We wrote this post 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, breath, walk, talk, jump, skip, everything Classroom of Hope (CoH). Classroom of Hope is 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 though; Classroom of Hope really isn’t a baby anymore. We turned 4 in October 2016. It feels like we 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 that we were not able to before. We’re growing and as we grow we need to keep adapting.
For the first 3 years 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 CoH 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 CoH’s impact and give up the dream OR follow the dream, grow and create more impact.
We chose the dream. We grew!
Growth for CoH 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 in the numbers. In order for CoH to have two full-time staff (on a modest salary) and an operational budget, while still sending over 85% of donations to the field we would need to be bringing 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.
**Disclaimer: We know that non-profits need to spend OPEX and CAPEX in order to scale just like every other business and each non-profit has to figure out the best way to cover their operating costs while doing the incredible (usually complicated) work that they do to create impact. Watch this TED talk by Dan Pallotta**
From the start of our Classroom of Hope journey, we have hugely admired a charity in America called Charity: Water. One of the numerous things we love about the way they work is their 100% model. Charity: Water is able to send 100% of public donations to fund clean water projects because they have 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. 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 (SROI) based on the number of children who receive access to quality education.
This idea caught on.
By the end of 2015, (after we’d raised well over $400,000 since inception) we received our very first CoH paycheque (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 buckaroonies.
But the reality was that on these salaries we couldn’t keep up with the cost of rent, food, transport etc. in Perth, Australia. So we sold our beloved Jetson (our 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 being full time more funds are coming through the door, we are gaining more brand awareness and our business model is gaining traction. All of 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.
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
- Margaret Mead
As we stand now, we have 167 Wise Owls. 167 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% 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.
“There is no greater thing you can do with your life and your work than follow your passions – in a way that serves the world and you.”
- Sir Richard Branson
Our Wise Owls mission is to reach 1000 members who can invest a minimum of $9 per month in CoH 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 (37K each) and all our other operating costs (34K) for us to become a lean, well balanced, medium sized charity. When we reach this goal, we will enact the 100% model and send 100% 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 (See UN Global Goals) 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.
Watch our Wise Owls video to get the visual story of our journey towards purpose.