Chronicles of a Toilet Crowdfunder

2016. It’s a new year for all, including Wish for WASH. Founded in December 2014, it has officially been 1 year of this social startup’s existence. And wow, what a whirlwind of learnings, growth, perseverance and creativity it has been! The continuous and outpouring support that we continue to receive from people and organizations around the world with whom we are related and whom we have never met is truly a testament to the mantra “it takes a village to raise a child”. In this case, Wish for WASH is an infant organization run by young passioneers who have worked tireless throughout weekends, between classes, late after work and in countries around the world to bring into fruition the social mission of improved sanitation in low resource communities. While we have a lengthy journey ahead of us, we have come so far because of our incredible communities of support.

We ended last year with a high energy and frequently marketed indiegogo crowdfunding campaign with the hopes of raising enough capital to fund our 2016 beta toilet pilot in Zambia as well as in a resettled refugee community in Atlanta. As a team who prides itself on valuing human centered design to fuel our product and service innovations, it is now time to bring our work into the field for critical feedback.

Does the toilet work?

Does it improve the user experience?

These are questions that will catalyze much of our work this coming year. As tough as it is to hear that something that is more or less your baby isn’t working as planned, it is necessary to receive this constructive criticism to continue iterating until it has the impact and value that is intended. It’s a long journey, but it is an exciting one for sure.

Emerging from my first ever crowdfunding experience with a 100% funded campaign that was rooted in an intense, almost guerilla-like, social media strategy has given me a completely new perspective of the sustained level of energy and passion required to be a fundraising professional. For me, November and December 2015 were months where I was almost exclusively fundraising for this Toilet Testing campaign, and it was- quite frankly- exhausting. I learned just how challenging it is to actively translate passion and excitement into a financial donation, especially since the SafiChoo toilet does not directly or tangibly benefit the lives of those who have donated. Luckily, our strong following and communities of support helped us cross the finish line after we developed consistent social media schedules, exciting new perk offers, creative ways to expand our reach through new media outlets, mentoring support from organizations that had been through their own crowdfunding hurdles before as well as learning a slew of other social entrepreneurial lessons. One of my favorite learnings that kept my spirits high despite the grueling hours spent mass emailing or facebook messaging hundreds of people was that much of the millennial generation is willing to support social missions in ways beyond financial contributions. I had friends from college, childhood and even people whom I have never met offer to write blog posts, share the campaign on their social media pages, connect me with potential partners/donors/media outlets to broaden our reach, donate a portion of their monthly pay check to our cause, create pieces of art that would be sold with a percentage of the money going to Wish for WASH, offer their website and digital media expertise pro bono, or host events where the proceeds went to Wish for WASH. As a huge fan of creative problem solving, I was amazed at how many unique ways that people supported our mission beyond solely direct funding. And despite the level of anxiety that spamming to raise money may have caused, I am incredibly honored to see how selfless people can be. Broke students and fellow entrepreneurs who are in the same penny pinching situation as Wish for WASH frequently shelled out $5-$10, and it was truly inspiring and catalyzed personal reflection.

In this reflection, I made the following realizations:

  • People genuinely care. Despite how tight their time or budgets may be, the people who feel your translated passion, regardless of whether the product or service directly benefits their day to day life, find a way to support you in a way that may lead to incredibly lucrative (both fiscal and personal) results which you may have never known was possible. Anything really is everything when it comes to supporting passion.
  • Fundraising is hard work. For the people who do it as a full time job, I am seriously impressed because it takes unbelievable time and passion as well as a heart that will not be deterred when faced with an inevitable slew of rejection. I learned throughout our campaign that if 3 out of 10 emails were answered positively, then that was a successful campaigning day. Having realistic expectations and not taking unanswered or rejection messages personally is crucial to be a successful fundraiser. So, hats off to all of the fundraisers out there for having an amazingly creative and resilient spirit!
  • Crowdfunding is a team sport. There is no way in the world that I would have been able to do this alone! Thanks to the Wish for WASH team, we had continuous creative graphics to post, new opportunities to pursue, new perks to offer, new student members that were excited to contribute and more passionate people to help reach out and respond to the mountains of emails that were surfacing. Additionally, having the support of my family to help spread the word and to keep me sane during peaks of frustration was, and continues to be, invaluable throughout this entire process. If you are thinking of launching a crowdfunding campaign, definitely ensure that you have a team that has your back no matter what the results of the campaign may be.
  • Anything is possible. So cheesy, I know, but I believe it now more than ever. If Wish for WASH was able to reach our goal of $25,000 for toilet testing in low resource communities in just over a month’s time, then anyone who is driven to make a difference can attract the kind of support needed to follow their dream to its furthest. This campaign was for a proof of concept test for a toilet that many people who donated will never physically see or get to use, but still through successful communication and advocacy strategies, they now care, and they helped in whatever capacity that they could. And for that I am extremely thankful.

Overall, I am incredibly re-energized by the results of this campaign and am excited to continue sharing our story as it unfolds. Regardless of whether this pilot is a “failure” in terms of traditional metrics of success, we will be able to share our learnings externally for growth in the sanitation community as well as continue iterating our work so that it one day achieves its intended impact as a meaningful and sustainable step in the direction of universal access to hygienic sanitation. Thank you to everyone who has helped us arrive to the place where we are today. We are forever grateful for you believing in us because #everybodypoops. Happy 2016!
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