First, an admission: we wrote this piece some time ago and we’re finally ready to share it.
Why are the messages below so hard for us to share? There may be many reasons, but to be honest, when we get to the core of each reason, the underlying emotion is fear.
You see, we literally eat, sleep, breathe, walk, talk, jump, skip, everything Classroom of Hope. It’s our work, our purpose and our creative, compassionate brain child. It’s also our livelihood.
It’s understandable that we are emotionally invested in our baby, right?
The truth is, Classroom of Hope really isn’t a baby anymore. It turned four in October 2016. It feels like it skipped the toddler phase completely and all of a sudden our baby has its own identity, ready to learn and give to the world in a way it was not able to before. It’s growing and as it grows, it needs to keep adapting.
For the first three years of working in Classroom of Hope we didn’t receive salaries. We worked our day jobs and committed our evenings and weekends to running our organisation.
We were also incredibly blessed with other volunteers who raised their hands to help us build websites, take photos, brainstorm new campaign ideas, provide office space—you name it. With no operational budget we played the charity card as often as we could while we got Classroom of Hope off the ground.
Of course, we knew these were temporary measures. Working multiple jobs was burning us out and Classroom of Hope wasn’t getting all of our love and energy. We had a decision to make: minimise Classroom of Hope’s impact and give up the dream OR follow the dream, grow and create more impact.
We chose the dream. We grew!
Growth for Classroom of Hope implied three major shifts:
1 – We needed to be full time in our organisation
2 – We needed to get paid (unfortunately, we can’t pay our bills with positive vibes and good intentions)
3 – We needed investors.
One of our major challenges was the numbers.
In order for Classroom of Hope to have two full time staff (on a modest salary) and an operational budget, while still sending over 85 per cent of donations to the field, we’d need to bring in over half a million dollars in donations per year.
We weren’t. If we had taken large sums of money from our donations at the time to help with operational costs, our projects would have suffered.
It was time to get creative.
Since the start of our Classroom of Hope journey, we’ve hugely admired Charity: Water in the US. One of the things we love about the way it works is its 100 per cent model.
Charity: Water is able to send 100 per cent of public donations to fund clean water projects because it has private investors covering everything else.
“Brilliant!” we thought. “We have to try this in Australia.”
We envisioned two bank accounts: one to fund education projects and the other to cover operations. With this new model in mind, we began our search for an angel investor who understands this business model.
We pitched this idea 32 times to various corporate businesses and philanthropists in Australia hoping one of them would want to become our angel. Each time we got the same response: “We love this idea. Great concept. But we would rather donate to projects directly. Good luck.”
We thought we would have to rethink the model, but we realised, after some hair-pulling brainstorms, we just had to flip it.
Instead of seeking one angel investor to cover our operational costs, we could ask multiple people (everyday individuals) who believe in the work we do to invest in us through monthly micro-donations and become shareholders.
These investors would be our Wise Owls. We knew we wouldn’t be able to offer stock options, but we would treat them like shareholders with a common indicator of social return on investment based on the number of children who receive access to quality education. Every quarter we send our Wise Owls videos and provide them with a share certificate and other shareholder incentives.
This idea caught on.
By the end of 2015, (after we’d raised well over $400,000 since inception) we received our very first Classroom of Hope pay cheque—hallelujah.
For the past 16 months we’ve been surviving on investments from Wise Owls combined with a percentage from donations. Our salaries are $18,200 a year each.
That’s $1,516.67 each per month.
To be clear, we didn’t start on this non-profit journey for the money. But the reality was that on these salaries, we couldn’t keep up with the cost of rent, food and transport in Perth.
So we sold our beloved car, put most of our life in boxes, packed our bags, said goodbye to delicious $5 flat whites and moved to Ubud, Bali.
We made some sacrifices, yes, but this move was a conscious, positive choice. We love living in Bali. Our cost of living has gone down dramatically and we live a good, quiet life doing the work we love for a cause we truly believe in.
Since working full-time on Classroom of Hope more funds are coming through the door, we are gaining more awareness and our business model is gaining traction. All this means we help more kids gain access to quality education.
Our Wise Owls have taken us in the direction of becoming a sustainable organisation. This model is working. But we still need to grow, we still have work to do and we still need more Wise Owls.
As it stands, we have 167 Wise Owl members and have sold 335 Wise Owls shares. One hundred and sixty-seven incredible, like-minded people who believe in us and who give what they can to support us. With their support we’ve been able to pay ourselves but we have not been able to secure our operational budget or enact the 100 per cent model.
It’s been a journey with winding roads and giant boulders. We have no regrets and with faith and focus we carry on our mission.
Our Wise Owls’ mission is to reach 1000 shares sold at a minimum of $9 (per share) per month in Classroom of Hope operations.
For all you numbers people out there: our goal is to reach a grand total of $108,000 per year to cover two full-time staff salaries ($37,000 each) and all our other operating costs ($34,000) for us to become a lean, well balanced, medium-sized charity.
When we reach this goal, we will enact the 100 per cent model and send 100 per cent of online public donations to fund education projects in South-East Asia, Indonesia and Rwanda.
That’s our life as an open book. With all our cards on the table we can feel the fear creep in.
But we quickly snap out of that zone. We flip it.
Our work has nothing to do with fear. In fact, it is all about love and hope. It’s about incredible kids across the globe who need access to quality education. It’s about the 263 million children who aren’t in school.
Our vision is massive. It needs to be! We are doing our part to end the global education crisis by 2030 (read more about the UN Global Goals here).
We’d like to eventually do ourselves out of a job, but for now, there is still a job to do. And we need your help.
It truly is about changing the world.
Duncan Ward is founder and CEO of Classroom of Hope and Nicola Courtin is Classroom of Hope’s Creative Director.