Did you know that taking your clothes off and posting a photo online can raise money for good causes?
We chat to Tom Wren about his new platform Nelfie, which uses naked selfies or ‘nelfies’ to draw attention to good causes and encourage donations.
Hi there Tom. First of all, please give us a quick rundown of how Nelfie works, and how charities can raise funds and awareness from being involved?
Hi Eoin and hey Startacus community.
Nelfie.org is a funky new way to fundraise for the causes people care about. With a single photo (nelfie) and a users’ story, anybody can raise attention and donations for the cause that matters to them.
For users, with their nelfie and personal story, we build their campaign on nelfie.org. On Day 1 of their campaign going live, the world will see the user story and user profile photo is visible but their nelfie is hidden. As donations roll in, the hidden nelfie begins to de-pixelate for each £ that comes in until at 100% of the target is raised and the nelfie becomes fully visible.
For charities, there’s a lot they can do to boost the donations and awareness they receive. We give special attention to our featured charities by posting content from them about the impact nelfie campaigns have had on their work, so we encourage them to join us to be a featured charity (at no charge). In addition, when a nelfie is live for a particular charity, that charity can spread the word to its followers to boost the attention the nelfie receives and thus increase donations. We hope at least a few campaigns will go viral, all for the benefit of the charities involved.
Where on Earth did the idea come from?
Ha this is a question I’m asked a lot and I always smile when answering (probably a bit too enthusiastically). The idea is the output of two areas for me.
First, it’s one of frustration; I’m frustrated that typically the amount of money we can raise is limited to how many friends and co-workers we have, and they don’t have much fun donating to a static page. It’s sad that it seems only celebrities can raise huge awareness for what matters to them with a single tweet. ‘Kanye can yet but I cannot is the feeling many of us have’.
The second area is one of a total love for ideas that provide a social benefit, especially if they’re a little whacky. I hugely admire successes like Humans of New York that has astounding engagement rates and TOMS shoes, which proves business and doing good can go hand in hand. Building something that really matters is important to me and I hope Nelfie is it.
Trying to combine the two I guess I was trying to work out something that could help build a community, but I needed something to grab people’s attention in the first place. Voila, the (nearly) naked human body!
Are you at all concerned that if Nelfie does manage to become popular, it might prove to be a very transitory success like that of the ‘ice bucket challenge’ or ‘no makeup selfie?’
I think it would be naïve for us to think that nelfies will last forever, but we’re not so concerned for a couple of reasons;
If we look at the two examples you mention, both were very successful but pretty short lived. Both are 2D in a sense that there’s not much room for differentiation (ice on to head / don’t wear makeup) and there’s little/no personal story to go with it, so the appeal dies down quickly. With nelfies there’s so much room for people to be highly creative and to do it for whatever issue is most personal to them. With the added engagement and gamification we’re trying to build in, we’re hoping it’s fun and interesting for the donators and the community in general as well.
Second, even if nelfies are short-lived, we have some decent ideas for our next phase, which will build on what we’re doing today.
What do you say to people who suggest that Nelfie might be a little on the rude side?
No doubt some people feel offended at the near-naked photo part, but we’re not ashamed by that. Far from it even. We’re fully aware that the idea of a near-naked photo can be a little shocking, but that’s our point – we’re encouraging people to raise awareness for issues the find truly shocking. Some of the issues brought to our attention even before launch are; “Why are we not talking more about mental health, why is there still an inequality divide, why are whales being slaughtered, what are we doing about overfishing, how do we tackle a body confidence crisis among our youth, etc?”
If they still feel offended I tend to very politely say, “It’s probably not for you”.
Who is on the team?
Matt Sandrini (Dream Anchorman) and his wonder brain supports me on the growth, marketing and graphics side and I’m also supported by 2 great developers who have built the site, APIs, etc. As for me (Chief Dreamer Upper), I’m responsible for pulling it all together and signing up our featured charities, brand sponsors, getting the word out and generally hustling however I can.
I’d add that amazingly we’ve had a ‘12th (and 13th) man’ in the form of Manchester’s tech and social enterprise sectors, with so much great feedback, ideas, intros and so on that have helped this idea become reality. We’re very thankful to many people!
What have been some of your major wins to date, and what do you see as being some of the biggest challenges that you have yet to overcome?
We’ve had some big wins in the form of finding some great charity partners, with Aids Orphan and Village Water being the first to join us as featured charities. Our biggest wins however are (we hope) yet to come. We launch on 7th March and we already have a growing number of online sources keen to speak about the project, with a stream of nelfies from some passionate people sitting in the queue waiting to go live.
At Nelfie HQ we’re pretty excited as you can imagine.
Ideal scenario, how would you like Nelfie to grow and develop over the course of the next 12 months?
It’s easy for us to get carried away even before launch but we have some grand plans for where this might go in the next 12 months. I’d love to see some examples of ‘ordinary superheroes’ be heard and lead change for what matters to them, and we hope Nelfie is well known as a place that supports this.
Fundamental to our success will be the community we’re building. I hope in the next 12 months this community will become a global audience of vocal participants who care and support each other in a ‘together we’re stronger’ type mentality.
Finally, on a personal note, a view I share is that charity is not the answer, or at least not the only answer. Part of what we’re hoping to include and offer in the next 12 months is our encouragement and access to supporting change that isn’t just reliant on donations – think online marketplace for ethical goods, for example.
Is there anything that members of the Startacus community can do to help you on your mission?
It would be rude not to ask the great members of the Startacus community not to get involved with a nelfie of their own, so I’d invite everyone to head over to nelfie.org and create their own nelfie campaign.
For those not quite ready to nelfie, we’d really appreciate the support of this community in helping grow our impact and supporting our live campaigns, whether it be supporting with a donation, a share on social media or even just spreading the word.
I guess the final thing I’d say is that I know this community is made up of passionate entrepreneurs, creatives, journalists, etc. We’re just a small team of relatively inexperienced people who are passionate about making something that can matter, so any advice, feedback, connections, whatever will be most welcome with us.
Thanks for the chat Tom and good luck with Nelfie.