IWITOT 2020: Suma­tran Orang­utan Society’s Rain­for­est Home Appeal

Exhibited by
Felicity Spencer-Smith
February 04, 2021
Medium of Communication
Video, digital
Target Audience
New donors
Type of Charity
Country of Origin
Date of first appearance

SOFII’s view

This excellent crowdfunding appeal was a hit at the virtual edition of I Wish I’d Thought of That (IWITOT) 2020. And we can see why: it is a bold and ambitious campaign from a tiny charity that wasn’t afraid to think big. It also shows what can be achieved when an organisation considers all aspects of what will work, from corporate sponsorship to social media.

Summary / objectives

Sumatran Orangutan Society (SOS) wanted to reclaim a 390-acre Indonesian oil palm plantation that was put up for sale. Their aim was to convert it back to a rainforest and provide a more natural habitat for orangutans.

Creator / originator

Sumatran Orangutan Society


SOS was registered in 2014 - making them a new charity - and today they are run by a team of four people. But that has not held them back in their ambitions. 

They work with the local community in Sumatra, Indonesia, tackling the causes and symptoms of deforestation. The charity takes a holistic approach, supporting people on the ground in Sumatra by developing conservation programmes and partnerships, capacity building and fundraising for frontline organisations. They also advocate globally for changes to government policy and corporate practise, in an effort to enhance conservation outcomes.

SOS educates people on deforestation and the threat to wildlife, specifically the critically endangered Sumatran orangutan. They are ace at using digital to communicate their campaigns, and use brilliant storytelling to help convey what is happening on the ground in Indonesia.

In August 2018, against the backdrop of growing public concerns about palm oil farming and the emerging Extinction Rebellion movement, SOS became aware that 390 acres of Indonesian oil palm plantation had been put up for sale. There was an opportunity for them to reclaim it, but it cost £870,000. So they put in motion the Rainforest Home Appeal, their most ambitious challenge ever.

Special characteristics

The campaign was a crowdfunding appeal aiming to raise the £870,000 that could buy that 390-acre plot and convert it from a palm oil plantation back to a rainforest.

To buy the land the charity needed to raise £317,000 in the first two weeks. This was the amount needed to pay the first instalment. Further payments were then due in November and February 2019. 

Below is a breakdown of the appeal and how SOS reached new donors:

  • This was a digital campaign that included a film featuring characters from Disney’s Jungle Book, boosted by a partnership with cosmetics brand Lush. They simply asked for the company’s help and got it straight away!

  • The campaign’s aim was to target new donors not ordinarily interested in orangutans and reaching them via paid social media platforms. 
  • The campaign’s messaging tackled the tricky issues in the environmental world and buying land but also addressed why this piece of land was important, what the amazing things they could do with this land were, and really harnessed photos and stories from their partners on the ground in Sumatra to continually tell the story of the land as the campaign ramped up. They also addressed the question of why a charity would want to buy land. 
  • It really shows the impact you can have with little to no budget: they had £10,000 for paid social media and harnessed storytelling in order to get their campaign out to as many people as possible. It worked and they had donors from all over the world, with some great examples of brand-new major donors from far flung places.


The charity reached their target! 

  • SOS received donations from 42 countries around the world and from all continents (except Antarctica!). The film was shared over 9,000 times and seen 692,000 times on Facebook.
  • On Twitter, the film was viewed 194,000 times. For SOS, the highlight of this was Stephen Fry retweeting the film. This one retweet led to 8,861 engagements, 2384 retweets, 4551 likes and an instant flood of donations. This really highlights the power of having genuinely good, sharable content. 
  • They also had 20,915 views of the film on Instagram and around 9,000 views on the SOS YouTube channel post of the video.
  • In total, over 2,200 people donated to the appeal.
  • 10 people who donated to the appeal went on to become regular givers afterwards. Many others have stayed on the SOS mailing list and given additional one-off donations since the appeal ended.


Why I wish I thought of this:

  • It was timely, tapping into the environmental movement at the time.
  • It was the most ambitious appeal they’d ever run, an example of a small charity going really big with their fundraising target, and it paid off.
  • The storytelling is strong: Why this rainforest? Why Sumatra? Why do you need it now? And what exactly will your donation get?
  • There was an iconic corporate partnership with Lush.
  • And the concept was fantastic. They were crowdfunding a home for orangutans. 

Other relevant information

Due to technical issues, we sadly do not have Felicity’s video from IWITOT 2020, for which we are very sorry. 

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SOS is a small charity with a team of only four, but they achieve amazing results as they did with the Rainforest Home Appeal.
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SOS works with local communities in Sumatra, Indonesia to protect the natural habitat.
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The Rainforest Home Appeal was a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to buy a piece of land that could be turned into a rainforest. They reached their target in time and orangutans in Sumatra will now have a new home to thrive in.