4 things we need to learn from the #nomakeupselfie phenomenon

Published by Georgia Bridgwood on

nomakeupselfiePart 1. Successful mass participation relies on behavioural insight

I’m sure you’re aware of campaigns that started with the intention of “going viral”; if you haven’t worked on one. I know I have. It never works.

They fail because they try to force-feed the public with a key message, or get people to do an activity that’s somehow ‘relevant’ to their cause. But asking people to alter their behaviour is a big request. Only your die-hard supporters love you enough to do that – and that normally means it’s not enough people to form a critical mass.

The reason this movement was so successful was because it incorporated several key existing behaviours of the public. We like to:

a) Get credit for stepping outside our comfort zone
b) Get credit for doing something ‘good’
c) Feel part of a bigger movement
d) Make public declarations of friendship (by nominating people)
e) We don’t want to interrupt our busy lifestyles

Criticism came as: “what has taking make up off got to do with cancer?”. The point is, it’s something quick and easy for any woman to do – she does it in private each night anyway. It doesn’t cost anything. You don’t have to go to a certain place at a certain time to do it. You’re not committed to raise any particular amount. You can just take 2 minutes out of your day to join the conversation and do something positive.

It worked not because it was super-relevant to “cancer awareness” (which isn’t really a thing anyway – we all know what cancer is, and how devastating it can be). It worked because it’s accessible.

A word of warning. Yes, it’s current. Selfies are the buzzword of 2014. But if anyone tried to kick-start another #nomakeupselfie campaign next year, it wouldn’t have anywhere near the same impact. We’ll have moved on (remember when people said YOLO? Me neither). Zeitgeist has a sell-by date.

2. Fundraising via mobile is about more than having a text code

Predominantly, #nomakeupselfie donations came in via text. People took the photos with their phones, shared them via social media apps on their phones – and (after some “if you want to do something good, donate” backlash) proved that they’d given by taking screen shots of ‘thank you’ texts on their phones. Of course the best channel to use was mobile.

Cancer charities who could ride thought “if only” about the amount of potential Gift Aid they’ll lose out on, because the incidence of declarations is miniscule for text giving. Those of us with a new cohort of donors to steward are wishing we knew their names, and had the option to email and/or write as well as calling them on their mobiles.

But the truth is, for this type of micro-donation movement rooted in social media, the best way to capture the moment is via the quick and easy option (see part 1!). If we tried to force people online, the average gift would be higher, we’d have more information, but far fewer people would’ve given.

What’s been really disappointing for me as a mobile fundraising geek is that many charities have shown themselves to be doing only the bare bones around text giving.

We’ve been talking about mobile for years now. It’s not the next big thing – it’s here, and we need to up our game.


There’s been wide publicity around people inadvertently adopting polar bears. Some of the ‘thank you’ messages had spelling mistakes in. Some I saw didn’t provide a link when they asked for Gift Aid. The evidence of charities being slick has been few and far between.

Several smaller charities jumping on the bandwagon were using JustTextGiving rather than having their own mobile service set up. This is immensely frustrating because the difference in functionality and control you get means that using JTG is a far greater opportunity cost.

In any other medium we know the importance of providing a really positive experience for the donor – both at the point of giving and beyond. We all put thought into how we speak to people, capture their data and use it effectively.

Why then, as a sector, are we so reluctant to do the same for text giving?

3. Long-term brand investment helps, but it’s not everything

The amount of money raised by CRUK from the #nomakeupselfie craze is in another dimension. They’re one of the “big boys” of the sector. Those of us at other cancer charities who raised a modest amount enviously point out their huge advertising budget. Everyone knows about Race for Life. They’ve got 000s more followers than anyone else on Facebook. I bet their social media team is at least five-strong.

These things are all true – and of course they all help. But CRUK also jumped on the opportunity quickly and got their text code out there. They shared regular, personal messages from the team saying thank you. They created and shared special content that told all these new-found supporters how their money would be spent.

These touches don’t cost anything – but are smart, simple executions of the donor stewardship that we all know makes great fundraising. We need to not panic when we react to outside influences – but to connect our supporters with their impact, in the same way as we would any campaign of our own that we’d planned months in advance.


4. Don’t be afraid of some backlash

I saw one blog post that talked about why the #nomakeupselfie thing wasn’t so great. It pointed out that there had been several criticisms: it’s got nothing to do with the cause, it’s sexist, people should donate quietly and not have to shout about it. It argued we should be wary of the silent impact of a non-perfect campaign:

“[A search on Twitter] also reveals a growing distaste for people publicly sharing the fact that they’ve made a donation to a charity… there are many people who think donating so publicly completely removes the selflessness of the act. So while we will raise more money by encouraging sharing of donations, we will continue to alienate this growing group of people.”

We’ve all seen complaints from prospects who’ve been approached on the telephone, the street, or in the mail angrily saying that if this is how we conduct ourselves they want no part of it. And of course we need to be wary of the “silent” impact our campaigns have – when people are disgruntled, and lose respect for the brand, but aren’t angered enough to contact you.

But if we all paid too much attention to that, we’d never do anything new or exciting. It makes me sad that as a sector we’re so eager to please that we rarely truly make a noise. Had it not been out of our hands, this campaign would have got through to focus groups, experienced the same criticisms, and been dropped as “too risky”.

The thing is, the person described above is the sort of person who swears at telephone fundraisers. They change station when a DRTV advert puts starving babies on their screen. They’re exactly the sort of person we pay data agencies large amounts of money to help us avoid. They’re not our demographic.

So if you stand to gain enormous awareness and unrestricted income then, frankly, who cares?

Georgia Bridgwood

Georgia Bridwood is a passionate young fundraiser with a focus on direct marketing. Prior to her current role at Breakthrough Breast Cancer where she runs, among other things, the award winning "TLC" campaign she worked as an Individual Giving Executive at The Prince's Trust. Her first fundraising role was in community fundraising at Action for M.E., a small health charity based in Bristol, where she had previously completed a BA in History. Georgia is motivated by shaping content to inspire and reward donors by connecting them directly with the beneficiary.


Gary Shearin · June 16, 2014 at 14:50

Great piece Georgia.

Jolene Retallick · June 16, 2014 at 19:02

Really good post, especially the way you dealt with the criticism of the campaign (how could the charities have done anything about it anyway?!).

On a side note, are there any text giving services that you particularly recommend? I’m aware of the drawbacks of JTG but know too little about the alternatives. Thanks.

Erika Jahn · June 16, 2014 at 20:30

“So if you stand to gain enormous awareness and unrestricted income then, frankly, who cares?”

This seems like a terrible thesis. What about your ethics, or your brand? It seems to me that unrestricted income and awareness should not come at all or any costs, so while some of your points here make sense, the conclusion seems wildly irresponsible.

Here is an excellent #nomakeupselfie article from my friend Daisy that I highly recommend: http://daisyraphael.wordpress.com/2014/03/27/pretty-pictures-my-makeup-free-selfie-2/

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