A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to go along to the Sydney Wine Gala, a fundraiser for the major charity that the Atlassian Foundation supports, Room to Read. I’m never 100% sure what to expect at these type of events, but this one was exhilarating and positive: in less than 15 minutes, the room raised over 3 million Australian dollars for needy children in the developing world. How do you raise millions in minutes? Read on…

Room to Read

If you haven’t heard of Room to Read before, they’re a wonderful charity whose goal is to help communities in developing countries rise out of poverty through education. They’ve been around for less than 15 years but have already achieved great things. Room to Read have:

  • Assisted almost 10 million underprivileged children in the developing world through their programs in literacy and girls’ education
  • Established over 17,000 libraries and 2,000 schools in developing countries
  • Financially supported the education of over 25,000 girls through the Girls Education Program, 94% of whom are continuing in the program or have graduated

But there is still so much more work to be done. Over 770 million of the world’s population cannot read or write and over 250 million children lack basic reading, writing, and numeracy skills.

Education is the primary route out of poverty and these children are being denied that chance. As John Wood, the founder of Room to Read puts it, “No child should be told you were born in the wrong place at the wrong time and didn’t get educated.”

The Sydney Wine Gala

Each year Room to Read hosts fundraiser Wine Galas in major cities around the world. Everything at the galas is donated: wine, venue, food, everything. So while they’re up-market affairs, they’re fundamentally a chance for the people who are lucky enough to live in the developed world to give to those who weren’t as lucky in the lottery of life.

During the adopt-a-project auction part of the night, bidders could raise their paddles to donate:

  • $40,000 – School Super Hero – Construct a new two-room school building and a library filled with books
  • $25,000 – Literary Legacy – Construct a new library filled with books
  • $10,000 – Ten Thousand Tales – Print 10,000 copies of one of Room to Read’s hundreds of local language children’s books
  • $7,000 – Graduate a Girl – Fund 20 years of a Girl’s Education Program scholarship place
  • $3,000 – Lead a Reader – Help 50 kids learn to read and write

Scott Farquhar at the podium announcing $1 million in donation matchingThe Atlassian Foundation ups the ante

These are substantial sums of money, but they’re absolutely worth it. Of course, even people who are generous by nature respond to an incentive – and Scott Farquhar really brought out the big guns. He announced that the Atlassian Foundation would match the first million dollars donated during the event, drawing a huge round of applause.

How long do you think it took to reach a million dollars? 15 minutes? 5? Nope… less. Over 20 paddles went up for the School Super Hero level alone, raising over $800,000 in 4 minutes!

Real-time negotiation

John Wood knows a thing or two about high-stakes negotiation so he put Scott, Mike, and Andrew (our COO) on the spot in front of the crowd and politely asked if there might be more room to move. They answered with a further $200k, taking the Atlassian Foundation’s commitment to $1.2 million Australian dollars.

Sydney delivered

The crowd wasn’t going to leave any of that money on the table and each of the further levels of donation got 10s of paddles into the air. All in all the room raised $1.8 million and with Atlassian foundation matching the amount raised, reached over $3 million. It’s an extraordinary feeling to be part of such giving from those who have to those who have not.

We can all make a difference

I find it incredibly humbling to work for a company that genuinely lives its values, including a deep commitment to helping those less fortunate. Through our starter licenses alone, Atlassian has donated over $4m USD to Room to Read. This money is making a real difference to real kids who deserve a chance.

Cambodia-Polaroid-3Late last year I was lucky enough to see the the benefit of this work for myself on a trip to Cambodia. During the trip I met So (shown with her mother to the right). So’s family lives on less than $2 USD a day, and even though she is at the top of her class in school, her family isn’t sure if she will be able to continue to year 10 because they need her to work in the rice fields to help support the family. She deserves a chance to explore her potential.

You can act today

To donate to Room to Read and support their work around the world, please visit https://www.roomtoread.org/donate.

You can really scale up your impact in a couple of ways. First, if your company offers charitable donation matching, ask your manager or HR contact to guide you through the process. If you’re game for a more sustained effort, lobby for your company to establish a program to allow employees to easily donate, like Atlassian’s ‘Dollar a Day’ program, in which employees donate a dollar a day ($365 a year) directly from their salary. We have more than 400 employees enrolled this program, together donating over $150,000 a year without any effort on their part. If you’d like to learn more about this program and our experience, feel free to drop me a line.

If you’re a startup or business owner you might also consider joining the Pledge 1% Movement where you can donate equity in your company to charity and build philanthropy into the DNA of your organization.

I hope this post has left you as inspired as I was by the end of the Sydney Wine Gala. No matter how we differ in geography, politics, or any of the other factors that divide humans from one another, we can come together and champion literacy as a way to advance humanity.

Learn more about Room to Read


Raising millions in minutes: Atlassian & Room to Read help underprivileged children