Monday, June 29, 2015

The Journey of a Unique Crowdfunding Platform: Donate-a-Book


Less than 20 hours to go for the launch and I was still making banners and editing the emailers. Time was less and the to-do list wasn't getting any shorter. Will I finish on time? Will we get a good response? Will the website function well? Will we get those promises fulfilled? Have I done enough?

As much as the mind was clouded with these questions, inside there was this dizzy excitement of finally seeing a dream taking a physical shape and that kept me going (along with bottomless cups of Green Tea!).

I started working on Donate-a-Book platform since the day I joined Pratham Books. It was one of the two big digital projects Pratham Books had in the pipeline.The project was really close to the organisation's mission, that of building a Reading India by making books accessible to thousands of Indian children who love to read in their language.

In the long decade that Pratham Books has invested in creating exciting, engaging stories for children, in Indian languages, and building a system that creates access to them, we came to realise that nonprofits and schools working with children are always willing to start and expand reading programs and libraries but either don't have the funds, or need to utilise the existing funds for more pressing needs such as infrastructure or security. Similarly, we also realised that there are thousands of people who would love to help children read, but are unaware of how they can help. 

This led to the idea of a crowdfunding initiative, a common place where organisations/schools/individuals needing books can post their requirements and individuals/organisations who can help fulfill these requirement come together and contribute and thus Donate-a-Book was conceived - a platform where we connect those who need children's books across India, with those who can help get these books to them.

From Pune to J.P nagar to finally settling in at Whitefield in Bangalore, the platform passed a few hands. With our new technology partner on board around 6 months back, Donate-a-Book was on a fast track and finally ready to launch in June. For the first round of beneficiaries, we wrote to a few organisations and individuals who we thought will be interested in setting up campaigns and got them on board. Alongside were happening endless rounds of testing the website, logging bugs, suggesting feature enhancements. The idea was (and is) to make the website as easy and intuitive as possible for the user, whether you are setting up a campaign or donating to a campaign.

As a run up to the launch we did a couple of teasers on Facebook - stories which were inspired by the beneficiary partners we had on board. On the day of the launch, we went full throttle on social media and e-mailers and many kind souls joined us in spreading the word about the wonderful campaigns and the admirable work of the organisations. In office, along with a samosa-chai party to welcome the newest member in the Pratham Books family, we also had a little fun thing going with everyone predicting how many books we will raise by end of the day. We have two offices, one in Bangalore and the other in Delhi, but everyone's name appeared on that one white board with their predictions against it. The atmosphere in office was electrifying and our energies soared every time we updated our whiteboard with a new hourly figure (and a silly doodle against it, courtesy yours truly!)

Our hourly update board. Look closely and one can see all the predictions right at the bottom of the board.
Thanks to good Samaritans, many of whom chose to be anonymous, we had four campaigns who met 100% of their funding target in less than 50 hours of the launch! Kind words, feedback, suggestions kept pouring in and continue. As I write this blog, the books-pledged figure has crossed the 3500 mark and we couldn't be more thankful to our community for once again, showing us the power of coming together for a good cause.

But this is just the start, with your love and support, we will go miles together. Collectively, we will 'put a book in every child's hand'!

A big thank you to Alok Kuchlous from Mirafra Technologies, Vishal & Rashmi from ActivElement and Noufal Ibrahim for helping us make this dream come true and to Rajeshwari Jayaraman for helping us take the first baby steps into this big project.A special word for all the beneficiary organisations who placed their trust in us, even before the website was in a presentable shape and joined us in our mission. A round of applause for all the donors who are supporting the campaigns and helping build a nation of readers.

Visit www.donateabook.org.in to help India's children read.

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