The Fundraiser - Practical advice and insight for the charity sector

Posted in Ask the Experts Event Fundraising Innovation, Communications

Mass participation: the key to engagement

Laura Savory, Andy Sallnow, John Baguely, Matthew Cull

What makes the best mass participation events so engaging and memorable? Our panel of experts highlight the elements that stand out most for them, and what tips we can take away and apply when planning our own mass fundraising events


Laura Savory, head of community fundraising at Great Ormond Street Hospital Charity 


I think a great mass participation fundraising campaign is one that has tangible connections to a cause weaved into activities that supporters can engage with. I particularly admire Prostate Cancer UK’s Men United campaign. It engages with a ‘harder to reach’ male audience who traditionally put off talking about or reporting health concerns, by taking the message about health to them. Whether it’s on the football field, in the pub, or through relevant celebrity ambassadors, the charity works in the right environments to engage men with their health. As a result, the urgent call to fundraise under the banner of ‘Men United’ becomes relevant and important to the very audience supported by the funds raised.


This ethos of aligning fundraising messages with the cause is something that we aim to do at Great Ormond Street Hospital Charity too. RBC Race for the Kids, one of our biggest mass participation events, is inclusive, fun and is about spending time with family and friends. Patients running and walking alongside fundraising supporters gives us an incredible chance to show fundraisers the difference they make to those we help. Just like Men United, it really integrates the fundraising activity with its need.


Andy Sallnow, head of sporting events, Prostate Cancer UK:


We had some pretty strong feedback from one of our supporters who had ridden in another charity’s event. He said that all of the buzz from completing the event evaporated when he was presented with his finisher’s medal at the end of the ride. The shabby (his words) quality of the medal made him feel like it didn’t match up with the efforts he’d put in to ride and raising funds for the charity. Rather than seeming like a positive recognition of his work, he said it felt like an insult.


It’s a reminder that although we should always watch costs closely, there’s false economy in skimping on items meant to celebrate someone’s achievement and support if they make the person feel less valued and less likely to offer support in future. The small details sometimes really matter.


There are plenty of low-cost and free ways to recognise fundraisers’ individual support. Along with showing gratitude to our supporters by offering them decent quality charity-branded items, we’ve introduced a series of different coloured jerseys for our cyclists to recognise those who go above and beyond for us.


John Baguley, chair and founder of the International Fundraising Consultancy:


I have always loved Freedom From Torture’s Immortality Auctions where top-selling authors offer the name of a character in their next book to the highest bidder.


What I have learnt from this is that innovation is based on the past. Participants in last year’s event included William Boyd, Louis de Bernières, Tracy Chevalier, Jonathan Coe, Esther Freud, Linda Grant, Ian McEwan, Michael Morpurgo, Maggie O’Farrell, Philip Pullman and Rose Tremain. I await the clever charity that applies the idea to films, or simply chooses other innovative things to sell like the models of buildings that architects develop and which clog up their attics. There, I have given away two great ideas!


The other thing to take away and apply is that people are looking for unique opportunities, but these are usually reserved for their wealthy supporters as part of cultivation programmes, such as evenings in their patron’s home. It is great to see mass participation possibilities (yes, you can bid online too) opening up for us all. Of course, I am prejudiced as I helped set up their first Immortality Auction, but I remain a devoted fan.


Matthew Cull, deputy director of fundraising, Blue Cross:


The single most important thing to bear in mind when you are organising a mass participation event is simplicity. These days people consume ideas at speed so if your event is not easy to understand then you have lost your audience before you have even begun.


Your idea needs to be fun, easy to do and easy to share. The challenge then is to link the activity to a part of your charity's work so a key message is shared and learnt by everyone taking part, even if it is learnt subconsciously. People do not want to be lectured or patronised; they want to be engaged in a way that makes them smile first and think afterwards. And to then want to tell their friends all about it.


Simple does not mean shallow. A strong mass participation event can get a strong message across in under ten seconds. 

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