BT MyDonate

BT's 'mind-boggling' support for charity telethons

With payments now taken over the phone, through the internet and by text, the support for a telethon is complex - BT provides up to 12 sites and a small army of volunteers to staff the telephones

The comedian Lenny Henry helps out with a telethon
The comedian Lenny Henry helps out with a telethon

This is a sponsored feature provided by BT MyDonate

UK telethons and appeals have come a long way since the 27-hour televised marathons of the 1980s. Regular telethons such as Comic Relief, Children In Need and Text Santa are supported by celebrity cameos, music artists and videos from the supported charities. It’s not only the TV format that has changed; nowadays, payments are taken on the night over the phone, through the internet and by text.

While the format has changed, the objective remains the same – to gather mass donations for a cause regardless of whether that cause is rebuilding a church roof or providing emergency support for a mass disaster. These appeals are crucial fundraising elements for all charities, large and small, but setting one up can be daunting, especially if you’ve never been involved in one before – but there is often help available.

The iconic image of a telethon is the BT Tower, which during a telethon is manned by 180 telethonists (all volunteers from within BT). Although this is the image most people think of, the BT Tower is only one of up to 12 sites that BT provides for these events, with other call centres and offices getting involved. Many other companies also provide facilities and volunteers, providing a workforce army to staff the phones for a charity’s event.

Companies and employees love to support a charity appeal. It’s not just a way to help a charity, but also great for teambuilding, networking and letting corporate employees contribute using their skills and time. Anna Murray, senior marketing & communications manager at BT, recently took part in her first telethon and, although a seven-hour stint on the phones was daunting, she found it to be "a great experience. Not only did the time fly by, but it was fantastic to be part of a team raising so much for a great cause. It was lots of fun and I’m definitely keen to do it again."

BT has been involved with pretty much every telethon and appeal ever run in the UK. The complexity of running a national charitable telethon is mind-boggling, with network capability, telephony and call routing to think about. The consultancy support and pre-event planning for a project such as Children In Need starts about six months before the event, but when a crisis sucha s the Nepal earthquake or Typhoon Haiyan occurs, BT needs to react quickly – for that reason the BT MyDonate telethon platform is in a permanent state of readiness.

"There’s no better feeling than looking back after a telethon and knowing that it has surpassed the expectations of the charity for that night," says Dave Wiggins, programme manager at MyDonate. "So much work goes into planning a telethon that we need to ensure phone calls are routed correctly, monitor donation routes and prepare for spikes when certain appeal clips air. Whenever Sir Terry says ‘let’s go over to the totaliser’ and ‘haven’t we done well’, it’s a great feeling because that’s our team feeding the value of donations across to the production team in Television Centre."

If your charity is thinking of holding an appeal or telethon and needs support, you can register an interest in BT’s telethon service to charities by clicking here.

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