The Fundraiser - Practical advice and insight for the charity sector

Posted in Case Studies General Fundraising, Event Fundraising Innovation

How to create a successful flagship event

The Prince & Princess of Wales Hospice in Glasgow , Strictly Come Dancing

The Prince & Princess of Wales Hospice in Glasgow recreated a popular TV event to host a sell-out night annually that delivers returns year after year


The Prince & Princess of Wales Hospice provides free palliative care to the people of Glasgow, and has a fundraising target of £3.1m annually to supplement the £1.9m that is provided by the NHS. The hospice runs a successful calendar of events each year to appeal to many tastes and interests, and our aim is to continue to challenge ourselves to ensure we provide professionally managed, fun events that offer value for money while supporting a fantastic cause.


In 2010, the huge success of the BBC TV show Strictly Come Dancing gave us a great idea: we would host our own version of the event to raise funds and awareness of our cause.


The jewel in the crown


The intention was to create the jewel in the crown of the hospice’s fundraising events calendar, and that has been achieved: now in its seventh year, (A Little Less) Strictly Come Dancing is now our most-anticipated and best-selling event of the year, attended by stalwart hospice friends as well as new supporters every year. It is a must-attend event in Glasgow’s social calendar, and has even been replicated on a smaller scale by several other charities.


The fundraising and events team at the hospice devised a plan for an evening event, the hospice’s version of the top-ratings television show for a Glasgow audience, which featured top-tier celebrity guests and dancers from the BBC show. This year five couples, made up of competitors who are hospice supporters along with a professional dancer, took to the dancefloor, competing for the glitterball trophy. Meanwhile ticketed guests enjoyed a champagne reception followed by a three-course meal and entertainment from the BBC professional dancers, along with music from an 18-piece big band orchestra.


Staying focused on the cause


The aim of the event is to entertain and have fun, but most importantly it’s to return a revenue profit for the hospice to fund patient care and family support. Keeping everyone involved in this event focused on this as the primary aim has proven challenging when the event/show and its success can seem to take over.  So we need to continually remind participants of the importance their support is making to our patients and their families. Sometimes the hype of the show can take over, so we have to work hard to always keep patients and families at the forefront of people’s minds.


One way we have achieved this is by making fundraising as much a part of the competition as the dancing: the more people fundraise, the more points they earn prior to the event. The scoring at the event is based 50% on each team’s fundraising success and 50% on how they perform their dance on the night - so the more they raise, the better start they have and the more chance of winning the trophy.


As the event is always a sell-out and there is a waiting list for tickets, this year we saw an opportunity to harness those who missed out on attending the event by live-streaming it on our social media channels. This opened it up to audiences at home who could share the excitement of the competition and feel the buzz of the night, and it was a great way to encourage them to donate too.


Sparking media interest


The event has proven to be an incredible vehicle for highlighting in the media the work done at the hospice, and the imperative to bring in much-needed fundraising. In getting media coverage, we looked to our professional dancers and their contacts, as well as fundraisers for the events who spread the word. One of our participants was a journalist, and although he had to pull out on the night, he nonetheless wrote a great feature for us in the process. We also sparked media interest on the night with a photo call with our dancers and celebrity guests.


Communication and coordination of this event in particular takes more time and attention than most of the other events we run at the hospice. The main reason for this is that there are so many elements to the event, and communication and adequate briefing with all parties involved is crucial to the success and enjoyment of the night. We work as a production team from sound, vision, AV and lighting to live music and many rehearsals. There is also pre-event promotion, filming and marketing of each participant as well as the overall event. We work with a film crew and a large number of people from hosts and dancers to judges and musicians. With so many people involved in the entertainment element of the evening it becomes even more complex. In addition to that we are looking after over 600 guests for dinner, plus the other fundraising elements of the night including an auction and a raffle.


Building relationships


To ensure we build on our relationships with our dancers year on year, we look after them well, and make it an enjoyable experience for them. They introduce us to new dancers too. Our professional dancers are paid, however they also commit to helping us with fundraising on the night by auctioning off the opportunity to dance with each of them. They also take the time to meet a number of our guests on the night.


The popularity of the TV shows continues, providing us with links to its celebs on our judging panel. Alongside hosts for the night in 2016 were Carol Smillie and Bryan Burnett with a judging panel of BBC Strictly Come Dancing stars Robin Windsor and Anya Garnis, along with BBC presenter Kaye Adams and John Comrie, head judge and chairman of the British Association of Professional Teachers of Dancing in Scotland.


Growth year on year


That first event seven years ago, titled (A Little Less) Strictly Come Dancing, proved so popular that seven years later it is bigger and better than ever, going from strength to strength over the years. The team has created and developed a format that works and that has enabled the event manager to grow the event on the back of the success of the BBC TV show. In 2010 we raised £51,000 from the event; this year it brought in £91,000.


The key to the success of this event was coming up with an original idea that really caught the imagination of our supporters and then building on it over the years to continually present a top-drawer event, providing fantastic entertainment while raising much-needed funds for the hospice at the same time.


Heather Manson is director of fundraising at The Prince & Princess of Wales Hospice 

Leave a comment