Imagination Games — philanthropists funding fun

This is a Guest Post by Jo Jackson King — Catalyst graduate, author, occupational therapist, pastoralist and social entrepreneur.

A beautiful idea can remain forever in the ether without cash and energy for a rescue. I think this is what would have happened to our beautiful idea without The Funding Network Australia. The Funding Network is a kind of search and rescue operation for such ideas and schemes – and ours was lucky enough to be selected for their trial run in Australia.

This is how it all happened.

In 2012, hoping to develop a social enterprise that would help children improve their self-regulation skills, I undertook a course in social entrepreneurship run by the Pollinators (a network supporting entrepreneurs and innovators in the Midwest) called Catalyst. I ended it without an enterprise, but with an idea that I felt sure would work: the Imagination Games – a competition to motivate teachers and schools to return scaffolded imaginative play to early childhood classrooms.

(This is, I hasten to add, not my idea, but my mother’s. We are both Occupational Therapists and work together in the Murchison area of Western Australia. Dysregulated children form a great deal of our client load and we have found the fastest way to grow their regulation skills – empathy, attention, impulse control etc. – is to support them in collaborative imaginative play.)

So what we needed was a funding for a prize to run a pilot Imagination Games where we worked – and funding also for a website to act initially as a resource for teachers and later as a guide to other people wanting to run an Imagination Games in their own area.

How to get started?

I wrote to my publishing company, HarperCollins. Loved the idea, no cash, could provide books. I wrote to a range of not-for-profits. Loved the idea, no cash…it went on like that some more. Then it was Christmas and everything was quiet. It was still quiet when I received an email from Andrew Outhwaite (architect of both Pollinators and Catalyst) briefly describing this remarkable opportunity and suggesting I think seriously about applying to present the Imagination Games.

The Funding Network brings together social innovators searching for expertise, connections and cash and people of social conscience and some cash. No one has to have lots of cash, because this is shared giving – lots of little amounts building into enough to kick start a project like ours. Some people will not give cash, but they will give ideas, help with connections or take a hands-on role in helping.

Immediately we decided that we wanted to put our project in front of this group of people and see what they came up with. So first of all we had to win the competition to actually present. We needed a tight piece of writing and we also needed an organization to auspice any funding.

Finding an organization to do this in just two days (did I mention the very tight deadlines, clearly designed to find the ready-to-go projects) was impossible. At the last moment a major children’s charity came through – the relief!

Once selected we had to:

Learn how to pitch in six minutes. (And anyone who is interested is welcome to read our 6 minute pitch plus slides.)
Find a sponsor – someone who would show the way by giving at least $300 and sell us and our project in just two minutes.

Like all other pitches, there is recommended template for six minutes of pitching. Sell the reason, sell the context, spend most time in the why of things, aim for people’s hearts more than minds and quickly race through the how. Meeting the other people pitching proved unexpectedly delightful and I had no feeling of competing with them but rather that we were all engaged in different parts of the same work.

Two weeks out from the event our sponsor – a man who’d known our work and (most important) seen our results for fifteen years – suddenly was unable to attend. Andrew Outhwaite mercifully took on this role– it was hard to ask someone who’s done so much already to help to do more. But asking for help proved to be very much part of this process as with less than a week to go before the big night of presentations, our auspicing organization began wavering in their support. This was a big deal, as without a registered charity to take the funding we’d have to pay tax on the money, meaning less money. We had to ask for help in finding someone else (though, of course, we did keep trying ourselves.)

Sally and Kathy from the The Funding Network board found us Wanslea and CEO Trish – who referred cheerfully to the role as ‘money laundering’ and declared that it was something Wanslea did all the time for smaller organizations.

With our money launderer Wanslea in place, Andrew Outhwaite who had watched the project emerge from a morass of doubts as our sponsor, and a pitch ready to go…it was show time.

A room full not of business people, as I had expected, but a mix of people. I remember particularly the kindly, tired faces of the visitors from England, from where The Funding Network originates. The very young couple in the middle of the room. A great many women with scholarly faces. Really, not so many people in suits. And then, of course, I began to worry that we weren’t going to raise the money at all! But, comfortingly, I could see that there was a lot of networking happening – although I didn’t feel part of that scene at all – but it did pulse a very business kind of energy.

So we all pitched, and were put outside to wait. And wait. This was obviously a most stimulating part of the evening – judging by the clapping, stamping of feet, bobbing of heads. I still don’t really know what happened in there (and would love to know what Andrew said) – but every single project received the money they asked for (more than $10,000 each).

As we wait for the money to come in, Barb and I are getting on with all the other things to do to make the Imagination Games happen. We are talking to school principals, linking play through to the new Australian curriculum and developing resources for use in classrooms. And the evening itself provided connections – people who are making a start on the Imagination Games in their part of the world already – ideas (a prototype website) – and courage! People stood up at the end our pitch to say how good the idea was, how strong the research supporting us – and, added to all the support from Pollinators, co-participants in Catalyst and Andrew himself, this is encouragement of no small order. So, braver, better connected and soon to be cashed-up, the Imagination Games is on its way.

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