Charity events are about more than fundraising on the day. Stephanie Beswick explains how high-profile events can be used to cultivate new supporters and long-term partnerships
Every year in October, 22 women and men with a diagnosis of breast cancer strut their stuff on the catwalk in The Show: a high profile, high fashion event hosted by Breast Cancer Care to herald the start of Breast Cancer Awareness month.
It’s our flagship event and it attracts more than 1,000 guests to both the afternoon and evening shows at Grosvenor House on London’s Park Lane. Friends and family, celebrity guests and corporate partners join forces to watch the models, styled by fashion correspondent Hilary Alexander, take to the runway.
Live and learn
The London event, which has been going for 15 years, raised a fantastic £345,000 in 2012 and the money we raised will help Breast Cancer Care provide expert information and professional support to the 55,000 people diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK every year.
We also hold a show every September in Glasgow, and a bi-annual event in Cardiff. The Glasgow show has been running for 10 years and the Cardiff one is still in its infancy. The first Cardiff event took place in 2010 and we have held two in total so far.
We think of The Show as a series of events and we make sure they are linked, rather than treating them as three separate events. The strategies feed into each other and we take learnings from each event to inform the others.
Planning for a high profile event takes a whole year. In fact, as soon as one event is over, we get the date in the diary for next year’s event and get to work on the strategy for the next.
When planning our strategy, we take elements from previous shows into consideration, including ticket sales, key messaging, the present economic climate, budget targets and our sponsorship strategy. We also work closely with our corporate team and the committee, a group of long-term supporters - many whom have been affected by breast cancer themselves, who give their time to us for free.
We recruit our models early too. Applications start coming in from mid-November and the deadline is the 31st of January. It’s important for us to get a cross-section of people, including at least one man, to represent a diverse range of experiences with breast cancer so starting the process early means we have time to get it right.
Promotion is another essential part of the long-term planning. We want to sell the maximum number of tickets, so we work with our press team to consider models who can help us raise awareness of an array of issues affecting people with breast cancer through the media. Media work is an intrinsic part of being a model and many of the people we work with really enjoy appearing in regional and national media to promote The Show. This year our media coverage reached a circulation of 150,846,939.
As well as fundraising during the event itself, The Show also acts as a hook for other parts of the organisation. It is a platform to engage new partners and companies for future projects and network with them, allowing us time to talk about what we do. We make sure everyone has detailed biographies of our guests to ensure they are well looked after.
The event is also a fantastic way to thank present corporate partners, as well as supportive journalists and organisations. Existing corporate partnerships have a huge role to play in The Show and we will always approach them first. For example, if we have a long-term partnership with a lingerie brand, we will go to them first when looking for our lingerie gifts in kind. That way we make use of all the great contacts from each team and support the organisation in the best possible way.
A large scale event can also help tap into funding for different campaigns or parts of the organisation by bringing the work you do to life. This year we asked guests at The Show to pledge £52 towards our Younger Women’s services, which aim to unite and support women under the age of 45. Not only did this raise awareness of this vital service among our guests, it also brought in funds of £6,000 on the night.
The Show also allows people who are affected by breast cancer to connect and find support. Many of our models go on to form close friendships and support networks that exist for years after the event itself. It’s an experience that stays with them for life.
Back to the future
Evaluation takes place directly after The Show for about a month. We de-brief with the committee and get feedback from the teams across the organisation, our models, guests and volunteers; asking what worked well and what could be improved. We compare this with the same things from the previous three years so we can see where how we are doing in terms of ticket sales and budgets.
One the most important things we have learned, is that less is more. It’s better not make the running order jam-packed, to keep the speeches shorter, and the key messages clear and crisp. Audiences prefer something simple. This also allows for natural breaks, so guests can reflect on the cause and network.
Small learnings are important too and every year we look at small details to keep things fresh. For example, in 2012 it was difficult to differentiate between the gold donor and the standard tickets as ‘gold donor’ was written in small text across the ticket. It wasn’t clear until you looked closely and this slowed everything down. For next year, our gold donor tickets will be in different colour so they are easier to differentiate and this will speed things up.
The Show is so effective as a fundraising tool, it shows the reality of breast cancer and how it affects real people. For the last couple of years we have included a speech from a model talking about how breast cancer has affected them, their lives and their families, which has proved to be extremely powerful. It is strong and emotional elements of The Show like this that really assists with our fundraising.
Stephanie Beswick is special events manager at Breast Cancer Care.