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World-record-breaking fundraising extravaganza

When Cambodian NGO Phare lost 60% of its income due to COVID, it was in danger of shutting . So it got creative, putting on a 24 hour non-stop circus event to inspire social media, set a World Record & raise $150,000. 

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Background to live and virtual special event 

Phare Ponleu Selpak is a Cambodian non profit founded by refugees from the 1970s genocide to restore the country's culture and education system after both were destroyed by the Khmer Rouge and most teachers and artists were murdered. It educates 800 disadvantaged children, and trains hundreds more in arts, music, dance and performance.

Phare funded most services through its successful circus social enterprise. COVID meant all performances closed for over nine months and Phare lost 60% of its income. Staff took huge pay cuts and programmes were cut but still Phare needed $250,000 to survive 2021.

Phare needed a fundraising campaign which would improve staff morale, bring in a new wave of motivated supporters and, crucially, raise a minimum of $50,000 and hopefully double that in order to keep its programs alive for the first half of 2021.

Photography of live event by Scott Sharrick.

The big idea

Phare proposed a virtual fundraising gala promoted through social media, but had never run a truly international gala before, let alone one online, and did not have large networks of high-worth supporters in place to make it a success. Similarly, fundraisers were reporting huge fatigue on social media around virtual galas and diminishing returns. Something needed to be done to inspire existing supporters and grab attention from people who had never heard of Phare. Its executive director signed up creative consultant Jaime Gill of Box Clever Creative on a pro bono basis to develop an innovative event and help drive forward a high impact traditional and social media campaign. How could Phare make a global fundraising impact with a small budget? And capture Phare's creativity and resilience for the world to see? His recommendation:

Phare should set a Guinness World Record by performing the Longest Circus Show Ever.

The idea was that Phare use its incredible performers to achieve something dazzling - the world's first 24 hour non-stop circus. Phare could then use the huge social and traditional media attention that always surrounds a Guinness World Record Attempt to pull people to two virtual gala viewing events, as their gateway into watching the record attempt live. The record would be bait for the international audience but also galvanise the local audience into supporting their countrymen's efforts to put this small country on the global stage.

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The execution

First step was creating an event proposal for Guinness, who approved the attempt. Phare also appointed Enjoy Productions to compere and technically support two gala viewing events. The team provided compelling content including exclusive videos and interviews with students, founders & celebrity supporters. Exciting prizes like virtual cooking lessons with a Cambodian chef encouraged donations.

Second step was the in-house team organising a live event meeting the stringent Guinness rules, which included the fact that no acts could be repeated and that 50 audience members had to be physically present at all times (even 3am!). The Phare in-house team achieved something never done before in choreographing an event of 90 performers featuring acts from 31 circus productions spanning 20 years. To make matters more complicated, all of this had to be livestreamed as fodder for the social media campaign.

Third step was promotion. Armed with just a $500 promotional budget, social media was essential. The team flooded Facebook, Instagram and Twitter with content including exciting trailers (see above), Phare facts, performer profiles, and sneak previews. The team also used tools such as Facebook Live and Facebook Events, as well as Instagram infographics, to generate a groundswell of excitement.


Fourth step was to run the unique and complex event on March 7th, with the 24 hour live show running in parallel to the two virtual gala viewings, always pushing our fundraising messages.

The results 

1) Phare met all the conditions of the Guinness World Record, with a staggering 24 hour and 10 minute event with 90 performers who

kept going despite utter exhaustion. All of the event was livestreamed on Facebook and YouTube, creating the biggest social media event in Cambodia in early 2021.


2) Counting Facebook followings alone, content reached 11,600,000 and total reach is estimated as more than 20,000,000. This led to more than 2,000 supporters from five continents joining viewing party/galas and donating $97,000. 4,000 Cambodian donors also contributed more than $40,000, meaning we have now almost tripled our $50,000 target, keeping Phare's programmes alive into 2022. It's also the biggest fundraising total from a single event in the organisation's history.

3) There were more than 440,000 organic views of the 24 hour live circus performance through social media. When trailers, victory videos and fundraisers are included there have been 1,457,000 views of content.

4) Phare massively increased its following and funding base, largely through positive media stories across Cambodia and overseas. Once Guinness have reviewed evidence and officially confirmed our record there will be further coverage and fundraising. The conditions are set for Phare not just to survive COVID but thrive, boasting a Guinness World Record to its name to demonstrate its creativity and credibility.


Phare Ponleu Selpak team - event lead and manager.
Jaime Gill - concept and creative communications lead.
Lindsay Brown - project manager.
Enjoy Productions - gala hosts and managers.
Cellcard - partners and sponsors.
The artists of Phare Ponleu Selpak and Phare Social Enterprise - record-breaking performances.

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