ODB Brussels covered the social business "Regular Charity Races “Angels’ Wings” in Minsk” in our article “Biz4all. Only Forward: Angels' Wings Team Organizes Regular Athletics Races”. Two months ago, organizers and competitors Dmitry Timashkou, Irina Dergach and Dmitry's daughter Lilia started a crowdfunding campaign on ulej.by to raise funds fly to Green Bay (USA) as part of their homework assignment for Biz4all "Social Entrepreneurship Incubator" programme, which is implemented by ODB Brussels and TNU Network University with support from the European Union. The team was planning to take part in a charity race in the state of Wisconsin and bring a new wheelchair to their club. The campaign ended successfully a month ago, and the running team have already come back from the USA. Dmitry and Irina speak to ODB Brussels about the crowdfunding campaign, their expectations for the overseas trip and the reality.
Identifying the purpose of crowdfunding: a step sideways
According to Dmitry and Irina, when they were launching the crowdfunding campaign for the Regular Charity Race "Angels' Wings" in Minsk, they had a realistic assessment of the situation and realized that they were offering a product that was not typical for Belarus. "It was clear to us that it was difficult to give a short and concise description of our project, and for the customer to be aware of this: on the one hand, we charge a race participation fee that is higher than the market average, and, on the other hand, we suggest that people pay for helping resolve an important social problem: supporting other people in overcoming their social exclusion”.
|Crowdfunding Project "Angels' Wings to Fly Across the Ocean" page on ulej.by|
In early June, when they launched the campaign, the organizers did not yet have tested channels of communication with a potential audience. When they calculated the amount to raise – 5,000 Belarusian roubles – it became clear that it was too large as compared with other campaigns on Belarusian platforms. We also had little time to prepare, and the crowdfunding period was too short. “To decrease risks, we decided to take a step back from our ultimate goal of setting up a regular race and select just one segment to raise funds for. This arrangement allowed us to not only pay for our tickets but also organize a large-scale PR campaign of the future project.”
|Crowdfunding Project "Angels' Wings to Fly Across the Ocean" page on ulej.by|
Dmitry and Irina called the crowd project “Angels’ Wings to Fly Across the Ocean" to reflect their ambitious goals and their certainty that over the previous two years they had already become well-known among their potential target audience and didn’t need any explanations of what "Angels' Wings" was. The team also heavily relied on the emotional impact of the campaign, because they were going to fly to the US race together with the third member of the team, Lilia, a child with a severe disability. “The goal of this campaign was to raise money for airplane tickets for the three members of "Angels' Wings" to get to the race and other events in the USA to exchange experiences, as well as bring a professional racing wheelchair back to Belarus. Part of our strategy included both sporting and social racing events, which we intended to hold during the crowdfunding campaign".
Finding support and like-minded people
Two weeks after the campaign was launched, “Angels’ Wings" understood clearly that their initial strategy was far from ideal and some calculations turned out to be unfounded. "First of all, our hopes of emotional impact did not pay off. It looked like that no one even noticed how unique this event was: that for the first time in history a child with a severe disability, who is offered nothing but hospice services in Belarus, flew across the ocean to take part in a mass sporting event. Secondly, by taking a step away from the final goal of setting up a race we lost the interest of our target audience – runners. The funds came mainly from those who already knew us from previous social events”.
The campaign was designed for just 30 days, but by the end of second week it became clear that, unless the strategy was changed, "Angels' Wings" would fail. At that time, only their closest followers supported the campaign, and, despite the huge number of likes, reposts and positive comments, the amount of funding was declining instead of growing.
|Masha Charakova, mentor of the Regular Charity Race "Angels' Wings" in Minsk social business project, at a Biz4all training "Crowdfunding for Social Business”, Minsk, 23.04.2017 Photo: Alyona Lis|
The steps "Angels' Wings" took during the second week of their crowdfunding campaign to reverse the situation and collect the required amount:
- We went on facebook with a survey, asking people to choose possible weaknesses of the project and offering solutions. The survey was very effective. It showed that for many people, our goals did not seem unique and important enough. It helped us adjust our information campaign, focusing on benefits that both our movement and our society in general can get. We began to talk more about the American experience, showcasing the positive changes we can achieve in society if we follow that path.
- We organized additional social events, like races with children from residential care homes in Ivianets and Navinki, to match our words with deeds.
- Personal contacts with independent press and editors at web portals of public organizations helped a lot: these portals published our announcement with a link to the project.
- We asked Maria Charakova and Aliaksandr Patutin, mentors of the "Social Entrepreneurship Incubator" Biz4all programme, for advice. Masha recommended us to change our gifts to sponsors and offering packages to participants of the future race, even though our current project is just preparation for the race and not the race itself. She suggested we offer early-bird packages. We did this, offering special bib numbers to the first hundred participants of the future race, which would have names instead of numbers. The campaign became more active.
- At the start of the crowdfunding campaign, we were looking for a media person who could provide support by lending their unconditional authority among a wide audience. Thanks to Aliaksandr Patutin, the first person to join was the businessman and philanthropist Yury Zisser. Not only did he contribute a considerable amount but he also said some words of support, which, with his permission, we cited to promote the project on social media and mass media.
- We would like to say a personal “thank you” to many sponsors, who are well-known in social business and non-profit organizations: Siarhey Gotin, Katsiaryna Kaurova, Anna Shamko, Dmitry Zverev, and not just for giving us money and providing their reputable support but also for actively helping with the mundane aspects of staying in America, for their invaluable advice that helped us in a faraway country.
- Finally, successful contacts with the Belarusian diaspora played a decisive role in the fate of the project. We wrote a huge number of letters both to domestic businesses and to Belarusians living abroad. We appealed to individuals and to organizations. Many letters went unanswered. However, one of them received a response from Vyacheslav Bortnik, Deputy Head of the Belarusian-American Association (BAZA), which is the oldest and most respected organization of Belarusians in the USA. Through the organizations, American Belarusians donated about 40% of the required amount.
|Aliaksandr Patutin, mentor of the Regular Charity Race "Angels' Wings" in Minsk social business project |
Photo: personal facebook page
Summing up the campaign, Dmitry and Irina emphasize that it resulted in something completely different from what they were expecting. Unfortunately, they failed to make the project a hit with the target audience and help it self-finance because people want to purchase the end product. It might be due to the fact that team aims to achieve a social effect rather than something tangible, and in our country social effect is most likely expected to come from the state rather than from private initiatives. “In our case, crowdfunding was more like fundraising – the day-to-day effort of collecting money from early morning till late night by sending personal appeals and publicizing various social benefits of our movement in the social media and mass media. We used the crowdfunding platform only as a space where we could easily present our project and as a convenient payment instrument for most consumers. We attracted clients because of our personal effort and not because to the crowdfunding platform effect".
Tips from personal experience of “Angels’ Wings” to those who plan to organize a crowdfunding campaign:
- Carefully prepare both the project and the preparation strategy. The fundraising campaign actively goes for about a month, and then people lose interest, and then authors of the project run out of mental and physical energy. You won’t have time to deal with strategy during that month.
- You need to actually launch the project when you have already pre-agreed with famous people, prepared your closest followers, got a good understanding of your communication channels with potential clients, written personal appeals, identified points of contact and given a draft of your project to someone more experienced for assessment.
- Be prepared to describe your project dozens and dozens of times to different audiences without repeating yourself and demonstrating the different benefits of your project.
Impressions from a trip to the USA and new ideas
On July 22, Green Bay (Wisconsin) hosted a sporting event, the highlight of which was a race with members of Green Bay Packers, a popular football team. The famous footballers and amateur runners went through the race together with 17 teams of wheelchair-using “captains” and accompanying volunteers. The Belarusian team of three people – Lilia, a ten-year-old girl with a disability, and her “wings” Dmitry Timashkou and Irina Dergach, both prepared for the race and took part in it together.
|"Angels' Wings" team members Dmitry Timashkou, Irina Dergazh and Lilia, with my Team Triumph representatives at a meeting in the USA Photo: personal archive|
Upon their return to Minsk, Dmitry and Irina share their impressions in between regular runs: "Our trip to the US did not just meet our expectations, it exceeded them. We went to the state of Wisconsin to meet a more experience partner – the my Team Triumph team, which helps people with disabilities take part in mass sports. It turns out that Americans value their achievements very much and like sharing their experiences a lot, and we did not have to ask many questions, but just listen, watch and try instead."
"Angels' Wings" describe that during their US visit they were surprised to discover that, by simply following their gut at home, they had not just kept up with their colleagues overseas but had also been ahead in some aspects. For example, in the USA, providing disabled people with an opportunity to take part in a race is social integration, while “Angels’ Wings” is also real sport, because they have a round-the-year sports club with regular workouts, and many members of the team have achieved good results in sport, e.g. have taken prize in international marathons. “We saw a completely new type of relations between people with disabilities and regular people. These is a very sincere, friendly relationship. Instead of bitterness or pity, it aims to interact and communicate as equals. When support is given, it is appropriate and very respectful. A society of equitable opportunities is not when everyone is considered equal but when those who need something are provided as much support as they need to become equal”.
|Irina Dergach and Lilia at the USA race Photo: personal archive|
|"Angels' Wings" team members Dmitry Timashkou, Irina Dergazh and Lilia, with with Green Bay Packers athletes, USA. Photo: personal archive|
One of the new ideas that Dmitry and Irina had after the trip and are ready to share now is the opportunity to manufacture professional sports wheelchairs, using the one they brought back from the USA as an example. The only company that does a serial production is located there, but the price is so high that it would cover the costs of three wheelchairs produced locally here in Belarus. Also, “Angels’ Wings” agreed with the Americans that they would make a return visit to Belarus. “We hope that we will be able to use that to motivate more people to take part in our movement. Also, we found a lot of ideas and materials to organize more in-depth and comprehensive awareness-raising activities about opportunities for disabled people, about available help and interaction. And, of course, we received a huge emotional and energy boost to continue our work!”
Text by: Valerya Nikalaichyk
The publication was prepared within the framework of the "Social Entrepreneurship Incubator", implemented by ODB Brussels in partnership with TNU Network University (Netherlands), Belarusian Youth Public Union "New Faces" and International Civil Association "Union of Belarusian of the world “Motherland", with the fiancial support from the European Union.
|The goal of the programme is to develop a package of social entrepreneurship training programmes in Russian using innovative international practices, as well as the experience of Belarusian diaspora representatives who have become successful entrepreneurs in European Union countries and the USA.|