Lebenswald blog

By Matthias Frye

Charities and conservation organizations have the same challenge as commercial retailers: Competition for attention and, ultimately, dollars. During a busy donation season, such as around Earth Day, non-profit organizations need creative ways to reach potential supporters and convince them to donate. The team at Orbica used the appeal of an interactive map to make their client, the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, stand out.

What is a map-driven fundraising campaign?

Commercial companies know that successful customer conversion relies not only on great content (or products), but also an engaging presentation. You want people stay on your website, to explore, and take them on a journey that convinces them that they want to buy from you — or in our case, donate to support the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation. The Foundation protects the last wild orangutans and their habitat in Borneo through rehabilitation and reforestation.

Despite the great work of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, they are competing for donor attention — especially during the holidays and other peak donation periods. They wanted a new fundraising campaign to try something new.

Our solution was to put an interactive map at the centre of their fundraising campaign site, named ‘Lebenswald,’ which translates to ‘life forest’ (the Foundation is a German non-profit). When a potential donor arrives, they are invited to become a ‘forest sponsor’ and colour in squares of forest on a collaborative web map, and the more they donate the more squares they colour in. The resulting map looks almost like a game, with people drawing patterns with their forest squares as the entire ‘life forest’ is gradually coloured in.

Why was a map such an effective way to drive donor engagement?

People are fascinated by maps. What we built for the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation taps into the inherently engaging and visually interesting nature of maps, combined with the draw of a collaborative art project. We drew inspiration from the famous Million Dollar Homepage which was the first ‘pixel-selling’ site where people could buy individual pixels to style as they wanted. That idea has inspired numerous similar interactions, from r/place to metaverse real estate, that continue to be hugely popular.

The collaborative nature of filling in the map also taps into some friendly peer pressure, because you can see very specifically how many other people have already donated. It’s like a classic fundraising thermometer but more fresh and fun because of the potential to be creative and uncover additional educational content on the map.

You can literally watch the success of the fundraising campaign as the ‘reforested’ squares on the map fill in. In fact, the initial area filled so quickly that we had to extend the map to make room for more donations! It’s no surprise that BOS has already extended the site and made it available in other languages.

Visitors can also discover educational content around the map, including watching satellite imagery of their forest areas over time with the ‘time travel’ feature and by exploring different stories of animal sights and other activities marked on the map.

How did Orbica build this site?

Whenever we build for non-profit clients, we know we have to design a site that can run stably at scale without too much maintenance, and also run at minimal cost. We want those fundraising dollars to go towards reforesting Borneo!

The central functionality of the website is of course the map. Our Lebenswald map is feature-rich, including the satellite imagery base layer, custom drone imagery layers, and point-of-interest markers for animal sites and other stories. This is all built with Mapbox, including hosting more than 1 million shapes in Mapbox tilesets to power the grid squares.

When the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation gets attention from a viral news story, they experience a large and sudden spike in visitors on web and mobile browsers. For fast performance and reliability, we went with a serverless design. For the web frontend, we used Contentful as the CMS and Gatsby to build a progressive web app based on React, with a responsive design to support mobile devices. The site is hosted on Microsoft Azure. The site integrates with FundraisingBox to manage donations and with Google Analytics and HubSpot to optimize marketing.

We are very thankful for Mapbox, Contentful and Microsoft Azure for providing generous support and non-profit pricing for their products, and for the site design help from Charicomm.

Any advice for others who want to use maps to engage customers or donors?

When you want people to open their wallet, you need a few smart and powerful ideas to engage them in a way that makes you stand out. Combining the appeal and interactivity of maps with great storytelling content is a very effective option.