Project Focus: Otter Farm

Otter Farm ploughed through their £60k target with 700 supporters on Crowdfunder, and then went on to take centre stage on Channel 4’s Grand Designs.

Former River Cottage gardener, Mark Diacono, crowdfunded over £60k in what became a hugely successful, high profile fundraise. Looking for the funds needed to build a creative hub at Otter Farm and scale his social enterprise, the build’s innovative vision also caught the attention of the team at Grand Designs, securing them a spot on prime time television.

The farm hosts a kitchen garden, vineyard, forest garden, orchards and nutteries – as well as a perennial garden that is all cared for organically. With a unique model that takes full advantage of climate change, Mark and his team have also been able to grow delicious food that is usually sourced from overseas, without chemical and high carbon inputs.

Mark had a vision however, to fling open their doors and share what they do. This could be accomplished through a new building on the farm – a place where visitors would be able to attend cooking and growing courses that demonstrate the journey from plot to plate. In order to facilitate this, he turned to Crowdfunder.

Mark Diacono, founder of Otter Farm, said, “Traditional finance is all over the place and Crowdfunder offered a financial solution that drives marketing and also builds a customer base at the same time. It makes total sense and everybody benefits.”

Let’s find out how they did it.

The campaign

Pre-launch

Mark knew that getting the Crowdfunder campaign off to a good start was really crucial. In order to do this, you need to get pledges on the project page as early as possible.

Before the campaign went live, he began to gather support by telling as many people as possible (and anyone who would listen!) about the project and the rewards on offer.

You can find more crowdfunding tips about planning your project here

Launch

Email

As soon as the project launched, Mark emailed everyone closest to the project and told them to get pledging. Everyone already knew about the project as they had been pre-warmed to the idea, so the project gathered some early traction from the word go.

Once Mark had some pledges on the page, and was happy with the message, he then emailed his entire database. Minutes later, hundreds of pounds were pledged on the project – including high profile pledges from Hugh Fearnely-Whittingstall and Kevin McCloud.

Social media

Once these initial pledges were placed on the project, Mark then used social media to keep the momentum going. Throughout the campaign, he continued to share engaging content.

Mark said, “I have always used social media to share updates from around the farm.”

Si, Head of Campaigns at Crowdfunder and also project coach to Mark, said, “Mark is a very skilled writer, and social media updates throughout the campaign were brilliant. Lots of personality with variations, keeping the content relevant whilst including a call to action.”

Almost 40% of pledges to Mark’s project came through Facebook and Twitter channels, making it a very worthwhile exercise.

Press

Mark said, “Once the project was beginning to gain traction, we got the press out.”

An article, pre-written by Mark, was sent out to trade magazines and press. Whilst lots didn’t pick the story up, some did. The story gained local press, but was also strong enough for a feature in The Guardian, resulting in almost £1k of pledges.

Sharing with influencers

10 days into the project and Otter Farm had built some serious traction, mostly from Mark’s own networks. However, it was now time to grow beyond this.  

Mark knew that the backers who had supported the project so far were dedicated to getting Otter Farm to the finish line, so he asked for their support in sharing the project with their friends. The power of backers sharing to their own networks instantly amplifies the number of people looking at a given project.

Mark also made lots of calls to friends in the business, each with their own spheres of influence, asking them to help out with the project. The call to action was clear – please pledge, and then share the project with your followers.

Thinking outside the box

Towards the end of the campaign, Mark had gathered support from nearly 500 backers but pledges were slowing down, and he knew that his target was still £24k away.

Mark then hatched a plan to try some ‘out of the box’ ideas, during which he decided to run a competition every day. One backer’s name gets pulled out of a hat and they would win a course – it was as simple as that.

Next was an idea to go back to the (now considerably larger) group of supporters of the project once more. Mark set up a deal. Pledge again on the project, and no matter what you pledge on, we’ll give you a bottle of wine from the winery on top of everything else you’ve pledged on. It certainly worked and the community were re-pledging!

Mark said, “We wanted to find a tangible way to thank the backers for their support so far, and at the same time leverage their support in the short window of opportunity left in the campaign.”

Mark and his team at Otter Farm crossed the line with one day to go, and actually raised £4k over the original target.

Mark added, “In hindsight, I’m very pleased that we went all or nothing. I’m positive that we wouldn’t have got over £60,000 if we were on keep what you raise, as the drive to get the project over 100% just wouldn’t have been there.”


What they said


Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall said, “What Mark’s been doing at Otter farm is inspirational. What he’s planning to do is one of the most exciting things in British horticulture… I’m delighted to add my support to such a far-sighted and well-thought out project.”


Phil Geraghty, Managing Director at Crowdfunder, said, “Projects like this show the true power of the Crowd – the dedication and commitment of a community and the sheer opportunity that is out there to make great ideas happen. Crowdfunder exists to enable more projects like this to become a reality, just like Mark’s idea – let us help you make your grand design happen.”

What’s next for Otter Farm?


It’s been a year since the whole project unfolded on Grand Designs, and thanks to 700 supporters on Crowdfunder, the kitchen garden school is fully up and running.

You can keep up to date with their latest news on Twitter and Facebook

You can also visit the Crowdfunder project here

Crowdfunding team, Si Walker (Crowdfunder) and Mark Diacono (Otter Farm) also ran a live hangout, touching on how Mark made his idea a reality. You can watch the hangout here.

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