What Can Small Charities Learn from Red Nose Day?

Red Nose Day 2013

Red Nose Day 2013

15th March is Red Nose Day – the UK’s high profile fundraising focus for the Comic Relief charity.  And in 2013 it’s not any old RND but the 25th anniversary (a fact that makes me feel rather old.  It can’t possibly be 25 years since I left high school!!).

Each Red Nose Day raises in the region of £75m by encouraging the general public to ‘Do Something Funny for Money’ – encouraging the creative side of the nation (as well as those who want to raise sponsorship for sitting in a vat of baked beans).  Sales of red noses appeal to everyone, particularly children, and up and down the country schools, nurseries, workplaces, universities and pubs take part in the fundraising.

So what, if anything, can small charities learn from Comic Relief and Red Nose Day?  Clearly, you can’t compete in terms of publicity (RND is given over an entire evening on BBC1 as well as programming in the run up to the main event) but are there any lessons you could take from this hugely successful fundraising campaign?

1. TELL YOUR STORY – Red Nose Day shows people where their money will actually go by telling the often times heartbreaking stories of the people that directly receive support throughout the year from Comic Relief grants (which is what RND fundraising money is used for).  Many a RND viewing in our house has involved me, glass of wine in one hand, phone in the other making a donation through tears.  It’s not about being clever or manipulative.  Well, actually, it is clever but it’s clever in that RND shows the donor what difference their money will actually make.  To real people.

2. MAKE IT PERSONAL – yes, Comic Relief needs huge amounts of money to do what they do but they also demonstrate beautifully the difference your £5 or £10 will make.  The most memorable for me being that £5 can buy a mosquito net that will actually save a child’s life.  Powerful stuff to know that wee blue note in your purse (the equivalent of a couple of posh coffees) can save a life.  Can you do similar with your charity?  What difference will relatively small amounts make to you?  And if too difficult to break it down like this, can you show people the part they will play in your appeal?

3. MAKE IT EASY – Watching one of the run up programmes to RND, which featured a story about an 11 year old boy who was bringing up his younger brothers and sisters after losing both of their parents to Aids – my 7 year old saw the text number to donate a fiver and said, ‘You need to do that Mummy”.  So I did.  Talk about seamless.  Text the number, your gift is automatic (via your mobile provider) then I received a text asking me if I’d make the donation tax effective through Gift Aid.  Yes, please.  Two steps, hardly any information required and it was done.  Small charities can’t afford to invest in these type of systems but you can make it easy for people to donate.

  • Put a huge donate button on your website that clearly signposts where people should go to make a gift.

  • Have that donate button link up to a platform such as JustGiving or FirstGiving or VirginGiving – or any of the others out there – that only asks for the information required and makes it easy for donors to make their gift tax efficiently.

  • Give suggested donation amounts so people don’t have to figure out what to give.  Signpost for them what they can give and the difference it will make.  3 amounts max. plus an ‘open’ donation where they get to choose.

  • Have a thank you set to go out.

  • Collect email addresses as part of this process and add people to your email list so you can keep in touch with news about your appeal/project/charity throughout the year.

4. SURPRISE PEOPLE – there is nothing funny about poverty or the story I just told you about the boy and his family (or the fact that the 11 year old had actually died since making the film) but RND has humour at its heart.  We’re all used to it in the UK now but the original concept meant that people who probably wouldn’t have given to charity before, tuned in to something they were interested in (comedy) and through that medium, were encouraged to give.  It appeals to a huge range of people.  Those who love raising sponsorship to do crazy things, those who’d rather watch comedians being funny, those who like alternative comedy and those who prefer the mainstream.  What can your charity do to appeal to a wide range of people?  Can you run 2 or 3 different kinds of events throughout the year that will appeal to different types of people?  Can you use social media to leverage events – e.g. by tweeting live or taking photos and posting them online – to make those who aren’t there feel part of the action? Can you run different types of appeals or provide a range of ways of people getting involved – events, campaigning, volunteering, social media engagement?

5. PROFILE – RND has a huge profile which no small charity is going to be able to emulate (and most large ones can’t either, so don’t feel too bad).  However, you can use different platforms to raise awareness of your charity.  For example, online through social media or through the local press (who are always looking for a story to run if you need publicity), through networking events, making presentations at Rotary Clubs or business groups – the list is endless.  So where can you raise your profile that won’t cost money or take too much time?

6. CONSISTENCY – Each year, RND has a slightly different red nose design and different TV programmes and events going on but the brand is clear, instantly recognisable and everyone knows what it’s about and what they are asking you to support – the poorest people in the UK and the third world.  Can the same be said about your charity?  Make sure that all of your messages – whether fundraising or not – are consistent and represent your brand.  That way, people will understand what they are giving to without huge amounts of explanation.

Just a few lessons from Red Nose Day – are there any others you think I’ve missed?  Please add them to the comments below – I also appreciate your views.

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