Open Fundraising


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I think we can all agree that selfies are a ‘thing’. I don’t want to open this post with a snarky selfie explanation, as chances are the one you just took is still uploading to Facebook.

And unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ll have heard about the somewhat accidental #nomakeupselfie viral campaign that raised around £8m for Cancer Research UK earlier this year.

As ever, with a thing that is big and well publicised, it divided opinion. It was labeled unifying, sexist, philanthropic, vain, supportive, pointless, revolutionary and lazy.

Whatever your thoughts, the fact is that £8 million is nothing to be sniffed at.

£8 million can potentially help a lot of people.

Which is why the selfie is a bit of a ‘thing’ in charity now too. Don’t call it a bandwagon, but in a sector that has a responsibility to rely on results, selfies have shown that, beyond all the pouting and posing – they can be a force for good.

But only sometimes.

I’ve worked on briefs recently where a selfie made sense. Asking people to share a positive message, a healthy start to the day or a silly snap for their mates.

But what happens when you lose perspective? That when faced with feelings of helplessness, you add weighty meaning to a useless snapshot that will help no one, and change nothing?

This is what happens. This.


Still, I think there are a few good charity selfie ideas to be had. Will they all go viral? No. Will they all make £8 million? Unlikely.

But while they remain a ‘thing’, I think our challenge as fundraisers is to just try and give them a bit of heart.

To take the selfish out of the selfie.


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Last month, we won a record three awards at the IOF.


Two were for mobile campaigns, a part of our work that’s innovative and fairly public. We were so excited to have that work recognised, but in truth, we spend the majority of our time here at Open developing strategies and creative for traditional channels like mail. Which made our award for Best Donor Development Campaign with Sightsavers, all the sweeter.


It didn’t win because it looked nice and smashed target (though both are true). It was a textbook piece of direct mail, a melting pot of proven data and creative tactics. Here’s what we did…


We replaced a long established conceptual approach to appeals (covering a variety of sight saving work) with a pared back execution focusing on one hard-hitting problem – trachoma.


We told a compelling story of what happens on the front line and introduced donors to the amazing Fred, whom you can see pictured above.


We gave the donor something individual and tangible they could do to help (pay for drugs to prevent the disease spreading and operations to restore sight).


We asked them to give an amount that was personal to them and relative to their previous giving. And every ask amount was equated to a number of drug treatments or operations. No ask ladders. No random prompt amounts.


We asked them to give something of themselves too. Depending on their specific ask, we requested they write a card to a recovering patient or a message on a sticker for pallets of drugs they’d paid for. Almost 2,000 people rose to the challenge, which was a first for the charity (1 in 5 responders).


As a result Sightsavers raised double the gross income expected, despite mailing 40% fewer donors than the previous Spring.


Clear beats clever. Give it a go and see what it does to your fundraising.

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Six months ago this week, I joined Open Fundraising after four years on the client side. It was a good decision. Agency life suits me well and it’s been happy landings.


But having worked at charities – where failing to bring in cake on your allotted day was a sackable offence – I sometimes think my colleagues here don’t understand the true value of a good home bake. Don’t get me wrong – they’ll eat it faster than I can make it. But it’s more than a foodstuff. My love of cake goes deeper.


There’s something about the alchemical process of watching your ingredients rise that lends a little magic to the average Thursday. And among our inboxes, print specs and deadlines, it’s a simple reminder of the camaraderie, and old-fashioned charity, at the heart of what we do.


As we push boundaries, it reminds us where we came from. New things are exciting, and you can get creative with your bakes, but however clever you get, it’s vital you stick to the recipe.


Because all good cake, like all good fundraising, has a core formula, proven to work. So whatever fancy icing we put on top of our product to make it that bit tastier, the same key ingredients must go in every time. And if your fundraising has all the right ingredients – if you make it personal, powerful and urgent – it will rise.


So there you go. You had no idea how integral cake was to your cause did you? Having laboured just about every cake-is-fundraising analogy there is, I’ll be serving up this fruity little number at 4pm.


Do pop in if you fancy a slice.