Edge Pledge: A New Approach to Conservation Crowdfunding

The main thing that inspired Edge Pledge is that there’s not enough money to do what everyone wants to do for the environment. The issue isn’t that we don’t have good ideas or we don’t know what to do, it’s just that there’s not enough money to get it done.
Image: Marcia Riederer

Image: Marcia Riederer

This is not a new problem in conservation - not by a long stretch.  But it’s one that Sam Marwood hopes he has a solution to: “How do we get a whole new source of money, outside of government to resolve all these issues?”

Sam spent his childhood on a dairy farm and explains how much he loved living on the land: “My mum would grow trees from seed and plant them throughout the farm… I thought that was really cool. I loved seeing these trees grow and I loved seeing birds go in those trees. It’s like creating your own little natural world that these animals are really grateful for.”

For Sam, it’s this humble upbringing that eventually saw him complete an environmental science degree at university, followed by nearly a decade of work creating environmental policy. But he always felt that he could do more…

“One day I was thinking about Movember and how that’s a great independent source of money that comes from the public. I thought ‘Where’s the equivalent of that for the environment, where not only do you raise a lot of money, but you also raise awareness?’”

Thus, Edge Pledge was born: an online crowd-funding platform with a number of differences that set them apart, according to Sam. “We get people to put themselves on the edge for native animals that are on the edge of extinction.” This is done by issuing challenges (like doing a stand-up comedy show, or jumping out of a plane) through the platform, and people vote for which challenge a person should complete by donating money - all of which goes to bringing native animals back from the brink of extinction.

Why this concept? As Sam explains, it’s all about doing something different while still raising money for the environment and spreading awareness. “We didn’t want to do a fun run, we didn’t want to grow a moustache… So we thought ‘lets create a challenge generator that helps people figure out what challenge they want to do for the environment.’  

“So the Edge Pledge concept is that a challenge generator gives you three options for challenges and then your friends get to decide what you do [by donating money]. We thought that could be a powerful, fun way of raising money.”

Sam started Edge Pledge with friends Carys Evans, Nadia Nath and Dan Eason. Nadia and Carys worked with Sam across Victoria for over a decade in environmental management, and Dan (senior manager in accounting) has been a long term friend and was eager to be a part of the social movement.

And it seems like others are keen, too. Sam reels off an impressive array of businesses and individuals who are busy helping him and his team prep for the launch of Edge Pledge. Start-up wunderkinds Atlassian and behemoth Google are both involved in developing Edge Pledge’s online presence and Sam has enlisted celebrities like Gossling and Ash London to complete challenges at the launch.

“I originally thought I’d be working in government for the rest of my life. But I realized there are other ways to make a difference with the environment. So this idea of starting a social enterprise whose sole focus is raising money for the environment really, really excited me. We don’t want to duplicate what others are already doing though. We just want to add more money and raise awareness.”

Edge Pledge could help mammals like this feathertail glider.  Image: Marcia Riederer

Edge Pledge could help mammals like this feathertail glider. Image: Marcia Riederer

So, you might be thinking ‘Where is all the money that Edge Pledge hopes to raise going to go?’ Generally, Sam hopes to support “practical, landscape-scale projects assisting native animals on the brink of extinction.” Essentially, Sam and Edge Pledge don’t exist to duplicate the work already being done by a raft of conservation organisations. Rather, they intend to fill what is in their eyes an enormous gap – a source of regular, sustainable funding.

Indeed, a large portion of what Edge Pledge is hoping to do is simply to inject more fun and charisma into conservation fundraising. Central to that, Sam muses, is how conservation is framed more generally: “It’s been hard for us in trying to figure out our messaging. We’ve done user testing and people are like ‘I’m sorry but I didn’t even think about any of the animals as I was using the challenge generator. I didn’t even know what it was for, I just loved using the generator.’ And you think ‘Oh, maybe that’s okay because at least you’ve got your foot in the door, you do a challenge, you pick an animal to support and then the next six months you’re getting updates on how the animal’s going so maybe you care more about it over time.”

Aside from gradually converting every day people into conservationists, Edge Pledge aren’t out to reinvent the wheel: “We’re partnered with the best environmental organisations (e.g. Conservation Volunteers Australia) that have all the best processes in place, and have been doing it for years. We’re trusting the knowledge of our environmental partners and we’ve also got Brendan Wintle from the University of Melbourne and the Threatened Species Hub, who’s going to sit down with our list of projects from each of the partners and help us pick a couple from each to support.” Sam thinks that this two-pronged approach to prioritising which projects are funded by Edge Pledge will ensure their investment process is based on the best science and evidence available.

A shingleback lizard.  Image: Marcia Riederer

A shingleback lizard. Image: Marcia Riederer

Essential to the concept of Edge Pledge is thinking and dreaming big. However, Sam knows that it’s important to be realistic: “I don’t think Edge Pledge is going to raise the billions of dollars that we need [to conserve the environment], but what it will do is raise awareness to the public that they can do something tangible… then hopefully, the money will follow. I think what we have is an application that has the ability to go viral. But… most importantly, it’s about building on and supporting the great work that existing environmental organisations are doing.”

“I’m really excited that this could be one of the few easy ways that people can tangibly do something for the environment.”

For Edge Pledge, it’s all about helping people feel like they’re making a difference in a positive way: “You can do a tangible thing by doing a fun challenge and you know that the money you raise is going to support a native animal that lives close to you, and you can go see it and hang out with it.”

“It’s about being able to poke fun at yourself but doing it for a serious cause.”

For more information about Edge Pledge, head to their website:

Cover image taken by Billy Geary.

Billy Geary
Billy is the Science & Conservation Editor at Wild Melbourne. He is a wildlife ecologist interested in predator-prey interactions and invasive species management.

You can find him on Twitter at: @billy_geary

Crowdfunding for Conservation

Crowdfunding – whereby a large amount of money is raised by the proportionally smaller donations of dozens, hundreds or thousands of contributors – has taken flight over the past few years as a means for individuals and organisations to raise funds for their passion projects. In large part, it is associated with the arts: raising money for amateur theatre groups, for student films, for independent artists’ exhibitions, for the self-publishing of books. There isn’t much you can’t crowdfund, and the support of a combination of friends, family and interested strangers has successfully funded projects as varied as collecting meteorites from the Nullarbor or paying the vet bills of two dogs who had a brush with a porcupine.

As the practice has evolved, particularly in Australia, more and more groups have come to recognise the potential of crowdfunding to support conservation. In 2014, a group of lobbyists and scientists who have studied the montane ash forests of the Central Highlands of Victoria for more than 30 years, launched a crowdfunding campaign on Pozible to gather public support for the proposed Great Forest National Park: a large protected area for the region which would preserve more than 500, 000 hectares of forest. The highly successful campaign, which raised $71, 965 (significantly exceeding its target of $60, 000), directed funds to community outreach and broader awareness-raising about the park proposal to the Victorian public.

Funds are also being crowdsourced for conservation on the ground. In November, a campaign led by Mt Rothwell Landcare Volunteers entitled “Quoll in the hand, worth 2 in the bush” successfully raised more than $11, 000 for a captive breeding program for Eastern Quolls: an iconic species that is extinct in the wild on the Australian mainland. Another campaign, “Where do Wedgies Dare?”, run by environmental scientist Simon Cherriman, has raised more than $20, 000 to monitor a pair of wedge-tailed Eagles by GPS tracking, with the aim of learning more about the raptors’ biology.

This growing propensity to turn to the general public for funding could be seen as an indicator that funding from traditional sources is increasingly less available. However, an initiative by DELWP (the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning) in Victoria demonstrates that the government is aware of the medium’s potential. The Threatened Species Collection, currently running on Pozible, is a group of five campaigns aimed at protecting some of Victoria’s most vulnerable species. Each campaign in the collection that successfully reaches its target will receive dollar-for-dollar matched funding from DELWP. White-bellied sea-eagles and brush-tailed phascogales are among the species intended to receive support from the campaigns, run by a collection of community landcare and conservation groups. This and similar projects would allow the government to invest in those issues deemed most important by the Australian public itself.

That crowdfunding for conservation is enjoying such success in Australia indicates just how much the general public cares for the natural world. The community is already heavily involved in conservation on their own land and in the lands that surround them, and is deeply invested in the future of the country and its species. Crowdfunding for conservation projects is a natural extension of an extant love for the Australian landscape, and the inclination of its people to take conservation into their own hands.

Cover image by Robert Geary Photo and is used with permission.

Alex Mullarky

Alex Mullarky is a freelance journalist and works part-time in threatened species conservation. Her other passion is ex-racehorse rehabilitation and she is currently completing her Masters.

You can find her on Twitter at @ajmullarky