Last week was one of the UK’s largest small donation programme spectacles… Comic Relief. This annual campaign, now in its twenty fifth year has raised over £800m for use in the UK and abroad tackling social injustice and improving the lives of millions. Capturing the heart and imagination of the UK, it has grown from a single day event into a sustained build-up of programming, activity and fundraising that culminates in over seven hours of televised entertainment and fundraising pleas.
National televised fundraising campaigns have steadily increased their reach whilst simultaneously reducing the impetus to give. I haven’t given to Comic Relief before directly but I do give to people raising money individually or as a team.
Like many in the UK, I tuned in to watch. Unlike most, I as a fundraiser was watching for ideas to ‘borrow’ that could be adapted for use at my charity. Two hours in and I was feeling the pangs of hunger after a long day at the fundraising grindstone and so headed out to the local supermarket. Twenty minutes later and I was back home with the television on and a glass of chardonnay in hand while I waited for my pizza to cook- when a voiceover came on over the video that had just started:
“Peter is dying of malnutrition- his father spent a months’ wages getting him to a hospital that had blood. But there’s nothing they can do for him. The doctors can’t get nutrients into his body. No amount of food can help Peter now.”
It hit me like a truck. Not just as a fundraiser but as a human being. Even if the chronic food shortage blighting so much of our world today were to end in an instant, Peter would still die- he needed it a day ago, a week ago, a month ago. I felt compelled to act as I looked at my bottle of wine and pizza. My dinner had just cost me £11, so I picked up the phone to donate.
The fundraiser on the other end of the phone started with “Thank you for wanting to donate to Comic Relief, how much would you like to donate?” It’s a simple way to pick up the phone (which rang for only one ring by the way), but he managed to get a thank you, a person centred message and a call to action across in less than twenty words. Ninety seconds with five easy questions later and I had made a donation, completed a gift aid declaration and signed up for updates from Comic Relief. The final message from the call handler was, “thank you for making a donation tonight, I hope you enjoy the rest of the show.” A second thank you with a second call to action in the same phonecall- amazing.
What have I taken away from the experience? Well firstly that there are calls to action that are so powerful that even those of us crafting them are immune from action. Secondly, that the standard way I answer the phone doesn’t have any inkling of a call to action- something that has to change. Finally, Comic Relief must take a bow. In one night, they have managed to convert a supporter into both a donor and an advocate- high praise indeed.