We all know fundraising is easier when you can demonstrate impact, but what happens when you can’t? See how The British Red Cross and Co-op raised £4m to tackle loneliness while their new service was still under development
At the outset of the British Red Cross and Co-op partnership we faced an interesting challenge: We didn’t want to spend the money until we had developed an evidence base to shape our new services – but how could we meet our target of £3.5m without being able to tell people exactly what the money would fund?
A fundamental commitment
The British Red Cross has a long and proud record of supporting people in crisis throughout the UK. Our work is founded on a fundamental commitment to meeting people’s needs as human beings – and we know that these are not limited to the practical and physical needs, but also include a need for connection to one another.
Over recent years, the British Red Cross has worked with a range of partners to develop our health and social care services, with a focus on social isolation. Our frontline staff and volunteers are increasingly reporting that many of the people using our services live alone and show high levels of social isolation and loneliness – a crisis we simply couldn’t ignore.
Overwhelming support for the cause
In July 2015 the Co-op, through its largest ever charity partnership vote (comprising over 78,000 employees and members) overwhelmingly chose to form a new two-year partnership with the British Red Cross to tackle loneliness in communities across the UK.
We were a great match. Our organisations first worked together in 1948 when the Co-op raised funds to help the British Red Cross support vulnerable people in the aftermath of the Second World War. But this time our partnership set out to go beyond fundraising – through our common commitment to mobilise people to strengthen our communities, together we would tackle a key issue in society and create positive, lasting change.
However, loneliness and social isolation today are complex issues. We needed to carefully consider our approach and gain a deeper understanding of the issues before we could develop long term-solutions that would make a real difference to the people who needed them most.
Identifying the gaps in our knowledge
Our partnership began by building on our own experience in independent living and developing more comprehensive evidence. We reviewed 100 pieces of research from the past 40 years to gain a deeper understanding of the serious and widespread impacts of loneliness, and identify gaps in existing knowledge. We then commissioned leading social researchers Kantar Public to fill these gaps. They worked alongside 45 experts, more than 100 people with experience of loneliness and over 2,500 members of the public, with the findings published in our report, Trapped in a Bubble.
This research was published in December 2016, and we could finally announce details of the brand new services we would launch in light of this study. By this point – just over a year after our partnership was launched – we had far exceeded the £3.5m fundraising target for our two-year partnership, raising over £4m with the Co-op. We had successfully inspired Co-op colleagues, customers and members to support us, fostering their strong emotional connection to tackling loneliness – and all without being able to give our supporters specific details on services the British Red Cross would deliver with the money raised.
So how did we achieve this?
A strong personal connection
Fundraising remained the central element while our research was carried out, being a vital tool to help us raise awareness of the partnership among Co-op colleagues and members. There was clear enthusiasm and support for tackling loneliness, an issue that evidently many Co-op employees and members had a strong personal connection with. Tens of thousands of them had voted in support of our charity partnership, and research had shown that one in three Co-op members knew someone they thought was lonely, with one in seven having personally experienced loneliness themselves. We knew that harnessing this enthusiasm would be key to achieving high levels of engagement across the business and conduct a successful fundraising campaign.
To do so, the British Red Cross and the Co-op worked together to deliver creative and engaging national fundraising initiatives across the UK. Our first flagship event, The Big Red Weekend in May 2016, raised over £400k in just three days. It was announced at the Co-op AGM the same month that we had achieved 100% engagement across all food stores – the first time this had ever been achieved across the business.
Getting everyone on board
This level of engagement was a key reason for our success and was due in large part to strong organisational support. Senior staff from across the business were appointed to lead on the partnership, including Co-op Food’s south division manager as ‘sponsor’. Having such key figures involved put the charity partnership at the top of the Co-op’s agenda internally, and these employees were instrumental in maximising engagement throughout the year.
This level of organisational support was also matched at the British Red Cross. Our community fundraising team and retail shops in particular played a significant role in helping to build strong, local relationships between our organisations that will outlive the partnership and remain an important legacy. For example, following a successful Red Shoe Walk event in Cambridge with over 140 local Co-op participants who collectively raised over £30,000, our community fundraiser who organised the event was invited to open a new store in the area:
A dedicated hotline for support and stewardship
We also had a dedicated partnership hotline for colleagues and members that managed requests for co-branded materials and offered inspiration, advice and support for their own events. Through the hotline we were also able to implement a stewardship engagement plan. We targeted the most successful stores, thanking them for their contribution to the British Red Cross, but also contacted stores that hadn’t raised as much, helping them identify fundraising opportunities at their store while also encouraging them to participate in our flagship events.
From bake sales and raffles, treks across the country dressed as Darth Vader, marathons, cycles, coffee mornings and gunge baths, Co-op staff went above and beyond to help us tackle loneliness. In just one example, three members of the Co-op logistic team organised their own Tour de Co-op, cycling 550 miles in five days and raising over £5,000 for the partnership:
It was truly inspiring to see how strongly the Co-op staff backed the cause and wanted to make a real difference in their communities. Their hard work and dedication has put us in an excellent place in 2017, and we are now ready to use the money they have tirelessly raised to start changing the lives of thousands of lonely and isolated people across the UK.
Looking ahead: recruitment and service delivery
Thanks to the fundraising efforts of Co-op colleagues, members and customers, over the next two years the British Red Cross will be providing direct, personalised support for up to 12,500 people experiencing loneliness or social isolation of all ages across all four nations of the UK.
We are recruiting brand new teams of dedicated staff and volunteers to deliver new services in almost 40 locations, from the north of Scotland to the west of Cornwall. In a further sign of their commitment to our partnership, more than 100 Co-op members have already applied to volunteer for the services they have funded
These services will prevent loneliness when people are at risk, respond to people experiencing lower levels of loneliness, including around moments of transition in their lives, and restore people’s confidence and sense of connection when they have experienced loneliness over a longer period of time.
Gaining leverage through strong organisational support
All of this wouldn’t be possible for the British Red Cross without our partnership with the Co-op and the support of their employees and members. Our experience has shown that when co-creating a project from scratch with a corporate partner, you can overcome initial difficulties of not being able to communicate specific impacts and fundraise for a service that is still in development. As long as there is strong support for the issue from the corporate partner and you achieve high engagement across the business, there’s no reason you cannot run a successful fundraising campaign.
Julie Milnes is head of corporate partnerships at the British Red Cross