Lessons for Live Below the Line

Recently I’ve had the pleasure of working on the hugely successful campaign Live Below the Line (LBL). This campaign asks individuals to live on $2 a day for five days (henceforth known as “the challenge”) to have an eye-opening experience about what it’s like to live in extreme poverty. Participants receive sponsorship to take the challenge; their unique experience also opens opportunities to have conversations about the issue of extreme poverty. In 2012, the campaign’s third year, we had over 7,000 participants, over 50,000 donors,  and raised almost $1.77 million. This project is supported almost entirely by volunteers and runs on a budget of less than $250,000. We can safely say it’s a whopping success. I’ve discussed the cause for this success in a previous post. In this post, I’d like to see how LBL can improve.

In my evaluation, LBL can be made better by focusing on three things: gamification, adding layers of engagement, and simplification. My analysis of this is informed by a stint of approximately three months as the campaign’s Online Director. I’m also influenced by both the approximately two years I’ve spent as an organiser and campaigner with the AYCC and my familiarity with online organising, gaming, and community development.

Improvement Opportunity 1: Gamification

Gamification is the process of instituting psychological incentives to influence behaviour. The best possible example of this is what is done with the online game platform Steam. Steam is not a game. Rather, it is a platform through which you play your own games. While playing, you are connected to your peers who use Steam, allowing you to chat and join each other’s games. Most pertinently, you also have the ability to unlock achievements. Each game has scores of achievements to be unlocked, and each user’s progress is tracked through their profile. Playing ordinarily, one will certainly unlock achievements through sheer chance; further, the existence of achievements encourages one to learn about un-realised achievements and to get them. This provides a psychological incentive to get more involved with the game, to do something other than simply play to ‘win’.

In the context of LBL, many motivations influence participation. Gamification can add an extra layer of incentives to encourage particular behaviours that are less-common and of high value: signing up others, vlogging, etc.. Learning from Steam’s system, there should be a variety of achievements. Every participant should earn some mundane achievements (“Raise $20”, “Donate $10 to a friend”) – the genius of this is that people get a taste of how good it feels to unlock achievements, and they want more, more, moar! There should be achievements that dedicated people will get simply from hard work (“Raise $500”, “Raise $300 in one day”). Then there should be ‘exotic’ achievements – relatively obscure achievements that people can learn about, and then deliberately aim to achieve. This could be things like “Do LBL three years in a row”, “Ask a donor to sign-up”, “Refer somebody to participate in LBL for the first-time”. Participants’ “achievements” should be displayed on their profile, perhaps with a separate tab or some sort of badge thing. The public recognition of awesomeness that achievements facilitate is crucial!

Three different sorts of achievements from Deus Ex: Human Revolution. The first is mundane and would be achieved by almost every player. The second requires one to play through the game for some time. The third is ‘exotic’ and is unlikely to be achieved without specific intent.

For LBL to continue to succeed, it has to scale up: increase the number of participants, the number of fundraisers, the number of donors, and the amount raised per fundraiser. Gamification will increase the number of incentives for people to undertake actions towards these goals. It’s a logical and vital step on the LBL journey.

Improvement Opportunity 2: Layers of Engagement

“Live Below the Line” is a project of The Oaktree Foundation. I was a member of the central LBL team. Oaktree also has state-based networks that were involved in promoting and coordinating LBL in their respective area. The LBL campaign itself has thousands upon thousands of participants – many of whom want to be doing more than merely participating, and many of whom are. Oaktree can grow LBL by structuring different layers of engagement to enable enthusiastic LBLers to do more than merely participate. This will increase capacity and empower participants.

The first thing I envision is a layer between participant and volunteer – some sort of “uber participant” who has a line of support and is asked to sign others up in addition to participating themself. Other asks could be online participation or fundraising, but this one makes sense in that participants are stepped up gently in a way that has them interacting directly with potential participants whose experience they understand. It doesn’t require specialised skill and makes ample use of the native enthusiasm. This sort of approach is not dissimilar to that used be Organising For America in the 2008 Presidential Election.

Where do LBLers go next?

No doubt many LBLers already actively sign-up their friends. However, formalising this can improve the recognition of such efforts and create a personal connection with existing Oaktree volunteers. Both these factors will improve such efforts and increase the likelihood of LBLers remaining engaged with the campaign and with Oaktree.

I haven’t gone too deeply in to this opportunity as it is worthy of more time, space, and analysis than I have at my leisure. Suffice to say, it’s abundantly clear that, of the 7000+ LBLers, many have it in them to give more to the campaign. Creating structures for this can result in the outsourcing of campaign-building work to particpiants while improving the experience of such participants. As LBL seeks to engage more and more people in to the future, this opportunity ought to be explored.

Opportunity for Improvement 3: Simplification

Go and have a squizz at https://www.livebelowtheline.com/au. What do you think?

Regrettably, I don’t know what you think. Opinions were quite dispersed on the website, and it would be unfair to say, generally, that it is or is not effective. I think LBL’s message is pretty simple. But a few things in the campaign gave me pause for thought. Here is an excerpt from one email:

“Can I just say you have a great idea, but I’ve been reading your website, and I have absolutely no idea what is actually going on. I get that I’m going to be living on $2 a day, and that there is money involved somewhere, but from your website, I have no idea what the sponsorship is all about.” (emphasis added)

This email was a little concerning. So I looked at the website and – holy shit – the writer was right. Our site failed to make it explicity how LBL works. This is ironic, because it is much more simply than Emissions Trading:

  1. People sign up to live on $2 a day for 5 days.
  2. These people have an eye-opening experience that changes the way they think about poverty.
  3. Participants seek sponsorship to take the challenge. Money raised goes to breaking the cycle of poverty.
  4. The whole process stimulates discussion about poverty, helping to raise awareness.

The concept is so simple, even somebody who doesn’t understand apostrophes can get it.

So the campaign is simple enough, but the message isn’t. The website’s home page – which got a good 100,000+ page views – doesn’t lay it down when it comes to what the campaign is. Simplification looks like sloughing away all the extraneous material to get to the heart of LBL. This heart should be at the core of the website’s structure and messaging, social media, traditional media, and other promotions.

It’s important to recognise that most people visiting the website probably know the campaign already. Traffic was almost twice as likely to be from Facebook than to be direct. So if the website is aimed at people who know stuff already, maybe it’s OK. However, growing the campaign necessitates reaching people who haven’t heard about it yet. LBL should either have a website aimed at newbies, with a very straightforward explanation of the campaign, or find some other portal by which LBL virgins can learn more and get involved.

LBL is fairly easy to communicate. Nonetheless, in 2012 the campaign could have been communicated more simply. This would make it easier for people to understand and support the campaign.

Wrapping Up

As I’ve mentioned, LBL is one hell of a campaign. And it can be even better. It can involve more people, more deeply. To do this, the campaign should utilise principles of gamification, add layers of engagement, and refine its message.


3 Responses to “Lessons for Live Below the Line”

  1. Hey Drillvoice,

    Another really good blog! I completely agree with your ideas regarding simplification and I think the idea of the ‘uber participant’ or perhaps even ‘hyperlbler’ is fantastic. I think the key question is how we incentivise people to participate at this level. Prizes worked really well for school students this year but perhaps there are other things that could motivate older people. Giving greater attention to the blogs of these participants could serve as motivation.

    Personally I’m skeptical as to how effective gamification would be for Live Below the Line. For those of us who are not addicted to farmville or foursquare I don’t think that unlocking arbitrary ‘levels’ provides much satisfaction. I’m really concerned that pursuing this goal would distract us from I see as the biggest potential area of improvement for LBL online: the social aspect.

    As I see it Live Below the Line’s theory of change has two parts. 1) Fundraising and 2) Participants to share their experience with others and raise awareness about the existence and extent of global poverty. In my opinion there is huge scope to pursue the second objective. Ideas off the top of my head:

    1) Better integration between the fundraising pages and facebook. Most participants create a facebook event. We should spend time improving the links between people’s facebook presence and the LBL pages.

    2) Improving teams and leaderboards. The difference between networks and teams confused a lot people. This should be simplified somehow. Both the cooperation and community of a team as well as competition within and between teams provide very powerful motivation for participants. People care deeply about the opinions of their friends. We should be doing everything we can to leverage this to encourage deeper participation. You need to look no further than the bitter rivalry between Nick Allardice and Tom O’Connor for evidence of this. This battle not only motivated Nick and Tom to push their networks for more generous donations but also captured the imagination of all those following along on facebook, desperate to see their preferred horse emerge victorious!

    3) Fostering conversation. We need to be focused on facilitating discussions between participants and donors. In your last blog you mentioned the success of the state based facebook pages. These discussions not only provide an important support network for participants but also engage donors in the message of the campaign. Greater ‘back and forth’ between participants and donors, means that donors will be spend more time being exposed to the message of Live Below the Line. Conversations are the most powerful tool to help us change attitudes as opposed to simply opening wallets.

    It was not my intention to write such a long reply! Your blogs are very stimulating! Its a really exciting time for Oaktree and the campaign!

    • Hey Tom – what a stimulating reply!

      Firstly, when it comes to stepping up participants, I don’t think additional incentives are required. Some participants already want to be doing these additional measures – the layers concept is about facilitating what is already happening unofficially. With gamification as well, I think it goes a bit deeper. While freemium games exploit this concept, even Facebook itself creates psychological incentives to interact etc. Incorporating this in to LBL can be non-gimmicky and non-distracting.

      I really like your suggestions and I think they have so much potential for the campaign. In particular your thoughts around donors – I think the next step is for donors themselves to have profiles, thus being part of the community. All their donations could be recorded, and they could share their experiences as well. Win.


  1. Lessons from Live Below the Line | Scit Necessitas - October 24, 2012

    […] Recently I’ve had the pleasure of working on the hugely successful campaign Live Below the Line (LBL). This campaign asks individuals to live on $2 a day for five days (henceforth known as “the challenge”) to have an eye-opening experience about what it’s like to live in extreme poverty. Participants receive sponsorship to take the challenge; their unique experience also opens opportunities to have conversations about the issue of extreme poverty. In 2012, the campaign’s third year, we had over 7,000 participants, over 50,000 donors,  and raised almost $1.7 million. This project is supported almost entirely by volunteers and runs on a budget of less than $250,000. We can safely say it’s a whopping success. (That said, there is of course room for improvement – I will discuss this in an upcoming post.) […]

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