Opening up about his experience with Indiegogo, RE-volv founder Andreas Karelas revealed how the global crowdfunding platform helped get the nonprofit organization, which finances community-based solar energy projects with a revolving fund, off the ground.
“For a year or so beforehand I had been working on an idea: a revolving fund for clean energy crowdfunded by everyday people who were looking to take action on climate change. The climate is warming. And concerned citizens were desperately looking for opportunities to take action. Everyone I talked to felt the same way: “What can I really do about climate change?”
“In order to give people a direct way to take action on climate change that actually has a real impact and to help speed along this technological shift, the idea for RE-volv was born. Through crowdfunding, we’d raise donations from people who cared about the climate. We’d use the money to fund solar projects for community-serving nonprofits and co-ops that otherwise can’t get solar financing. And as the community groups pay us back, we’ll reinvest the money into more solar projects. It’s a pay-it-forward model for solar. Voila.
“I incorporated the organization in 2011 and got busy filing my application for nonprofit status with the IRS. Then came designing a logo, building a basic website, getting an office space, and trying to figure out how to craft a legal solar lease agreement to make this plan work. Once all that was done, the biggest question was, when will you do your first solar project? It felt like an eternity had passed from when I started the organization and I didn’t have many promising leads.
Explaining what drew him to Indiegogo, Andreas shared:
“Then Samy came to volunteer. Samy was someone I had met in a continuing education finance class who loved the idea of RE-volv. One day she said, let’s just run a crowdfunding campaign. Whoa. ‘Are you serious?’ I thought. We don’t even have a project lined up. How would that work? Ask people to give us money to put solar on a place we haven’t found yet? Yeah right.
“But after some convincing, that’s exactly what we did. What Samy knew, and what she convinced me of, is that we needed to get the word out about what we were doing. We needed to start building a community of supporters. We needed to start acting. We brought in a friend of a friend who was a crowdfunding expert to show us the ropes. Micah gave us the insights we needed to launch our first campaign.”
“Our first campaign was a smash hit. Our goal was $10,000 and we hit it halfway through the campaign. We ended raising another $5,000 before it was over. To do so we emailed everyone we knew, called and asked people to contribute, and pretty much lived on social media around the clock for 6 weeks continuously posting updates.
“Then, a project came across my desk: the Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in Berkeley. I put together a proposal and went to chat with them about it. I told them about the Indiegogo campaign, how we already had the money and that the campaign was supported by nearly 200 people. They were in. We signed up our first solar project.
“The lesson I learned here was that you can’t wait for the conditions to be right to launch. Sometimes, in order to get the ball rolling, you just have to start. You have to throw something at the wall and see if it sticks. What I had was an idea- a revolving fund for solar energy supported by people who care. What I didn’t know was, “Would people who care actually be into this?” The only way to figure that out was to launch a campaign and see if it worked.
“Thankfully, it worked. Our first project got us news coverage far and wide, from publications like the New York Times, Grist, and Clean Technica. Soon we had more organizations wanting to go solar with us. Less than a year later we ran another campaign, this time for over $50,000 for the Kehilla Community Synagogue in Oakland. And not too long after that another $50,000 campaign let us put solar on Other Avenues in San Francisco.”
In regards to RE-Volv’s growth, Andreas added:
“Since 2013 when we completed our first campaign until now, it has been a truly wild ride. What started as an idea has now turned into a 3-person organization with a 10-person Board of Directors, a sizable budget, three solar projects completed, 40 college fellows at 5 universities in 4 states, recognition from the Department of Energy and just last month I got to speak at the White House. Indiegogo has served us well. We were able to test our idea and learn that people from around the world want to support our revolving fund for solar. Now we’re launching our own platform for donations and allow users to manage the revolving fund with a monthly reinvestment function. I really owe a tremendous amount of gratitude to Indiegogo for getting us to this point; for the service the platform provides, and for all the staff who have been there 110% to help our work succeed.
“Our story is unique, but at the same time not. Thousands of entrepreneurs, social change makers, and people helping one another out use Indiegogo everyday to test their ideas, to launch new companies, and to make their dreams come true. I imagine the people who work at Indiegogo must feel pretty proud knowing that they’re playing a role in changing the course of so many people’s lives. It certainly changed mine.”
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