Author Archive

Taking Your Donors and Fundraising to the Next Level

April 16th, 2015 No comments
Krishna Deepti

Deepti Pulavarthi

 Current Oxford MBA student Deepti Pulavarthi gives her perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar session ‘Taking Your Donors and Fundraising to the Next Level’.

”For six years, I worked at a small not-for-profit organisation based out of New York City. We were a fifteen people organisation funded primarily by the U.S. Department of State and had very few individual donors. For the two years before I left, we were struggling to raise money from individual donors. After listening to Mark Rhode and Teresa Guillien, I was able understand and internalise these challenges in a structured manner. We were unable to:

  • Convert first time donors to regular donors
  • Achieve clarity on the most cost effective medium to reach out to donors (direct mail, newsletters, radio announcements etc)
  • Determine proper tools of impact measurement
  • Draft a consistent message

Taking Your Donors and Fundraising to the Next Level, Teresa Guillien

During my work at the not-for-profit, I realised the importance of having mixed revenue streams, both government and private, as most government funding came with restrictions on spending. From Mark and Teresa, I learnt the importance of structuring fundraising efforts and building a strategic timeline on how to reach out, who to reach out to, what to say, and how often to say it.

To understand the heart of a donor, it is important to identify the building blocks that engage the donor and resonate with them compelling them to donate. In order to determine how to reach out to the donors. the first step would be to determine the cost of acquisition per participant: How much would direct mail cost and what would the expected returns be? Furthermore, before reaching out to a wide spectrum of audience, it’s important to understand ‘who cares about who cares’.

Mark mentioned another consistent issue with small social enterprises that resonated with me. A charismatic individual founder on whom the organisation depends on for funding. Our founding Executive Director was that charismatic individual who had become a brand by which funders recognised our organisation for twenty five years. His exit from the organisation left us struggling to maintain credibility with funders. This only reinforced the importance of building a strategy for fundraising that would include brand recognition beyond just an individual.”

Inclusive Uncertainty – The Future of Work

April 16th, 2015 No comments
Lyn Hill

Lyn Hill

Current Oxford MBA student Lyn Hill gives her perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar session ‘The Future of Work’.

” In reality, we have been debating this topic for over a decade now.  While certain roles have become more flexible, most organisations still require individuals to be ‘at the office’.  But what has actually changed and what are the roadblocks preventing further development?

Currently, most discussions on this topic – including yesterday’s seminar at the Skoll World Forum – default to the newest technology disrupting the world of work as we know it, often describing the latest plethora of apps offering to enhance our productivity and effectiveness at an individual and collective level.  In my view, too little of this debate focuses on what is actually required to progress these discussions to a more holistic level and the underlying effects on our existing social and economic structures – both positive and negative.

Future of Work panel

The Future of Work Seminar, L-R: Bettina Warburg, David Jones, Ben Knight

Ben Knight of Loomio touched on one of the direct benefits of liberalising the job market: the increased ability to bring marginalised voices to the table.  Whether individuals seeking work are marginalised due to disability, geography or skills, there is a real chance for society to challenge some of the more rigid structures restricting inclusivity at all levels.  At another level, the ability to collaborate and redefine economic engagement could indirectly facilitate strengthening of family and community structures by creating alternatives to stem the flow of youth and experience to urban centres.  But, what is needed to realistically do this?

I would argue that the precariat concerns of job security and under-employment, are merely symptoms of the more fundamental question of equity and ethics and who will ultimately benefit from this evolving trend.  It is hard to ignore the paradox that whilst this new ‘system’ could engage the existing and untapped workforce in new ways, it could also increase societal risk due to the underlying uncertainty of these roles increasing rather than reducing governments need to provide a social benefit safety net.

Future debate on this topic at Skoll would benefit from more focus on solutions attempting to address these roadblocks at a holistic level rather than merely tackling solutions for a more privileged sector of society. “

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Be Inspired Films: Creating a Successful Crowdfunding Video

April 14th, 2015 No comments

Lara Barbier is a writer/producer for Be Inspired Films, an award winning video production company aiming to bring great ideas to life and tell stories that matter through the creation of broadcast quality video and animation.

BeInspired_Landscape Logo

So, you’ve got that kick-ass idea, and you’re ready to harness the power of crowd funding! That’s great. Crowdfunding is potentially a really powerful way for the average person or small organization to launch their music, game, film or product without the traditional finance and commercial backing that multi-nationals and corporations have. It can also be a great way to get people to support a cause.

However launching a successful campaign isn’t always straightforward, in fact, according to Crowdfunding Academy , around 60% of projects fail.  A successful campaign requires lots of planning, a well thought through timeline, some very important social media sharing triggers, a little bit of luck and – a killer video!

As Kickstarter succinctly puts, projects with a video are 50% more likely to succeed than those without, while John Vaskis an Indiegogo ‘Games Guru’ says that campaigns with videos raise, on average, 114 per cent more than those without.

VideoKnowHow_Logo 300dpiThe video is the elevator pitch – it’s going to tell your story and should entertain, but also make people care and want to be involved in the process – preferably by a pledge and/or by sharing your project with their friends.

It doesn’t matter if you’re recording on an iPhone or on a top-range DSLR – take time to plan your video before going anywhere near that shiny recording device.  Watch lots of other crowd funding videos, both successful and not, and think about why they did or did not work.

Once you’ve done your research you’ll want to write out a script and shot list, and practice what you’re going to say, so it sounds engaging and sincere. Reel SEO offers these five points as the backbone for the structure of your crowd-funding video:

  • About You
  • Your Project’s Story
  • Rewards
  • Possible Scenarios
  • Final Call-To-Action

We would probably add a couple of things to that. It can also be very powerful to clearly define the problem you are seeking to solve through what you are doing and then offer your solution, this can get people on board if they can identify with the problem. While it’s great to include possible rewards – don’t list them all! Pick your top two to three.

This leads to the next point – keep your video short and sweet.  You need to be respectful of your viewer’s time – and grab their imagination up front. As points out, you have the rest of the project page to expand on the details, don’t try and cram it all into the video!

You don’t have to be the next Michael Bay to make a great video. According to Kickstarter, it doesn’t have to perfect, it just has to be you. That said, you do need your videos to be of a good enough quality to capture and keep the attention of your audience. Poor sound and lighting can be a big turn off, just as much as an unplanned, monotone speech.

But don’t be afraid to try out bold ideas or mix it up. The best place to try out innovative ideas is usually at the start of your video says, and cites The Bridge as a good example launching straight into the action, before going to the who, how, when, why of the film project. Be creative – but also test it out on people who will tell you straight up if it works for them (your mum does not count)!

Finally, have some fun – and let your enthusiasm and passion shine through – this project means a lot to you and perhaps exists because of the way you or your friends and family live life. A great example of this is Gotham Bicycle Defense, who created a theft resistant bike light after a friend was hit by car after having his light stolen one night.  Or “Boombot REX Ultraportable Speaker” campaign on Kickstarter , which, as point out, sells an out-doors lifestyle just as much as the product.

So, with all this in mind, grab that note pad get planning and from Be Inspired Films and VideoKnowHow - best of luck with your crowd-funding video!

Click here to watch the great video that Be Inspired Films created for the Student Hubs’ Emerge conference held at the Skoll Centre.

Connect on social media - @beinspiredfilms and @videoknowhow


March 3rd, 2015 No comments

This article was originally published on The Skoll World Forum Website.

The author, Tara Roth, is a former Skoll Scholar & Oxford MBA Alumnus. Tara is currently serving as  president of The Goldhirsh Foundationtara-roth

Crowdsourcing involves soliciting input from the public, usually on a digital platform, to address market gaps and surface promising solutions in an open, efficient way. It often has a voting component wherein the top-voted ideas win support. Crowdsourcing uses collective intelligence to help creative ideas rise to the top – while generating a real-time feedback loop and a shared sense of ownership in the project.

Crowdsourcing facilitates problem-solving and innovation across all sectors. In the private sphere, GOOD helped launch the Pepsi Refresh Challenge, a $20 million campaign that channeled Pepsi’s marketing dollars to ignite citizen activism. Social impact endeavors like the Knight Foundation News Challengeand the Case Foundation’s America’s Giving Challenge harness broad-reaching input about information-sharing and philanthropic giving.

Even governments and the public sector are using crowdsourcing to drive economic growth or streamline interdepartmental functions: the White House’sStrategy for American Innovation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, platforms likeCitizinvestor and the City of Los Angeles’ Innovation Fund. Additionally, citizens are taking up civic challenges via self-organized crowdsourcing – as witnessed by the thousands who scoured DigitalGlobe’s satellite imagery in 2014 in hopes of locating the missing Malaysia Airlines flight.

LA2050With LA2050, an initiative to create, drive, and track a shared vision for the future of Los Angeles, the Goldhirsh Foundation relies heavily on crowdsourcing. Citizen input via crowdsourcing assists us in investing a total of $1 million annually via the MyLA2050 Grants Challenge to 10 organizations (both for-profit and non-profit) with ideas that shape a better future for Los Angeles.

For two years, we have run this crowdsourced campaign to great acclaim – generating about 300 vetted projects per year and engaging more than 70,000 people in the voting process. Crowdsourcing encourages creative idea generation and promotion, enables us to connect the dots among ideas, supporters, and entrepreneurs, and allows us to co-create solutions for the future of Los Angeles.

Crowdsourcing benefits and concerns

Crowdsourcing is an effective tool to help realize an organization’s goals, whether you are an entrepreneur seeking funding, an investor exploring a new idea, or a civic organization trying to identify a breakthrough process.

Benefits for funders:

Exposure to new organizations, ideas, and funding. Crowdsourcing brings funders closer to real problems and solutions. Some applicants that didn’t get funding from LA2050 went on to receive more than $1 million in follow-on funding from the Annenberg Foundation and the Roy and Patricia Disney Foundation.

Community engagement. Crowdsourcing enabled us to engage more than 70,000 people a year, putting private dollars to public use. As a result, we now have a group of Angelenos who have opted to receive information about the organizations they supported, and who care about a better future for LA.

Emerging trends. By analyzing the data that emerged from the 2013 MyLA2050 Grants Challenge, we identified promising trends that could create significant change – trends that we also see in the private and civic sector, like sharing economy solutions and the re-purposing of public space. By sharing this data in our report with other funders and leaders, we identified approaches that could help other organizations progress.

Benefits for entrepreneurs:

Earned media. Projects that compete in a crowdsourced challenge can receive exposure to new audiences via earned media. The MyLA2050 Grants Challenge garnered significant radio, print, and digital media coverage about the ideas we were showcasing – both challenge winners and those that did not win.

Marketing inspiration. Participation in a crowdsourced challenge forces you to crystallize your idea or project, and pushes you to create videos, photos, tweets, and pithy messaging to promote your project.

Landscape knowledge. By showcasing a range of projects, crowdsourcing can help organizations better differentiate themselves from their competitors. Simultaneously, this fosters collaboration between organizations that have similar visions and theories of change or that work along a similar continuum.

Exposure to other funders, investors and partners. As mentioned, even organizations that didn’t win a MyLA2050 grant reported more than $1 million in follow-on funding from other sources, based directly on exposure generated through the challenge.

Engaged feedback. Crowdsourcing helps establish a dynamic relationship between organizations and their supporters, including immediate feedback on projects.

Crowdsourcing also raises legitimate concerns that need to be addressed:

Isn’t this just a popularity contest? The idea most likely to succeed or to have the most impact may not win if the organization behind it has a small online constituency. To address this concern in our 2014 challenge, we allowed the public vote to determine five winners, while the foundation team chose the other five winners.

Competition pits social sector groups against each other. What crowdsourcing really does is allow groups to compete publicly and transparently. When entrepreneurs submit their proposals to an investor, the selection is made behind closed doors, by a few people. We addressed this issue by encouraging more collaboration among participants and favoring collaborations in our selection process. We also hosted networking events for entrepreneurs to meet each other and join one another’s projects.

There aren’t enough benefits for participants who don’t win. In our second year we spent a full month honoring and promoting the submissions – before voting even began. In this way, we were able to showcase all the great ideas that were submitted.

Crowdsourcing Resource Guide for Entrepreneurs and Investors

Whether you are looking for a way to expand your funding, generate awareness about innovative ideas, unleash potential within your constituent base or increase participation in your initiatives, tapping into the crowd may help. The guide below offers some resources on how to effectively crowdsource – for both entrepreneurs and investors.

Getting started

Running a crowdsourced challenge

  • GOOD Maker and Crowdrise: Crowdsourcing platforms.
  • Skild: Run your own contest or crowdsourced grants challenge.
  • OpenIDEO: An open crowdsourcing platform to run challenges designed by IDEO.
  • Citizinvestor: A crowdfunding and civic engagement platform for local government projects.
  • Crowdfunder: Crowdfunding platform that democratizes early stage investment online.

Launching the campaign for your crowdsourced idea

  • Thunderclap: Increase digital outreach by blasting timed messages and posts.
  • Zapier: Connect your web apps to automate tedious tasks and transfer information between apps.
  • ManageFlitter: Detailed analytics on your social media performance.

Promoting your idea

  • Allow multiple users to contribute to your Twitter account and automatically retweet posts by hashtag or topic.
  • Hootsuite: Social media management platform that lets you manage all your accounts on one dashboard.
  • Embed messages on pages and articles that you share to drive more traffic to your project.

Sharing feedback and analytics with supporters and participants 

  • Storify: Create stories and timelines using posts from Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
  • Crowdbooster: Manage multiple social media accounts and track the growth of your audience with real-time analytics.
  • Mention: Track mentions of your submission or project.
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January 19th, 2015 No comments

In this series of Scholar Blogs, our four Skoll Scholars for 2014-15 tell us what shaped their journey toward doing an MBA, and give their first impressions of how it feels to be starting their MBA course at Saïd Business School. 

Patrick Beattie

Patrick Beattie

Patrick Beattie has focused his career on using novel technology to address unmet needs in Global Health and Global Development. He comes to Oxford after six years at Diagnostics For All (DFA), a nonprofit medical diagnostics development company. Patrick served as a US Peace Corps volunteer in The Gambia and Guinea from 2004 to 2007, teaching mathematics and chemistry in rural settings and holds a Bachelor of Science in Engineering in Chemical Engineering from Princeton University.

For the past few months, there has been a question that I’ve been asked over and over. “So…why Oxford?” Before arriving at Oxford, this question really translated into, “So…why an MBA?” As someone who has spent all of his working life in the volunteer or non-profit areas, my decision to pursue an MBA might have seemed a bit strange. To be fair, my previous organization, Diagnostics For All, was not an average non-profit. As a medical diagnostics company that felt a non-profit structure was the best approach for the pursuit of our mission, we also prided ourselves on having a significant “for-profit” mentality. (After spending six years growing the organization and dealing with the benefits and difficulties of that decision, I find that key choice as a fascinating puzzle for each new social enterprise, thought that is a topic for another blog post). Before coming to Oxford, that question of “Why an MBA?” often seemed to mean, “Are you really going to fit in with typical MBA students?”

These questions were not surprising, as they were questions I had asked myself repeatedly before applying. They were also reasons I chose to apply specifically to Oxford. My experience in the social impact space made the benefit of a fundamental business education clear to me. I needed a place that could teach fundamentals and challenge previously held beliefs, but also encourage my passion for social entrepreneurship, not diminish it. Saïd Business School and the Skoll Centre have proven to be just the right balance. During the first weeks of the course, I have been surprised to find how many of my classmates share my interest in leveraging business knowledge for social impact. Even more surprising has been how many of my classmates have stated, “I have no interest in working in social enterprise…but I’d love to understand more about it.” If that is the typical attitude of an Oxford MBA student, then there’s no doubt that I’m in the right place.

With all the questions before arriving (not to mentioned the millions I was asking myself), I was ready to arrive, stop the questioning, and jump in. Imagine my surprise when instead of stopping, the exact same question was being asked: “So…why Oxford?” The twist, of course, was that it was being asked by others who had made the same choice, and behind the question was an understanding that we had all chosen Oxford because it brought something that other schools didn’t. For me, it was the chance to work with the Skoll Centre and being able to tailor a fundamental business education to my interests. For others, it was the connections to the broader university or the potential to use the summer consulting projects to springboard into a new career. What was clear is that everyone felt Oxford uniquely offered them the chance to do something over this year that nowhere else did, which I think is going to make for a very interesting year ahead.

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How Bitcoin Empowers Grassroots Organizations Fighting Ebola

December 2nd, 2014 No comments

Beam is a for-profit social enterprise that enables people to send money to Ghana via Bitcoin. Beam instantly transfers the money equivalent of the Bitcoins purchased to the recipients in Africa. In an effort to assist during the Ebola crisis, Beam developed the not-for-profit initiative Bitcoin Against Ebola. Bitcoin Against Ebola used the same transfer technology to allow anyone around the world to donate to organizations and individuals on the ground fighting Ebola in Sierra Leone.

imgres-1By serving grass roots organizations such as Build on Books, Beam helped empower local crisis workers within the communities afflicted by the disease. Below, Falk Benke, CTO of Beam, tells the story of Bitcoin Against Ebola and the work done on the ground by Build on Books.  

This post was sent to us by Theandra Sokolowski, MBA Class 2015. Prior to SBS, Theandra spent a year working at MEST, a technology incubator in Accra, Ghana. Beam is a social enterprise currently based in the MEST incubator.


The Power Of Grassroots Organizations

Since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, small grassroots organizations on the ground have proven to be an important force in the fight against the deadly disease, complementing the efforts of large international organizations and government bodies. Partnering with one such organization, Build on Books, Beam was able to support these efforts.

Build On Books was born in 2009 as an initiative to support Sierra Leoneans in their efforts to rebuild the country after its 11-year Civil War. It started out as a project focused on donating books from the UK to libraries in and around Waterloo in Sierra Leone. Soon, founder Lori Spragg of the UK and her team, along with Rosetta Kargbo, a former Sierra Leonean math teacher, realized that water, sanitation, education and food were all needed to help shattered communities break out of the vicious cycle of poverty. Build on Books began building boreholes as a way of providing clean water and community toilets to decrease the number of Typhoid and Cholera deaths. Since the Ebola outbreak in August, the organization’s focus shifted toward containing the dangerous disease.

Though grassroots organizations are small, they have a major advantage when it comes to the local connection. Often they’re able to better reach those that larger organizations fail to address, namely illiterate villagers who speak only tribal languages.

“When Ebola reached Waterloo, we already had the logistics and team on the ground to respond quickly,” says Lori. Organizations like Build on Books are able to thrive because they’re well connected and trusted in the community and have local knowledge. When Rosetta Kargbo – also known as the “Hero of Ebola” – and her team started delivering food to more than 300 quarantined people in and around Waterloo, they relied on the district to lend them a tractor so they could reach the more remote houses. As the team had earned the trust of the community, locals were willing to listen to their advice.

Ebola Prevention Workshops held by Build on Books have a high participation rate and often attract honored local authorities like councilors, youth leaders, women leaders and military officers. Lori explains: “During our work feeding the quarantined people it became very clear that the virus can easily be spread by a number of traditional practices such as washing the corpse at funerals, sweating an Ebola patient and performing circumcisions.” The team recognizes the significance of local healers and works hard to get them on board to effectively promote the necessary precautions.

Rosetta Kargbo and team 







Figure 1: Rosetta Kargbo and her team delivering food.

Helping Ebola Orphans

Once a person is diagnosed with Ebola, all family members must go into quarantine for three weeks as a precaution against infecting others. While delivering food to quarantined homes, Rosetta and her team realized that in many such cases, orphaned children were left behind.

“We have tried and tried to get action for these children; without us, the orphans in quarantine would not be fed at all.“ According to Sierra Leone’s ministry of social welfare, it is estimated that 2600 Sierra Leonean children will become orphans due to Ebola.  Orphanages do not have the capacity to take in this number of children. While state officials continue to strategize, grassroots organizations like Build on Books are the ones responding to the immediate needs of the children.

Build on Books provides orphans with food and drink to help them put on weight and remain hydrated. The volunteers deliver cooked meals as well as food that can be eaten right away, like tinned fish, powdered milk, biscuits, gari, sugar, sweets, fruit juices, bread, drinking water and sanitary items like toothpaste, toothbrushes, laundry and bath soap. Rosetta and her team also measure the temperature of the children to recognize Ebola symptoms early. These actions can make the difference between death and survival if a child contracts Ebola. Lori knows that regular visits by helpers also provide much-needed comfort to the orphans and let them know that they are not forgotten: “Some children burst into tears when the volunteers arrive because they are so grateful that somebody has come.”

waterloo orphans-1







Figure 2: Orphans near Waterloo receiving food and sanitary items from the Build on Books team.

Delivering Donations Where They Are Needed

Grassroots organizations are able to overcome many organizational challenges faced by larger institutions by sending funds directly where and when they’re needed.  However it can be a complicated process for small charities to meet their objectives while ensuring that fees for money transfers are always kept to a minimum.  Traditionally, the donations are accumulated in bank accounts in the US or UK until a significant amount has been collected. Then, the money is sent to the receiving country using bank wires or Money Transfer Organizations (MTOs) like Western Union and MoneyGram. Banks and MTOs charge a fixed fee (between $2 and $30) for each transfer and make profits on the exchange rate (3%-15% lower than the actual rate) they provide when converting the amount to the local currency. In addition, if donors make payments through processors like PayPal, Visa and MasterCard, a service fee will be also incurred. For these reasons, it’s not economical for charities to send small amounts abroad using these traditional methods, causing a delay in the funds reaching those on the ground.


Supporting Grassroots Organizations via Bitcoin

In light of the Ebola crisis, Bitcoin remittance company Beam, based in Accra, Ghana has started a non-profit project called Bitcoin Against Ebola in partnership with Splash Mobile Money to provide a fast and cost-efficient alternative for sending money directly to charities in Sierra Leone. The project charges only 2% of the donated amount to cover operational costs. Nikunj Handa, CEO of Beam, assures: “Any profits made through this project will be donated to the charities.” In order to keep the costs for sending money low, Beam uses Bitcoin technology on the sending side and mobile money on the receiving end.

To donate via Bitcoin Against Ebola, users simply choose one of the featured charities to support, and allocate the Bitcoin value they’d like to send. “Bitcoin is a pretty new but very powerful technology, since it allows us to accept money instantly from anywhere in the world,” says Handa. This is because Bitcoin transfers are instant and practically fee-less (0.0001 Bitcoins per transaction regardless of the sent amount, which is less than $0.10). However, since there is currently no way to exchange or spend Bitcoin in Sierra Leone, Beam converts the Bitcoin to Leones (the local currency) and distributes the funds to the charity within minutes, using mobile money.

Mobile money has become an important way of driving financial inclusion throughout Africa. The mobile money technology turns any feature phone or smartphone into a bank account. Users can send and receive money to other phones instantly and at low cost. In order to charge the mobile money wallet or withdraw cash from it, users go to a mobile money agent that can be found in every larger city of Sierra Leone.

Thanks to Bitcoin Against Ebola’s collaboration with Splash Mobile Money, the largest mobile money provider in Sierra Leone, charities can withdraw donations for free from any Splash mobile money agent nearby. Even donations as little as $1 reach the charity within minutes and can be used right away.

So where can donors get Bitcoin to make a donation through Beam? Nikunj Handa explains: “We are aware of the fact that some people might find it difficult to get Bitcoin. We encourage everyone considering a Bitcoin donation to have a look at our tutorial on Beam’s blog. We are also happy to guide interested donors through the process. Just reach out via We know it can be a bit of a hassle when you start out, but it takes a lot of the hassle away from the charities.”

In addition to Build on Books, the Bitcoin Against Ebola platform currently features LunchBoxGift and Sierra Leone Liberty Group. The Beam team is working hard on getting more grassroots organizations on board and may extend the service to Liberia and Guinea.

Handa is convinced that small charities and the people they are helping will largely benefit from the new way of donating empowered by Bitcoin. Lori of Build on Books agrees: “I didn’t even know Bitcoin existed until the guys from Beam contacted me. Now I am really excited because there could be all sorts of people who have Bitcoins that might donate.”

About the author:

Falk Benke is the CTO of Beam. He can be contacted at

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