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The Speed of Light – Helping to Spread Some Sunshine

MFG Archive, Profiles

Following from his last piece about their Impact Calculator, Richard Turner from SolarAid talks about their Speed of Light initiative.


Imagine new supporters donating to your cause every week. People who have been contacted by a friend and inspired to donate who then go on to ask their network of contacts to do the same.


Imagine a corporate partnership where each month they can show the impact of their support on their website – where solar lights in Africa are shining and making a difference.


Welcome to the Speed of Light. An idea developed by the charity SolarAid which is taking off in so many ways we didn’t expect.


Here is how it works.


When someone gives a donation on the Speed of Light we can attribute the location of a solar light we have distributed in Africa. For the fundraisers amongst you although we sell solar lights in remote rural areas of Africa our social enterprise SunnyMoney makes a loss. At present for every £3/$5 we receive, we manage to sell a solar light at a fair market price. So for every £3/$5 given by a donor we can attribute to them the location of a solar light now shining.


Donation notification


Then comes the special bit – when we show a donor the location of the solar lights they have helped fund we ask them to share this moment with their network. If you are one their friends then you might get asked to join in too. The difference is the ask comes from someone you know – someone you trust. Here is the link to my community – check it out here.

“The difference is the ask comes from someone you know – someone you trust.”

And if their friend, colleague or member of their family gives too then we will show them the location of the solar lights their networks have helped distribute. We will credit them for helping attract others so a supporter, or an organisation, can see the impact of their entire support using their social as well as financial capital!


In America the Photonics Society have used it to engage their members. You can see the sum total of their impact on our burst map below – 1,630* solar lights!


* Actually by the time we took a screen grab this went up to 1,731 solar lights!


Photonics community


In the UK Welsh company Wholebake are using the Speed of Light to show the impact of their support to SolarAid. For every 9BAR energy bar sold Wholebake will provide a night of light for a child in Africa with every sale. This way their consumers get good energy twice – once by eating the energy bar, twice by helping to give the good energy of light.They will show the lights they have funded through the sales using the Speed of Light. Of course customers can choose to give too! In effect we now realise the Speed of Light enables a company to show the impact of their support to their customers/consumers. SolarAid plan to enable other enterprises to do the same in the future.





As well as attracting a major corporate partner the Speed of Light has more than doubled our background rate of attracting new supporters to SolarAid without any marketing or promotion. And this is just version 1.0. We have great plans to take it to the next level based on user feedback and our learning along the way, such as incorporating our impact calculator into the platform, making it mobile enabled, and using live sales data between our Salesforce databases linking donors around the world to the solar lights they have supported in Africa.

“Charities need to catch up and embrace this approach at a time where old style interrupt your day techniques from strangers on the street or on the phone no longer work.”


Impact map



Perhaps what’s even more exciting is the potential to use this approach that other nonprofits can use too – using data to leverage the social capital of their supporters, and forming partnerships with organisations that share your values and wish to help you promote your mission to their customers and consumers. This is the new marketing as advocated for some time by thought leaders like Beth Kanter (the Networked Non-Profit), Grant Leboff (Sticky Marketing) and David Meerman Scott (The New Rules of Marketing and PR). Charities need to catch up and embrace this approach at a time where old style interrupt your day techniques from strangers on the street or on the phone no longer work.


So we will continue to see where the Speed of Light takes us and share our learning as that’s the sort of organisation SolarAid is – we love to spread a bit of sunshine!


Many thanks to Richard Turner for his piece on SolarAid’s The Speed of Light initiative. To find out more about the great work SolarAid do, be sure to follow them on Twitter at @SolarAid, and you can follow Richard at @ifundraiser. Check out his previous post on SolarAid’s impact calculator here!

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