The Fundraising Parable of the Good Samaritan

Published by Charlie Hulme on

Claire Squires stood at the starting line of this year’s London Marathon knowing she’d raised £500 for the Samaritans.

Hours later, when news of her death broke, donations were pouring in to her fundraising page at £500 per minute.

Claire’s death is a tragedy – but what does this phenomenon say about us and the state of fundraising today?

There’s no denying this is a tough time to be fundraising. Yet the day after the marathon saw the largest number of donations JustGiving has ever received in a single day – with more than 10,000 people donating at any given time! In just 3 days Claire raised almost a quarter of the £3.8 million that the Samaritan’s receives each year from individual donations.

Despite the bleak economic outlook we still clearly have the money to spare if a story moves us enough. Donations ranging between £2 and £250 have come from total strangers, people who had never met, or until Sunday, heard of Claire.

It’s fair to say that the vast majority of donors were giving to Claire and not the cause. Sixteen people commit suicide in the UK everyday; suicide claims more young men’s lives than road death.  But how many of these new cash donors would have responded with a gift of the same (or any) value if they’d been stopped on the street, received a call or been sent a mailing with this message?

By now there shouldn’t be anyone in the sector left debating the power of an individual’s story to motivate charity giving.

Donations on Claire’s fundraising page spiked when a picture of her taken the day before the marathon was released. We saw and heard of a young woman who gave so much of her time raising money for the causes she cared about.

This amazing outpouring of generosity is a vivid reminder of the power of storytelling to move and inspire us to take action

Claire’s the 11th person to die running the marathon in its 31 year history, but the first to do so since the explosion in social media. The proportion of donors giving online almost doubled between 2008/09 and 2009/10, but as of yet ‘Likes’ are not converting to revenue.

What makes this case so interesting is that there was no appeal, no ask. The same JustGiving page some of Claire’s friends responded to (others didn’t) was suddenly front page news. From the tragedy of one young woman’s death the world saw this simple message; no clever copy or branding…

hi guys as you all know i am running the london marathon it was just going to be for fun. but its a fab opportunity to raise money for my charity the samaritans if everyone i know could donate £5.00 that would be a great help and change lives’.

Charlie Hulme

Charlie Hulme

Charlie is MD of Donor Voice. He helps charities uncover what, of all the things they do, cause relationship strength and what is harmful. Partners see a massive improvement in performance, value and retention. Voted top speaker at the Institute of Fundraising's National Convention in 2013, he writes frequently for SOFII, 101 Fundraising, the Institute of Fundraising and many others.


Mitch Hinz · May 22, 2012 at 09:31


Absolutely heart-breaking story, and absolutely spot-on recognition of what the public response to Claire’s death means about what we do – which is to connect people who want to do something with those who can do something about it.

In this case, obviously people wanted to say how sad they were about Claire, and how her own commitment moved them to be supportive of the Samaritans as well.

Thanks for sharing it. My condolences to Claire’s friends and family.


Darth Tanner. · December 20, 2012 at 21:49

Hi Charlie,

You make a lot of valid points in your exposition, however, you failed to highlight a very important fact i.e. what really makes a donor give when approached by a fundraiser?

Was the fundraiser at the right place at the right time; or was it something the fundraiser said that led to the prospective donor giving?

There isn’t and will never be an exact science to fundraising. The owner of such privileged information would be the Chancellor of the Exchequer! Anyone who claims to have the formula should be viewed with suspicion.

Story telling can be powerful but one thing is for certain, the donor has to have the means to give in the first place.

Claire Squire’s story is a phenomenon. It’s hard to say what ‘ingredient X’ was that led to the unprecedented financial support. Would the public have responded in the same way if if she was supporting a charity that deals with third world issues?

Did the relentless media coverage help i.e. those with means were made aware of the story, as opposed to random canvassing of the rich and poor alike, which is usually the case with most fundraising organisations?

There are other issues, but I won’t go on. My point is, this isn’t as black and white as you’re making it out to be.

Like Justin Bieber’s rise to fame, or a number one hit; who can really explain these things! Sometimes, and rather inexplicably as well, the public’s response to an event, person or thing leaves analysts and experts scratching their heads.

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