Growth

How this business is changing the way we fundraise

Adam Turner
Technology Journalist

Adam Turner is a Sydney Morning Herald senior technology columnist who has been writing about the challenges facing Australian business for more than a decade

Adam Turner
Technology Journalist

Adam Turner is a Sydney Morning Herald senior technology columnist who has been writing about the challenges facing Australian business for more than a decade

Could there be an alternative to the chocolate fundraising drive? Living Fundraisers shows us that there is.

Living Fundraisers, founded by Rachel Taylor and Rebeka Jageurs, has helped thousands of schools, children's centres and community organisations raise in excess of $2 million. By selling Living Fundraiser's range of healthy and eco-friendly products, including herb growing kits, cards and Christmas trees, organisations can keep 40% of profits, while educating the themselves and the community of the importance of environmental sustainability. We chat to Rachel, who tells us how the seeds of this blooming business were planted.

woman standing at counter

The beginning
 

The business idea was born out of a university assignment

By the end of it, we had a business concept. We got invaluable input from lecturers and assistance from classmates and by the end of the course we had a comprehensive business plan, a marketing plan, and all of our financial modeling and growth strategy completed and validated. We partnered with food education program Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation, who was looking for ways to help their schools fundraise to support their garden programs. The partnership definitely helped launch the business and let people know it existed. We work with Happy School and Greening Australia, who continue to help expose and grow our business.

We designed the initial product range in consultation with our potential customer base

We talked to primary schools, kindergartens, childcare centres, sporting & community groups, and charities. We ordered the components to fill 50,000 herb and vegie growing kits. That was enough to get us going, but it wouldn’t break the bank if the business idea was a flop.

The business was started with less than $5,000

We sourced seeds and potting mix from the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria and packaging materials from China on credit cards as needed. We also borrowed a few $5,000 loans from family members. The products were assembled on my pool table turned work bench. There were several late-night sessions involving family and friends pitching in to get orders out.

Consumer conversation
 

We still ask customers for feedback on current product options

This allows us to tweak and improve our existing products, develop options for future line and to gauge the level of interest.  Our initial product range included packets of vegetable seeds, as well as our mini-greenhouse growing kits. We found that people were more interested in the step-by-step kits than the seeds on their own, so we dropped the seed packets at the end of the first year.

Thanks to our customers and their feedback, we're always creating and launching new products

We’re currently working on an expanded range of birthday cards for next year, are trialling Christmas trees in Melbourne, and will soon be launching new options for printed products. We also ran a national competition for children to design our first range of Christmas cards, and the designs for our range of Birthday and greeting cards were voted on by our community.

Part of our business philosophy is to make a positive contribution to the community

We wanted to work in partnership with a disability enterprise. We searched around and found Options Victoria, who support people with disabilities to lead lives of dignity and achievement. We really liked the way they worked and engaged them to do our manufacturing, warehousing, and dispatch.

Challenges
 

One of the main challenges we’ve had

is managing cash flow while growing rapidly. Good relationships with our suppliers and keeping overheads rock-bottom have kept us above water. Another challenge we face in developing new products is that they need sturdy but light enough to be carried home by a child.  

Managing the business virtually has challenges

We all work from home and our manufacturing and warehousing is done in partnership with Options Victoria, so keeping track of stock and internal communications is not as easy as when everyone is co-located. Early last year we changed to a cloud-based enterprise management system. It was a difficult process to go through and took up an enormous amount of time, it now almost runs the business for us.

The verdict

We both enjoy working hard and have always juggled lots of things. Work is woven through life, rather than being a distinct part of it. School drop-offs and pickups, doctors’ appointments, kids home sick or needing attention, uni, even the occasional holiday all just happen and we make it work. We give a lot to the business and we understand when other things deserve priority. Between us and the help we get from our partners, we always get what needs to be done, done.

man using a tablet, laptop and smartphone
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