What do you do when you’re an arts/education nonprofit educating thousands of disadvantaged Cambodian children - but COVID decimates funding and closure is imminent?
How do you finance a fundraising campaign when you’ve lost 60% of income, tapped reserves, cut services... and travel restrictions make traditional fundraising events impossible?
How do you grab global attention as a small nonprofit in a small country, and illustrate your determination to keep going despite adversity?
You do what you do best. You dig deep and get creative. You attempt the world's first 24-hour non-stop circus performance, proving your resilience through Guinness World Record's endorsement and livestreaming the attempt online. You then harness social media's power to enlist thousands to become record-breakers alongside you - and donate to support you.
All with a $500 promotions budget.
This 2021-2022 campaign drew on the same creativity and resilience which once inspired 8 young Cambodians to found Phare in a Thai refugee camp. Cambodia’s artists and teachers were murdered in the Khmer Rouge genocide, so Phare was created to restore education, culture and hope. For 28 years it thrived, educating 800+ children annually and training hundreds of artists/performers to escape poverty. Funding came from a world-famous, animal-free circus attracting tourists including Harrison Ford and Angelina Jolie.
Then COVID came - shuttering the circus and slashing funding. To survive, three core objectives must be met:
The team adopted a “jiu-jitsu” creative strategy, turning challenges thrown our way into advantages. Given the funding situation, outside agencies weren't an option, so passionate volunteers worked with our students and in-house team to harness the power of social media and overcome all problems with creativity.
Problem: marketing budget under $500.
Solution: adopted DIY aesthetic making a virtue of limited resources. Existing footage was re-edited into beautiful short films teasing the event, students and artists flooded our channels with stories of how Phare changed their life, and free tools like Facebook Events helped secure attendance.
Problem: COVID travel restrictions made it impossible to host a traditional in-person fundraiser.
Solution: decided to livestream our record attempt, providing rare live entertainment to people in lockdowns around the world, while encouraging them to donate through our online platforms, using money saved from commuting. With no money for specialist streaming, we used YouTube and Facebook's free services, promoted by content across all social media and meaning the numbers who could view, participate and donate online were unlimited. Thanks to viral content announcing the upcoming record attempt, Cambodian mobile provider Cellcard provided a temporary backup mobile phone tower, while promoting the event through their social media channels and in-house influencers, all free.
Problem: fierce competition from thousands of other struggling non-profits seeking help during COVID.
Solution: used Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and TikTok to post videos, case studies, teasers and infographics positioning the record attempt as a rare, inspiring “good news” story during dark times, triggering thousands of shares/mentions on social media, while generating mass traditional media coverage on six continents (Antarctica evaded us).
Problem: Guinness' stringent conditions - ie requiring a minimum 50-strong audience at all times (even 4am!).
Solution: turned requirements into an incentive for supporters to attend in-person or via livestream, sending Facebook and mailing-list invites stressing that attendees also became record-breakers as Guinness-required audience members.
Problem: near impossibility of performing for 24 hours.
Solution: used audacity of the attempt to highlight the resilience and creativity of our 90 performers in artist profiles which featured across social media, providing a powerful reason for livestream viewers to donate online to the organisation that trained and employs them
Problem: no budget for official Guinness adjudicator to attend.
Solution: we organised the evidence collation ourselves (the free option!), recruiting Buddhist monks and teachers to attend as trusted witnesses, adding to the uniquely Cambodian atmosphere of the livestream and social media content. When we realised that it would take Guinness many months to assess 131 pages and 26 hours of video evidence, we turned this into an opportunity for two international announcements on social/traditional media, one celebrating 2021's successful attempt, another announcing 2022's official confirmation - two bites of the cherry!
Problem: no budget to promote Guinness’ final decision.
Solution: our students created a DIY “surprise” video where performers gathered for a "briefing", covertly filmed and given the news: their shock and joy was shared on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok, and by news outlets globally.
The campaign smashed targets, as demonstrated by this top 10 results:
Phare still faces major fundraising challenges, with tourism and circus income low, but this campaign gave the breathing space to survive and march towards our 30th anniversary.