“Protect Swindon 18-30!”: The Unexpected Success of Community Fundraising

You’re only as valuable to the community as the last thing you did for it.

That might or might not be a plagiarised quote from someone notable or, more likely, something I just made up after two (large) glasses of wine, but I’ve put it in fancy italics so the point stands.

This is the story of a group. No, actually, not a group, a community. Thrown together by birth, work, or sometimes just passing through; a community of humans who came together under limited expectations, only to save something far greater.

The Birth of a Community

When it comes to community the good deeds you make only go so far. It’s harsh but true. Unlike the good old days, people come and people move on.

The movement of people was one of the reasons I initially established Swindon 18-30 Professionals. People were coming into the town (mostly for work) and then rapidly fleeing as soon as they’d decided it wasn’t a place for them. Not enough to do, not enough of a scene for young people. And I couldn’t blame them; I’d relocated to the area and was feeling the cold shoulder of the real world. A world outside education where you can’t make best friends with people simply by shaking hands or offering out birthday chocolates by means of bribery. The real world just simply isn’t like that, in or outside Swindon.

From Strength to Strength

It came as a massive relief to me when I won the support of a local sponsor to cover the essential website maintenance costs. With the free subscription membership blossomed, and with it the strength of having a group that arguably was the biggest apolitical collective of local voices the town had seen in many years, if ever.

Over the months and years that followed, friendships were made and romances solidified. Multiple engagements, weddings and even babies have been created as a direct impact of the conversations struck up in pubs or over bowling lane rivalries. I was humbled, that feeling that the group was now self sufficient, it didn’t need me to babysit it 24/7 anymore.

Anything But Normal

And then Coronavirus happened.

Our version of normal was now ‘old’ and everything else was now to be referred to as the new version (whatever that was). Social gatherings were illegal, mental health, financial security, a secondary concern compared to the threat of a killer virus. We watched it all slip away, like sand through our fingers.

My steadfast sponsor, like everything else, was forced to close. As their income disappeared overnight, so did the lifeline of Swindon 18-30. I sat on my bed one night, barely able to sleep. Years of hard work, of creating and building, ended before people had even the chance give it a decent send off. I was left hollow, wounded but without the blood to show for it.

“Sh*t Happens, Get Over It”

I proposed to the leadership team setting up a fundraising page. A last-ditch hope that we could scrape together enough to cover the next six months of fees (around £100).

I did some research, compared the options eventually went for GoGetFunding which was one of the few which let fundraisers withdraw money, even if they don’t make the target set on the page. This in mind, I went for a over optimistic £260 which would cover costs for a year, plus the fundraising page fees. I hit submit, the page went live.

I sent a frank and blunt email to all the members with a link to donate money and walked away. A watched pot never boils and I couldn’t bear to spend a wasted evening watching a page that got no engagement. In five years I’d never asked anything of my members, new and old, so to be begging for money now? I was adamant that they’d see me as being unrealistic.

The Kind of Thing That Only Happens in Movies

I retuned to my laptop and was taken with the number of emails in my inbox. “Probably spam,” I thought, but I was wrong. Very wrong. Because instead of the junk mail I was expecting, all the emails were notifications from the fundraising website.

Donations came in thick and fast and at values that almost made me want to cry. I probably would have if not for the personalised messages getting to me first.

There I’d been, working my socks off and building up a strong leadership team and thinking no one had noticed. That no one had particularly cared for all the effort we put in. The words I was reading now, they proved me wrong.

“Every penny well deserved!”

“An amazing organisation, I hope it carries on long into the future.”

“This group helped me take control of my social anxiety and build my confidence.”

“I owe so much to Swindon 18-30. So many incredible people I wouldn’t have even crossed paths with if it were not for the events put on.”

“Well done Alice! Keep up the good work and long live the mermaids!”

In just over 24 hours we hit my target for funding, but yet the money kept pouring in, it seemed everyone wanted to show their support and ensure the group stayed alive. And this wasn’t just current members, people who’d long left Swindon donated, keen to ensure its legacy for new batches of young professionals.

For the second time that week I found myself unable to sleep, although this time it was out of happiness and relief. The group had validated its existence, it had an army of young people prepared to fight tooth and nail to keep it running.

Stop the Press!

The local press release was published the following week with a number of last minute updates. The original purpose, framed to act as a plea for help was now repurposed as an awareness piece, to reach out to those who felt alone and isolated. That at the end of all this there would be a place to safe place to meet and engage with other people.

The finished article can be accessed online via this link.

Trouble on the Murky Crime Horizon

Like everything that happens in my life, there had to be a catch to all this positivity. For me, this came when the webpage was bombarded with fraudulent donations. The alarm bells came when the donations were coming in tiny denominations (usually £1) and from people I didn’t recognise. Later it transpired that these payments were likely stolen cards being tested out prior to the thief either selling them on or using them for bigger transactions. Wanting to do the right thing (and wanting to avoid severe penalties), I promptly returned the money back to the payment card, only to then be charged a handling fee for doing so!

I spoke with both customer services on GoGetFunding and then PayPal, voicing frustrations. They both pointed fingers at the other, both refused to acknowledge the faults in their system, both saw no reason to refund me for doing the right thing. I enchanced secrity controls, as per PayPal’s recommendation, which made things worse. The next morning I had ten transactions to refund. It was at that point, stressed and deeply angry, that I was sadly forced to close the funding page ahead of time.

If there is one top tip I can place in all of this it is to not use GoGetFunding. The commission is less but damn, you pay more in blocking fraudulent payments in the long run!

However, all said and done the final figure at the point of close spoke for itself. The group had done it, we had enough to keep going throughout the tough months to come.

The Future is Bright…

On the far side of all this (whenever that might be) it’s confirmed, that there will be a group and place for people to call their social home. A place to buy a pint or two and give toast to everything that’s made us who we are today.

Here’s to the silent supporters and the ‘this one’s on me’ drink buyers. Long live the donators of good causes, the ones who have the vision to see beyond the news headlines and the weeks on a calendar. From my heart to yours, thank you. Thank you so much.

You can find out more about Swindon 18-30 Professionals via the group’s dedicated website. https://www.meetup.com/Swindon-18-30-Professionals/

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This isn’t a sponsored post, but you can support me by buying me a coffee

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