We may be locked down in the physical sense but the opposite is being seen online. With a decrease in physical social interaction has come a rise in online communities. And whilst professional fundraisers are struggling to stand out amongst the numerous campaigns, or even worse their skills are furloughed in this most necessary time, it is regular everyday heroes who are taking fundraising into their own hands and excelling!

Why is this? Is fundraising really that easy? What can charities and other everyday fundraisers take from these campaigns? and other than timing, what worked so well with these campaigns and how can we replicate it in our future fundraising efforts… Let’s take a look…

1) Captain Tom’s 100 laps before 100

Captain Tom Moore aimed to walk 100 laps of his garden before his 100th birthday in order to raise £1,000 for the NHS. The initial target was hit very quickly and was then picked up by the media leading to a flood of donations. By the time he closed his fundraiser (and reached his 100th birthday) he had raised £32.7 million for the NHS.

It’s all about the story for the Captain Tom campaign

Every good campaign needs a story and every good story needs both a narrative arc and a hero, and yes this might ruin all Disney movies for you from now on — I’m sorry. But let’s take a look at the narrative arc for this campaign:

Setup: the environment, setting etc — Of course Captain Tom Moore is the hero of this story, he was a 99 year old war veteran(now he is a 100 year old war veteran), he fought for our freedom, he could be any one of our grandfathers. But his setting was equally as important, his 100 laps needed to be in his garden because of lockdown, the world was a changed place and he was stepping up for something he believed in again, just like he had during the war. Would it have worked so well if he was not an army veteran or if the 100 laps of 25m had actually been 2.5km from his home in Bedfordshire to say Stewartby railway station?

Tension: obstacles to overcome, stakes getting higher. — Captain Tom is 99 years old, could really manage this? 10 laps per day, was it achievable? Time was counting down to his birthday, what was the next fundraising milestone he would hit, was the weather going to hold up? Was lockdown going to get stricter to stop his exercise completely? There were many things to keep suspense high throughout the campaign.

Climax: the highest point of tension and a major achievement. — Captain Tom Moore reached his 100 laps on the morning of his birthday, he took part in over 50 interviews, now holds 2 Guinness World Records and had over 1.5 million people donate to his campaign.

Resolution: the end of the journey. — Captain Tom Moore has now been recognized as an honorary colonel, over £32 million will now be donated to the NHS from 1.5 million well wishers across the globe , he can stop walking and enjoy his days again and as a nation we will always remember this man.

The success of this campaign then falls on the fact there is a great character, and an amazing story arc which met with a wide audience. Without either element, there is no way this campaign would have been so huge. The press loved this story as it hit many of the newsworthiness topics; human interest, geographical proximity, cultural proximity, feel good factor, significance, impact and uniqueness, these are just a few of boxes it ticked.

If you look at similar campaigns set up out of the success of Captain Tom, none have impacted the nation so much as this one. All have done well, and better than a lot of charity crowdfunders before them, but none have hit the same level as Captain Tom. Nevertheless, all have a personal story, follow a pretty good narrative arc and have achieved wider coverage. For example, a retired Welsh farmer raised £35,000 by walking 91 laps of his bungalow on his 91st birthday on 18 April and a 6 year old Bristol boy with spina bifida, who was only recently able to walk for the first time raised almost £195,000 from walking 10m.

So what can we learn?

When launching your own fundraiser, whether it is a personal fundraising campaign or a charity campaign remember, people buy into people that they can relate to, that they can see themselves either being, aspiring to be, or may know, and that are humble and down to earth. Once you have found your characters, it is then about weaving that story arc around them and then ensuring the message gets out to the masses by ticking as many of the journalists newsworthy boxes as possible.

2) Run 5, donate 5 nominate 5

This campaign encourages people to use their daily exercise allowance to keep healthy, raise money for the NHS, and spread the word to friends. People were encouraged to walk or run 5k, donate £5 and then tag 5 friends to take part in the challenge. An initial target of £5k (which was hit in 4 days) has grown to a target of £5m. The campaign has spread virally via Instagram with over 100,000 people taking part.

It’s all about the community formed around the dopamine hits

For crowdfunding to work, you need a crowd. It seems obvious but it’s the one thing people often forget. If you aren’t going to go viral like Captain Tom (and lets be honest, most people aren’t) then you need to build a community and the larger you need/want that community to be, the more inclusive it needs to be.

Humans are social creatures and with over 6 weeks in lockdown, we are suffering from isolation, boredom and loneliness on an even greater scale than before. Our endorphin levels and dopamine hits are down as we lack hugs, can’t post amazing photos to Instagram of our ‘exciting’ lives and our daily freedoms have been cut. So taking this into consideration, what makes people feel good and can still work when times are tough, money is tight and physical interactions are banned?

A virtual challenge of course!

Virtual challenges are not new, we all remember the ice bucket challenge of 2013, but this Run 5, Donate 5, nominate 5 ticks all the boxes of endorphin release and thus became a viral sensation.

Run 5 — it is recommend to either run or walk 5km. This is a relatively easy task that the majority of the population can complete. You don’t need any specialist equipment, it doesn’t matter where you live, most fitness levels are catered for and most importantly, it complies with lockdowns 1 permitted exercise a day rule. Whether you run or walk, it’ll get your blood pumping which will release the endorphins proven to make you feel better — which in the current situation is definitely needed!

Donate 5 — it is recommend you donate £5, a figure which again is a pretty affordable ask for the majority of the population, even in these times. Studies show that donating to charity gives a dopamine hit, it gives you an ego boost that highlights you’re helping society and doing your bit, which, right now everyone is wanting to do. Because it is part of a crowdfunding campaign, it also allows you to see how many other people pledged and thus how big of a community you have now become a part of, which is key to stopping feelings of isolation.

Nominate 5 — it is recommended you then nominate 5 friends to do the challenge too. This is the key element to the success of this campaign. Firstly, it obviously will spread the reach and multiply the amount donated, which will be great for the NHS. But if we look at it from a dopamine perspective, the first two tasks (run and donate) rely on the self/inner endorphin release, you feel good because you exercised, and you feel good because you donated. Whereas this task brings those inner endorphins out into the public and turns them into social validations and external dopamine hits. You feel good because people see you exercising, you feel good because people can see you’re kind hearted as you donated, you feel good because you can show you have friends/family/a community and finally, you feel good because whatever picture(s) you post about this will bring in likes which as the media and studies have show, release dopamine. As you can see from the picture above, a lot of people post a selfie with the 5 fingers up which will also make them feel good as it shows they’re part of a bigger movement and community. This nominate 5 is really important during lockdown too as it ensures we are staying in touch with friends/family, encouraging them to release their own endorphins and reminding us that we have a community out there ready to be with us when lockdown is lifted.

Imagine if the campaign was Run 50, Donate 50, Nominate 50… would 100,000 people really have participated? Would you feel that you could participate? I definitely think I couldn’t and I would feel that this is a community I wouldn’t be welcomed into.

So what can we learn?

When launching your own campaign that you want people to form a community around, make the ask(s) easy and achievable and encourage the social sharing (of similar photos) to ensure the message spreads and that people feel a part of something bigger.

3) PPE Masks4 Heroes

James McAvoy brought this campaign to raise money to buy PPE equipment to NHS working on the frontline to the frontline. The equipment is sent to hospital trusts who then distribute it to the NHS staff. People can donate directly through the site or fundraise themselves and then donate the money to the campaign. McAvoy himself donated £275,000.

It could have been narrower and more inclusive

Although this campaign has done well, there are many reasons as to why it may not have gone as viral as the above two. Although the narrative arc is something we are aware of: doctors need masks, there aren’t enough, they’re struggling, the government doesn’t have enough, everyone’s rallying to make/buy them… there is no climax or resolution to the story, nor can there be one within a realistic time frame. This makes the story unending and therefore harder to grab a hold of. There are also so many of these campaigns to raise money for PPE equipment that it’s hard to decide which to give to and we see money dispersed between numerous campaigns, which makes it seem like less is given overall.

Another issues this campaign has is that there is no one character that stands out for us to relate too or inspire us or become our hero, as this affects all healthcare workers, they become some kind of faceless logo cartoon without personal stories or emotions to connect with, or worse, there are too many emotional stories we feel too overwhelmed by the scale of the problem. Although it is great James McAvoy donated such a huge amount and managed to get this campaign to the forefront, did he ‘hijack’ its popularity? Are people now focused more on his connection than any story or community formed and if that’s the case is he someone we can relate to or someone we believe that could ‘probably pay for the solution himself, or with his friends?’ Is he someone we see that could ‘fix the problem without having to make the regular person go out of pocket’? Is he someone that makes other people feel they can connect with him on this issue and they’re all in the same boat? These are obviously negative situations which could occur if a celebrity is involved with fundraising.

Lastly, the campaign asks you to donate, or set up your own fundraiser, or just adhere to government rules and stay home. This variety of asks confuses and dilutes the campaign. Captain Tom and the Run5 campaign had very clear asks that meant they could easily stay on top of their backers and see the impact easily. I have no doubt this campaign (and the wider campaigns surrounding it) have been a huge success, it is just not as evident and will not be as memorable.

So what can we learn?

When launching a campaign, make sure you have a story that is clear and easy to understand, make sure there is a character we can follow on the journey, and that there is a community and that community is inclusive and welcoming of everyone. Finally, make sure that there is only one clear ask.

Finally, all of these campaigns have done so well whether the decisions they made as to how they were implemented were conscious or not. There is a lot that professional fundraisers, small charities, and the everyday population can take from these to ensure that any future fundraising during Covid-19 and after has a greater chance of increasing the amount raised for all the good causes we individually support.

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