Abandon prejudice and resurrect the raffle

Raffles, lotteries and other prize competitions will help to engage new supporters during the economic downturn.

In charities across the land, the 'r' word that many hoped never to utter is out. Long denied and feared, economic reality has made it unavoidable. Like it or not, many charities are now coming to terms with 'raffles'.

The latest lottery proceeds reported by the Gambling Commission show growth of 22 per cent. I am ready to predict that, faced with a choice between painful cost-cutting or a move into raffles and competitions, this trend will accelerate.

Why is this? Raffles, other lotteries, games and prize competitions have operated on the fundraising margins for decades. Dismissed by those with a vainglorious attachment to 'brand values', these techniques have been excluded from the mainstream fundraising mix.

This is a missed opportunity bordering on criminal irresponsibility, and underlines the paucity of marketing expertise inside many charities today. Even in a downturn, conviction donors will continue to give to big brands with compelling causes. But for many organisations, neither the brand nor the cause is ever enough.

The lottery and games arena provides smaller charities in particular with the chance to engage with a new audience, raise revenue and, importantly, begin a journey that often delivers committed supporters.

I have long argued that fundraisers must be able to deliver a more equitably balanced offer to potential supporters: a deal that promises a fair exchange for their charity pound. The raffle and other competition models provide the ideal structure to achieve this in a cost-effective way.

Some charities worked this out years ago. Age Concern, the PDSA and WRVS are examples of successful fundraising with lotteries. They know that a lottery offer can achieve a 300 per cent uplift over a conventional cash ask and, in so doing, drive down the cost of acquisition.

A note of caution, though: plagiarism was a handy technique for Shakespeare, but in our crowded market it is a scourge. When I developed the original raffle label concept at the PDSA in 1996, it was predictable it would be copied. Now it's hard to find a raffle pack that does not have this feature, plus a number of other formulaic elements. If the intention is to bore the market and depress response, this is the way to do it.

Creative thinking is required. Lottery law has changed and we can now do things that were previously impossible. Who will be the first to devise a genuine 'win a house' raffle?

There are numerous illegal commercial schemes around. But if a charity with a legitimate lottery could raffle an otherwise unmovable legacy bequest in the form of a property ... now there's an opportunity shining out from the recessionary gloom.

5 MORE THINGS ...

The upper limit on the price of lottery and raffle tickets was abolished in September 2007 by the Gambling Act 2005. However, a minimum of 20 per cent of each ticket sale must go back to the charity, with the rest split between prizes and expenses.

The limit on total proceeds for one lottery is £2m, with a total of £10m in annual turnover.

Charities can recruit weekly lottery players and sell tickets door-to-door, but they may not be sold in the street. Tickets can also be sold on the internet and by telephone. However, organisations using this technique must obtain a special licence from the Gambling Commission to do so.

Remote lotteries, for example by mobile phone, are permitted but are subject to an approval process and licensing by the Gambling Commission. Participants must be provided with a 'virtual' ticket.

Almost 9,500 large lotteries were conducted for good causes during the past 12 months and at least one charity lottery is expected to exceed £10m in proceeds in 2009.

- Clive Mollett is chair of the Lotteries Council

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