, many families are suddenly unable to continue earning a living. Few have the financial resources to cope with this crisis. For example, in Mathare, an urban slum in Nairobi, 95% say they are eating less due to COVID-19. In these times, GiveDirectly is sending funds directly to those hardest hit by the crisis.
“You probably hear a lot about extreme poverty in Africa”, said Caroline, who had joined this event from Kenya. “One thing you may never have been told is that a single individual could experience the full range of issues that define poverty: malnutrition, disease, hunger, illiteracy, the effects of environmental degradation, energy crisis, poor housing, you name it. To overcome poverty, such a person must solve all these problems within his/her lifetime. How can we as actors in the aid sector possibly choose which problem to solve and whom to support when all seem equally dire? This very question is why almost 10 years GiveDirectly began sending cash, no strings attached, to residents of remote villages in Kenya, over 350 miles from the capital city, Nairobi.”
Caroline emphasized that it is important to empower people with choice. “We know that we cannot define the solutions to poverty. Not everybody needs a goat! We cannot hand everybody a goat. Because with the money that you could buy a goat with, someone could solve three more problems!”
Consequently, GiveDirectly sends money directly to people living in extreme poverty and allows them to choose what to do with that money.
Let the Pledging Begin!
“We are asking you to pledge tonight, and to pledge publicly. I do think it is important to encourage giving publicly. There is a lot of evidence that shows giving publicly encourages others to give. And in general, acting well, acting ethically and acting altruistically encourages others to do the same.”
– Peter Singer, Founder, The Life You Can Save, Introductory Remarks at the event. –
When the presentations were over, we opened up a live pledging session, where we invited participants to pledge a donation to each charity. Prior to the event, two extremely generous donors – Grant Houghton from Vivienne Court Trading and Amy & Matt Doran – had committed to providing A$30,000 in matched funding for the event. In other words, donations up to that amount during the event were expected to be doubled!
Our MC for the night, Jacinta, kicked off the pledging process by announcing a pledge made prior to the event by three charity advocates: Tarnia Kidd, Maggie & Arnold Vogel, and Scott MacInnes. We then invited participants to put forth their own pledges. Our first pledgers stepped forward. “$500 for Sanku”, they typed into the chatbox– the first live pledge of the night– setting in motion an outpouring of generosity.
“We even had someone joke that the event was “better than Netflix”, which was met with enthusiastic agreement by other participants! Who knew giving could be both fun and inspiring!”
– Andrea Heffernan, State Director (VIC),The Funding Network Australia –
There was an electric energy in the room. One at a time, pledgers came forward and made live pledges that ranged from A$100 to A$10,000 (and even more!). Every pledge mattered, and every pledge was met with euphoric celebration as participants cheered one another to give more. We watched (with bated breath) our screens: we saw the total amount of donations flash before us on a graph whose numbers were updated with each pledge, in real time. The numbers continued to rise. It was unbelievable.
The Power of Shared Purpose
“This event was an incredible demonstration of the power of collective giving”
– Peter Singer, Founder, The Life You Can Save –
That evening, the final tally showed the total amount pledged to be A$203,400. This, infact, was an undercount. In the excitement at the end of the event, we forgot to add a very generous donation of A$10,000 to the tally (for PHC). Believe it or not, one supporter, Grant from Vivienne Court Trading, later also took our MC Jacinta’s challenge to “go find some more funds in the couch” and donated an additional A$5,000 from his social bonus to PHC. This raised the total amount pledged for the night to a whooping A$218,400: A testament to the power of collective giving.
All of us at The Life You Can Save were truly blown away. For me, it was a seriously profound moment: a powerful connection with strangers whom I had not met before, whom I could not see, and who had nonetheless gotten together in their shared commitment towards making a difference. In these turbulent times, it was an incredible demonstration of shared purpose, compassion, and generosity.
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