Ourmala helps refugees and asylum-seekers to rebuild their lives through yoga. By providing a safe space to breathe and heal, they have created a welcoming and supportive community that continues to grow. After recently reaching success for the third time on Crowdfunder, it’s clear that this socially conscious yoga initiative resonates with the crowd.
We caught up with Emily, Yoga Teacher, Founder and CEO at Ourmala, just before their most recent project launched to find out about their crowdfunding journey so far.
Can you tell us about your experience with crowdfunding so far?
We crowdfunded for the second time just before Christmas for The Happy Baby Community so that we could raise money for Christmas presents and pay for decorations for the Christmas party. That project is in North London and last August we had 76 women on the register. Each woman is pregnant or with a baby, and they aren’t all pregnant by choice. We now have 115 women on the register and it’s gone up from 20 a week to 40 a week regularly attending with a baby. It’s not growing because there’s more people seeking asylum, there just isn’t anything else like it in London and it’s brilliant that they can come along to this warm, loving atmosphere and get what they need. Some of them are travelling over 2 hours pregnant or with their little ones. There’s lots of women in South London that don’t have any access at all, so we basically want to replicate what we’re already doing in North London down in South London. Ourmala is growing.
Do you find crowdfunding to be a successful way to meet that growing need?
It’s actually been really surprising. I knew crowdfunding to be successful for products and that kind of thing, but we just didn’t know what it was going to be like. It’s quite daunting to be shouting into the abyss and not knowing who’s there! It’s a test of faith. And now, we have all of these people supporting us because they really care. We’re not trying to sell anything – we’re doing some work to help people and if other people care then they can support us. It’s a very honest and straight forward transaction.
I think when we first did our Crowdfunder, Georgie from the team at Crowdfunder got about a million emails from me! But having her there and other people from the team – real people – it made a massive difference.
We are about to launch our third crowdfunding project, but it’s slightly different as it’s in partnership with another charity. This means that the networks we have to work with include way more people. For the first time, all of the behind the scenes stuff is sorted and we can use it to our advantage! We’re aiming for a much higher target than we have before, so there’s more work to be done this time round. We’ve even taken the decision to push our launch date back slightly to ensure that we have some big pledges lined up.
Has there been anything that you think has worked well or not so well?
On the first project, we said that it was going to launch on a certain date and it didn’t because of a technical glitch. This delayed the launch and there’s nothing worse than silence, so we decided to send an email out saying ‘Whoops!’ and explained what had happened. Basically, some words got flagged up by the ‘bad words’ filter on Crowdfunder’s website, but we liked that because it shows that Crowdfunder are responsible! If you face obstacles, I think it’s good to be lighthearted and communicate rather than be silent, because you are still engaging with your current and potential supporters.
We definitely found the time pressure really difficult. Launching and starting our projects was excellent, but then the momentum drops slightly and realistically, the human resource and the time you need to put in is quite high. You just need to be so prepared.
We found Crowdfunder.co.uk really easy to use and the confidence boost that we received was so unexpected. The first time around, when we got to hold up a sign saying £500 to go, I couldn’t help but feel that there were all of these refugee women and babies standing invisibly behind me that the people in front don’t know. We are so careful with every penny that we spend and the response that came back was so positive. During the second appeal, we raised so much more than we thought we would… It’s been such an incredibly positive experience.
How does crowdfunding fit into your funding scheme?
We apply for grants for core funding, because the public aren’t interested in funding salaries, office space or things like that – it’s just too dry! So the plan is to apply for multi year grants now, whilst crowdfunding is used for a specific project. Especially if we want to raise awareness. We haven’t worked in South London with a long term presence before, so the third Crowdfunder project will be a good exercise and opportunity to tell the people of South London about what we’re planning on doing in that community.
It’s also a way of saying thank you! We’ve had two successful Crowdfunder projects with really generous donations, and both have surpassed what we thought we would raise. We couldn’t have got this far without the support in North London, and now so many people are coming along to our sessions it means that we need to expand.
What are your top tips for anyone thinking about crowdfunding?
Be crystal clear about your goal and how much it costs.
Allow 50% more time than you naturally give yourself. Leave yourself enough time to say thank you properly and update things.
Make a strategic plan. Schedule and plan as much of your social media action as possible, giving you the space to respond in real time when people begin to engage. Get as many people in the boat with you to help, if possible, or at least a friend to help you out with social media. Blank out a time in the diary each week as your scheduled weekly crowdfunding time, even if it’s a meeting with yourself.
Don’t get all weird when you have to write stuff! You don’t have to start acting formally. Pretend that you’re talking to a good friend’s mum or something like that. You know her really well, but you want her to think well of you – you say it is as clearly and simply as possible. Imagine you’re having a cup of tea with them and you’re really excited about what you’re doing and explaining it! You can even do that and record the conversation as a starting point if you’re self conscious about writing. Your voice, as the project owner, will always be the best.
Tell everyone, everyone, everyone in advance about what you’re doing. You might feel self conscious about bothering people, but it’s so important. Never assume that anyone reads anything. You probably need to say the same thing a few times. Be courteous and understand that some people won’t want to pledge.
• Want to know more about Ourmala? Check out their latest project here.