One More Use for Crowdfunding: Providing Hope for a Threatened Tree Species

If you follow crowdfunding efforts, you can't help but be struck by just how widely this fundraising approach is being used to support an increasingly wide array of causes by an ever more diverse set of institutions and individuals. 

All of this activity raises the question of whether any nonprofit can use crowdfunding for just about anything? 

The answer to that question has to be no, of course—crowdfunding is no magic silver cup—yet it's unclear exactly what the parameters of this strategy are. Where does it work best, where does it mostly fail? And why?

The way we're addressing these questions at Inside Philanthropy is by looking at multiple examples of crowdfunding, in search of whatever secret sauce we can find. 

Which brings us to Hawaii.

You’ve probably never heard of the ohia tree, but it happens to be one of the most important plants in Hawaii and it’s under threat from a deadly fungus that is wiping out trees across the Big Island.

Can crowdfunding lend a hand here? Maybe, judging by a well-run campaign by the University of Hawaii’s conservation laboratory. Marian Chau, manager of UH’s Lyon Arboretum Seed Conservation Laboratory, thought crowdfunding would be a perfect solution to help address this problem—and apparently she was right.

The GoFundMe campaign has raised nearly $25,000 in just 18 days and is well on its way to reaching the $35,000 goal. Chalk that up to UH’s extremely savvy marketing, which features a hashtag (#OhiaLove), plenty of local media coverage, and great assets like a virtual e-card and beautiful photography.

Rewards run the gamut from a hug from Lyon Arboretum staff (for $10 gifts) to a full-color custom t-shirt ($500) to a private, docent-led tour of the arboretum ($1,000).

The campaign also capitalized on Valentine’s Day with a special e-card that donors can send to those in honor of whom they’ve made a gift. The beautiful card features donated art and design work.

Funds will go toward seed collection trips that will ensure the lab’s ohia seed stores will remain robust even if the rapid ohia death fungus continues to destroy local trees.