Fundraising with foreign currency only? How?

A few years ago I was trying to find something at home and come across a few coins and notes from my previous travels. A few coins and notes that were too small to exchange and had taken position in my drawer in readiness of a time I was returning to that particular country. The question I asked myself was “what happens to it if I never went back to that country?“. I concluded that realistically it was going to stay in my drawer and be imprisoned there indefinitely. That made me think about what should be done with it.

I’d always been quite interested in charity having ran ultra marathons in the past for the charities Combat Stress and Jessie May Trust, and volunteered my time with the Royal British Legion fundraising face to face. With that previous experience in mind, I thought it would be a challenge to see if that change in my drawer could be turned into something which benefits people.

The people I had in mind are the children of Bon Soon school on the island of Koh Kho Khao off the coast of western Thailand. I’d spent a few months there as a teaching assistant and enjoyed my time so much that I hoped to give something back when I got back to the UK. It sounds almost cliché to do but for me it was no different than supporting the three established charities. They were all borne through a desire to help people and Project Alchemy is no different.

So with a cause to support, and a drawer full of foreign change, I had to establish a method to accrue funds while not taking pounds sterling. I decided the best way of doing it was to gather up all the currency that people have at home in their drawer, accumulate enough of it and then exchange it in bulk. The collected currency isn’t limited to just legal tender around the world but also older currency no longer in circulation. Whereas collected legal tender currency will be directed at the travelling market, older currency will be pooled together in ‘variety’ lots and sold to collectors.

As it stands today, we have raised £191.50 through these methods. Although this seems like a relatively low figure please take into account the following:

1. this is solely through exchange of foreign currency, with very minimal addition of Sterling;

2. much of the currency collected so far has been in small denominations and it requires time to accumulate;

3. there is a reserve of accumulated currency not included in that figure including $US and $HK coinage.

Overall though, it has been pleasing to see that this exchange of foreign currency has been quite successful. I hope that over the next three to four months we are able to accumulate more and exchange more. In February 2015, I hope to get back to Thailand to see Koh Kho Khao again, as well as children in Koh Phayam who we now support alongside a local charity.


It’s been a while..

Hi all,

I’ve taken a brief hiatus away from Project Alchemy while I’ve completed postgraduate studies. Now I’ve taken up the reins again and will be promoting a better Project Alchemy with greater objectives.

Sadly in the time I’ve been away the school we have looked at supporting (Bon Soon school) on Koh Kho Khao is now going to close early next year. The elderly teachers Joom, Sutaporn and Samsak will be retiring and with them the dedication required to keep the school going. It is a sad state of affairs but we will continue to support children that are most in need from Bon Soon school when they make the move to the nearest school on mainland, Nam Khem. Accounts have been allocated for children particularly in need and money will be allocated accordingly. We wish Kru Joom in particular a happy retirement!

The main objective of Project Alchemy was originally to help children on the island Koh Kho Khao with everything they needed, and in particular coaching through secondary school on the mainland. As circumstances have changed with Bon Soon school, and with a new link to the island of Koh Phayam, we have decided to broaden our objectives to include Koh Phayam. The image shows the location of both the islands mentioned. There will be more details soon on Koh Phayam and the Moken sea gypsies that live there.

As ever, we will continue to take in donations of foreign coins and notes in order to fund raise. We have done well so far having raised £189.50 by that method alone. With the help of some market research a little while ago, it became clear that partnering schools would also be of benefit to the charity. Over the coming months we hope to progress with that along with collecting unused foreign currency from residents of the southwest of England.

Thank you for reading and please come back weekly for updates.

All the best,


New year, new perspective

2014 has finally arrived and this year things should really get moving with Project Alchemy. We have new goals and targets which we hope will benefit the impoverished children we seek to help and nurture.

So the targets and goals for 2014 will include the following:

- We will fundraise 1000 pounds before August. So far we are 40% towards the total so we are feeling positive that we will reach that target.
– We will give all money raised, whether it is above or below target, to our beneficiaries in southern Thailand in August 2014.
– We will form links with schools in order to better achieve an easier method of fundraising.
– We will close down operations in Singapore and concentrate solely in the UK.
– We will increase traffic to our site (http://www.projectalchemy.org.uk) by using social media more effectively.
– We will continue blogging, using Facebook and Twitter to keep our followers up to date with both our fundraising drive and news from our schools.

We understand that charities take time to establish. This time in development gives a charity credibility and reputation. Some people will say that it isn’t worth doing as there are already well established charities out there already, such as UNICEF. We feel that we can also make a difference. Perhaps not in the same way as a huge charity, but we are only at the beginning of a long journey. In future, we hope our mechanism for gathering funds will give us the chance to make a bigger difference. A difference which will give better resources, better coaching and better opportunities for impoverished children. We CAN make a difference and we WILL achieve our charitable aims with your help.

Marc May
Project Alchemy

Surveying the Masses

Survey results are now in! Over the past few weeks we’ve conducted a small nine question survey to look at people’s thoughts on various aspects of our charitable work. Here are the questions with their associated results. The size of the sample was 51 and was conducted wholly online. People were asked on various Facebook groups to complete the short survey, and the participants could take the survey anonymously.

1. Were you aware of Project Alchemy before you started this survey?

This question was used to see how many of those that were surveyed actually knew about Project Alchemy before they took the survey. Of the 51 that took the survey, 43.14% were aware of Project Alchemy.

2. The charity collects unexchanged foreign money (such as money brought back from holidays or business abroad) and then uses it to fulfil its charitable aims. Do you consider this a good mechanism for raising funds?
The question seeks to confirm that the mechanism behind Project Alchemy is something which people find a worthy mechanism for raising funds. The results for this were almost unanimously in support of the mechanism at 98.04% in favour.
The following question (Question 3) gave the taker the opportunity to clarify there answer if it was in the negative. There were three comments to this question and two related to the exchange of money, while the other related more to the way funds were received. The one dissenting person stated that profits would be eaten up by the cost of exchange. Another stated yes to the previous question on the basis that the exchange of the coins is simple. The last comment stated that there needed to be more options regarding the collection of funds from donors, especially in southeast Asia.

4. Have you been on an excursion abroad which required you to exchange money?

Of those sampled, 90% stated they had been on a trip abroad which meant they had to exchange money.

The following question (Question 5) asked what did they do with the money when they came home. There were various answers to this question which ranged from people having spent it all and come back with nothing, to those that said they had donated it either at the airport or on the plane. Others said they had it in jars and drawers, and some said they had kept it as a souvenir or kept it for use later.

6. Have you ever volunteered abroad (e.g teaching, building infrastructure, etc)?

There were just 25.23% of the sample that had volunteered abroad.

7. Do you believe that secondary education is important to a child’s future prospects?

8. Have you been secondary school educated?

Both of these questions had unanimous answers in favour. Those surveyed tended to be university educated and so the latter unanimous result was fairly unsurprising. Both questions needed to be in the survey though as they relate heavily to the charity. The charity after all seeks to help those make it through secondary school in developing countries. It is therefore obvious from the results that the charity improves the future prospects of the children it helps.

9. If Yes to question 8, which job would you imagine you would have now if you hadn’t been secondary educated?

This was a question which threw up some interesting results on people’s perceptions of how people would do without secondary education. There were quite a few that answered and the majority expected those without secondary education to be waitresses, bin men, manual labour or working at McDonalds. There were some that said that they would have no job, and one person stated porn star and another prostitute.

There were nine questions in the survey but the those taking the survey were given the opportunity at the end to write comments. I’m grateful to those that wished us luck! I’m also grateful for one persons idea on how to improve the charity by forming partnerships between schools. This is a great idea and one which would definitely benefit the charity.

All in all, the survey was useful to us for a number of reasons. We found out valuable insight into peoples opinions on the main areas of our work. It was also a bonus for us to see peoples comments and criticisms. With feedback we can improve and become a better charity, which can only benefit those children we seek to help. Thank you to all those that took part in the survey.


Don’t leave it in your drawer!

There are plenty of things people have in their drawers at home but foreign money you can’t exchange shouldn’t be one of them! You should liberate that money from your drawer and put it to good use, where it can be exchanged and used charitably. You should give it to Project Alchemy!

You may be wondering why bother? Some of you may even think you have so little it may not even make a difference. Well I’m here to tell you that it is worth it and every little does count. If any of you have ever had a penny jar where they have accrued small change for a large period of time, you will know that at the end of it there is a great deal of money there if you accumulate enough of it. This same premise works for us too. The more small change or notes we accumulate the larger the pool of money we have to exchange and use charitably. For example if one person has 1 US dollar and 1 Euro then it doesn’t account to much, but if 50 or 100 donate the same then the numbers certainly become more favourable.

Some people will have a small amounts naturally, but there will also be people that have money collected over years of travelling. All that combined, even amongst a relatively small amount of people, accounts for a lot of wealth that could be used in a charitable way. It will make a significant difference to the children it helps in southeast Asia. Coaching and equipment for children in Thailand is the first project, and we hope the start of many!

There will be a few of you that get to this point and think about Project Alchemy as a whole, and question whether money could be better spent elsewhere. For those people I would say this, Project Alchemy has very few working parts and as it stands no overheads (as funds have been donated by the founders to keep it running). 100% of the funds exchanged will go towards the charitable goals and aims we set. Every charity starts small and gets bigger, we are no different. Reputation is something that needs to be built over time and we hope that you will find it in your hearts to help us along that path.

So what should you do your drawer money? You should send it to us! If it is a larger collection then there may be scope for us to come and collect it especially if you are in England or Singapore. If you have any questions about what Project Alchemy does, or any relevant questions to our cause, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We are always open to questions!

Voluntourism – good or bad?

In my next instalment I will be taking you on a journey. A journey which will make you think about volunteering abroad and decide for yourself whether it is good or bad. This is relevant in a Project Alchemy setting as the whole basis of the charity is based on volunteering experiences.

So you might be thinking surely someone giving their time and energy to volunteer is a good thing? I was a staunch yes supporter but recent events have persuaded me that perhaps it isn’t as good as you’d may think. This has all come about from asking people about their experiences of volunteering in travel forums. From my experience I had expected a positive response with many saying how good it was.

I was surprised by the complete opposite reaction.

In my posts I’d been keen to promote volunteering (in particular English teaching) however long it was. The thinking behind this is logical. I grew up learning German and looking back it would have been nice if I had volunteers who could speak German with me so I would be able to better speak the language. A constant stream of young Germans who I could connect with would’ve meant I’d be fluent now.

In all fairness though German is only going to slightly boost my career prospects. Whereas English to a young Thai is going to boost their prospects massively, especially in an area which is frequented by tourists.

From my own experiences, especially in remote schools, I believe the children benefit from seeing foreign faces. They get to hear different English accents, see what other cultures are like and I’d hope sense that the world is bigger than their village or province.

English like any other foreign language takes years of consistent teaching to master. So unless they are a qualified teacher it doesn’t make sense for a tourist to pop by be the sole English teacher of a school. That said, I believe many would benefit from co teachers that are energetic and motivated to develop the children. Even in short bursts I believe that there are positives to be taken.

Volunteering itself is a way for some charities to accrue funds in order to fulfil their goals with quite a few offering placements all round the world. The way they market these ‘opportunities’ I believe puts more emphasis on the personal development of the volunteer rather than the people they are trying to help.

The nay sayers on the forums I’d posted on were keen to point out that volunteering without a work permit was illegal and that teaching English should be done by those that are professionally qualified only.

Their points are valid and their negative reaction did take the wind out of my sails somewhat. I’d always perceived volunteering as a good thing. It is something that in the UK, and I’m sure elsewhere, that is honourable and respected among peers. So I am at a loss to discover that it could be perceived so negatively.

As for the first point concerning working illegally, the traveller should always do things above the law in any country. If they choose to volunteer illegally then the responsibility is on them, however good their intentions. So for those wanting to volunteer stay safe and be aware of the law.

English teaching should be done by paid professionals they said. Personally, this of course makes sense but there are two reasons why being a paid professional doesn’t work well for the children. Firstly, there are occasions when Thai teachers are teaching English without having been taught by a native English speaker and with materials that are quite inaccurate. As much as standards vary with volunteers ability to teach English, teaching in the system isn’t infallible either.

Secondly, I know personally teachers who have had to handle classes of 50+ children. I’d be surprised if anyone that taught classes of that size could tell me that they were all attentive and taking in the lessons. From what I told they weren’t and some just had to be left by the wayside in order to educate the majority.

So then surely there is a case there for an occasional volunteer there to allow the professionally qualified teacher to engage the whole class and to promote good spoken English.

I suspect another drawback of volunteering has become its credibility. There is a belief in the UK now that it is some kind of middle class rite of passage to travel the world and volunteer in a far away place. Due to the jobs market being so competitive, there is a chance that gap year travellers aren’t volunteering for the right reasons. Volunteering is after all about helping people in some way rather than helping yourself careerwise.

Despite the shortcomings I still believe there is a place for volunteers in poorer countries, but it would need to be in a structured environment under an established charity or NGO. They can’t be the sole teacher of English but they definitely have their benefits in supporting teachers. I feel that if people are willing to give up their time, and can be used effectively and legally to support a cause, then I don’t see why voluntourism can’t thrive.

(Please be aware that this relates to the school environment and not say orphanages or community projects. It is also open to debate as it is a divisive subject so please do comment.)

Austerity, reputation and the passage of time

So in another of our blogs about the realities of start up charitable organisations, I will discuss the issue of fundraising. This is a massive part of any charity, especially if they don’t have another stream of income. So I will include various methods that are being used these days, as well as what Project Alchemy is doing.

The UK job market has recently been flooded with charity fundraiser roles that hope suitable candidates can put the FUN back into fundraising. It seems there is a torrent of them! The charities want people to go door to door, stand in city centres or phone for donations. They hope they can snare the generosity of the public and fulfil the aims of their particular charities. So why the rush for cash?

It seems to me that austerity stems the flow of cash to these larger charities. It’s almost like a war between them all to see who can get their money from the public. Through any means at their disposal the fundraisers scan for weakness, sorry I mean generosity, and do their best to sign people up for monthly donations.

For the public themselves walking through city centres has become a minefield of clipboard carrying charity fundraisers. They dodge and weave keeping their heads down as they go. They avoid the eye contact of the ‘friendly’ fundraiser as if the meeting of eyes will turn them to stone.

So what does all this mean for Project Alchemy? Well austerity has affected the whole charity sector in the UK, as well as Europe. The charities with the most resources or most innovative ways of raising funds will succeed in harsh times. We hope that fundraising through foreign currencies will be innovative enough to allow us to succeed. People are carefully watching their finances in their own currencies, but won’t even notice if they donate some small foreign notes or coins.

Another issue which is more in favour of larger organisations than smaller ones is reputation. Reputation is massive to charities, and for good reason. Funds raised by charities don’t always go to those they have stated they would help. For those in Singapore you may remember the NKF scandal and more recently in the UK the case of Bobby’s Fund.

Reputation is something that is built over time and something that doesn’t happen overnight. For Project Alchemy, as a small charity, it is likely that people will think twice about handing over money as it is ultimately very new. We fully understand this and believe that our reputation can only be developed over time, whether it is 5, 10 or even 20 years. If it takes that long then so be it, but in that time we will be supporting those we seek to help effectively and transparently. It is only through the course of time that people can see what we do, how we do it and who is involved.

All in all, as much as we avoid the fundraiser in the street they are there for a reason. They are paid to get funds for the charity, that is for certain, but their role is more important to the charity than that. Through broadcasting their charity message to the masses, they are like a political party promoting their manifesto to the electorate. Through broadcasting their cause to the people, they promote their achievements and boost their reputation.