Why it’s OK that My Uganda Fundraiser Failed
I couldn’t understand it. I had shared so many stories of my neighbor in Uganda with my friends and family. Everyone always commented on how interesting it was to hear the details of her life. I thought this interest in her life would result in people jumping to help fund her pre-school. But as I looked at my GoFundMe page for my latest Uganda fundraiser, I saw only four donations totaling two hundred dollars. The school needed six thousand dollars to get off the ground, and after a month of campaigning I wasn’t sure how we were going to move forward.
I had arrived in Uganda six months earlier. The house provided to me by the non-profit I was working for came with a cat, a dog, a guard and the guard’s wife. The greatest blessing of all of these was by far Betty, the guard’s wife, who by the end of the first week was fetching me water and cooking extra so I could join them for dinner. She made my transition to Uganda manageable.
As the weeks passed, Betty and I were a great source of help to each other and we became close companions. But we knew our time together was limited, as my contract was only for one year and I was opting not to renew. I started to ask Betty, who was pregnant with their first child, what her dreams were. She told me after working for seven years as a preschool teacher, often not getting paid, she was ready to open her own school; one that would focus on the students and the teachers and not merely on making a profit.
I believed that Betty had the ability to make the school happen and to make it successful, so I pledged a million Ugandan shillings, or roughly three hundred dollars, to invest in her new endeavor. At the time I was making only enough to live on, so I knew I would have to reach deeper into my savings to support Betty’s dream.
The next day Betty was knocking on my door to start her accounting and budgeting training. I wanted to give her not only money but the knowledge she would need to set up and run a school successfully. I wanted her expectations to be realistic; I wanted her to know the commitment this project was going to take. As we created startup and operating budgets I realized two things: Betty was determined to make this happen, and this was going to require a lot more from me than my initial pledge.
I had arrived in Uganda six months earlier. The house provided to me by the non-profit I was working for came with a cat, a dog, a guard and the guard’s wife. The greatest blessing of all of these was by far Betty, the guard’s wife.
Recently I had completed my first GoFundMe campaign to benefit the non-profit I was working for. With the help of friends and family we raised over ten thousand dollars, which went towards purchasing beds and bedding for a ninety-unit house we were setting up to get kids and guardians off the streets and out of the slums. My fundraiser was part of a much larger effort to raise fifty thousand dollars to cover housing and school fees. We were making it happen. I was so inspired by the number of people willing to support us. So, I felt confident launching a GoFundMe for Betty, and believed she would easily get funded as well.
When I launched my campaign for Betty’s school I didn’t actually ask anyone for money. Instead I just made people aware of what I was doing and how they could help. I had already tapped into my friends and family, so I didn’t feel right outright asking for more. Instead, I tried to think of other resources that could help fund me. I contacted my hometown newspaper and did an interview about my time in Uganda and the fundraiser I was launching. I reached out to my high school alumni department and submitted a similar article in their newsletter. I got a lot of positive responses but no one was coming forward with donations.
I had to look at my options. I could directly ask people for more money, even though everyone had already given. But I didn’t want to do that. And in fairness it wasn’t them who had made this promise; no one else understood firsthand how helping this one person could help a whole community. I reworked my finances, talked with Betty to readjust expectations, and from there we moved forward. It took a lot of hard work, but within six months Betty and her husband had completed all of the registration and opened the doors to Little Blessings Pre-School.
I look forward to the day when she tells me she can run the school on her own, but until then I’ll take the motivation from my failed fundraiser to drive me to work harder.
What did I learn by having a fundraiser fail? I realized that it doesn’t mean the dream dies. Betty had to work harder, and so did I. We had to find alternatives, we had to put projects aside. Betty is learning how to run a school and is figuring out how hard it is to collect school fees from parents who don’t have money to spare. I continue to learn new ways to support her emotionally, as I struggle to continue to supplement the money needed to keep basic operations going. But together we are doing it.
A part of my heart remains in Uganda, there with Betty and that school. She’s an inspiration to me, and I look forward to the day when she tells me she can run the school on her own, but until then I’ll take the motivation from my failed fundraiser to drive me to work harder. I’ve also learned it’s never too late to ask for help.
With the doors of Betty’s school open, my focus has shifted from establishing the school to maintaining the school. Always the optimist, I’ve sent up another GoFundMe page titled Uganda Preschool Initiative. The focus is to help both Betty and the preschool she worked at prior to going her own way. They both face a huge challenge in collecting school fees but they are both committed to keeping their schools open to serve the community by providing child care, education and one guaranteed meal a day.
To support these two powerful women, check out my campaign.