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Woolly Hat Day: Simple, inclusive and effective fundraising

Synchronised skaters perform for Woolly Hat Day.jpg

With Woolly Hat Day now in its 6th year, St Mungo’s Rebecca Sycamore explains how the initiative is evolving, and why corporates and celebrity supporters keep coming back for more


The idea for Woolly Hat Day originally arose when we were looking for a way to connect new supporters to St Mungo’s and to find a different way to talk about homelessness.


Having reviewed other ideas, including sleepouts, we asked our clients for their feedback and they felt that it was time for something more positive than the bleak imagery that often accompanies homelessness campaigns.


While the Woolly Hat concept still chimes with public perceptions around cold and discomfort in relation to the sharp end of homelessness, asking people to put their hats on to help homeless people is a fun activity, and one that is about showing people they can easily help. It also gives us a chance to talk about the projects we run that give our clients the support and skills they need to reclaim their lives.


Simple and inclusive


One of the main strengths of Woolly Hat Day is its simplicity and inclusiveness – we ask that you simply wear a hat, donate a few pounds and help change a life. For the corporates we work with, it’s proven to be a great opportunity for them to engage employees in a positive activity that can bring people together to raise funds and help make a difference.


Key to the success of our Woolly Hat Day corporate partnerships is allowing businesses the flexibility to interpret the day in a way that best fits with their organisational culture. After all, they know the best way to galvanise support from their staff, clients or customers in order have the biggest impact, whether it’s holding a full silly hat day to a bake sale to a quiz event with a Woolly Hat Day theme. Sale of our orange Woolly Hat Day pin badges for £2 is one way many business supporters have raised money within their businesses, keeping it easy and simple to contribute.


Being so easy to do, the campaign also lends itself very well to gaining celebrity support. Famous faces who have expressed an interest in lending a hand but who have extremely busy diaries can simply sign a hat and send it our way for our celebrity hat auction – giving us another great way to help raise the profile of the day.


This year, we also looked further than corporates and celebrities and got the London Adult Figure Skating Club involved in Woolly Hat Day. A team of skaters took to the ice wearing their orange woolly Bobble hats, and it was a great opportunity for them to deliver the campaigns’ message to their audience and ask them to make a contribution. And, because ice skating is associated with winter and the cold, it was an opportunity that aligned perfectly with our campaign.


Growing and developing Woolly Hat Day


Over the six years we’ve been holding Woolly Hat Day, we’ve learned some important lessons that have enabled us to continue developing and honing the day. The main change in that time has been moving Woolly Hat Day from October to January. We held the first three Woolly Hat Days in October, but after a review and a look at other big charity dates at the same time (Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Children in Need)  – not to mention that it often wasn’t that cold – we decided to move to January.


Cancer Research has started to dispel myths around not fundraising in January, the weather is also more likely to be cold or wet, or both, and in winter we know public awareness and empathy for people experiencing homelessness is at its highest. Essentially, the move to January gives us an added urgency, while also reinforcing the feeling of hope and renewal that a new year brings.


Another way we’ve developed Woolly Hat Day over the years is by steadily involving more and more of our 250 different services – especially our hostels and housing projects – so that the day ties in better with these. Throughout the year, as we build new links and grow our existing relationships with local communities, at the same time we gather stories about our beneficiaries and how our services have helped them, which we then use to amplify conversations about Woolly Hat Day on social media.


A broader appeal


Year-on-year, we have added to our ideas and suggestions in order to broaden the appeal of the day. We now send out Woolly Hat Day cupcake recipes for community groups and facilitate colouring competitions for schools, and over the time we’ve been running Woolly Hat Day the use of social media has grown and changed significantly, which has helped us think differently about our reach and interaction with people.


We always have a review after each Woolly Hat Day to see what we’ve learned and what we can do better. This year we’re going further than this, and will be conducting an evaluation which will help us make decisions about the future of the day and how we can fulfil them. We want to get feedback from our supporters, and will also be looking for some external support to help us shape our thinking about the future of Woolly Hat Day.


Internal challenges


Organising a fundraising and awareness day is not without its challenges internally; perhaps the biggest one being that it can be easy to get swept up in activity and lose sight of what contribution is being made to the longer-term fundraising strategy. Keeping the fundraising element at the forefront of minds, and making sure the balance between long-term and short-term return on investment is considered, has been really important as Woolly Hat Day has grown and evolved.


Whatever changes we make, we remain clear on our objective: We’re here to end homelessness and to support our clients to rebuild their lives – they are at the heart of everything we do.


There are some serious messages behind Woolly Hat Day, but there is also hope, and that is in line with our own values which include empowerment, creativity and inclusion.


Rebecca Sycamore is executive director of fundraising and communications at St Mungo’sTo find out more about Woolly Hat Day visit

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