NEWSMAKER: The man behind the nose - Kevin Cahill, Chief executive, Comic Relief

ANNIE KELLY

When Kevin Cahill joined Comic Relief in 1991 to set up an education department, he walked into a charity with a staff of 15 fundraisers. Now it is arguably the most well-known brand in the voluntary sector and employs over 80 full-time staff managing a multi-million pound organisation. Cahill puts this growth down to the charity's success in finding new ways of presenting a fresh face to the British public.

"We have great access to a large network of creative talent,

he says.

"It's our duty to channel this in the right way and make sure that we keep this original outlook alive and kicking."

This year Comic Relief launched Sport Relief, a new campaign designed to coincide with the BBC's "Big Summer of Sport". The campaign aimed to tap into the heightened interest in sport galvanised by high-profile events such as the World Cup and the Grand Prix and used sporting celebrities to encourage the public to participate in sponsored events. It culminated in a night of dedicated viewing on the BBC on 13 July.

"We saw this as an opportunity to mobilise a different segment of the public,

explains Cahill. "It fits well with the overall Comic Relief proposition because, although there isn't a comedy element to the programme, it's high on entertainment and uses something that people think is active and fun to raise money for a range of projects."

The Sport Relief programme is a clear example of Comic Relief's overall strategy to develop and broaden out the charity's public appeals.

"It's crucial to keep moving forward,

he says. "We're not an operational charity and don't deliver any services, so without that pressure we have a real opportunity to develop new ideas and approach people in a number of different ways. Not everyone has the luxury of being this experimental."

Sport Relief has run a thoroughly cross-channel campaign, which utilised a variety of digital platforms. It made extensive use of the internet by running email campaigns and positioning its web site as an integral part of the overall programme. An interactive TV service, also launched at the beginning of June, was designed to enable digital TV viewers to donate using their remote controls while watching the programme.

"We're beginning to have real success in the digital arena,

says Cahill.

"We wanted Sport Relief to be a cutting-edge campaign, and have attracted support from people in the digital communications industry who were really interested to see how these media could be adapted to fundraising work."

Sport Relief was the first charity to implement a major text-message fundraising campaign, which it launched at the beginning of May. It ran a multiple-choice competition that charged contestants £1 per entry, which was added to their phone bill at the end of the month. So far its "Total Ticket

competition has generated roughly 100,000 answers via text message.

Far from being complacent, Cahill believes that there is still much more that the charity can do with digital and interactive media.

"We're still some way off from where I'd like to be in terms of realising the full potential of these new techniques,

he says. "But a year can make all the difference, and it's important that Comic Relief and the voluntary sector as a whole remains in touch with emerging technologies and learn from each other. The next Red Nose Day will reflect the successes we've had in this field."

Trying new techniques requires a significant amount of investment and there is always the danger that campaigns will fail, according to Cahill.

"We're aware that these are very new channels, and we have ensured that there is a solid infrastructure in place so that we're not dependent on generating huge funds from experimental campaigns,

he says.

Although Comic Relief is optimistic about the funds that Sport Relief will raise for its projects, Cahill maintains that the campaign is a "step into he unknown

and is not expected to raise anything like the tens of millions generated by Red Nose Day.

"All I can hope is that we've taken the opportunity that this summer of sport offered to us and all things are in place to make this campaign a success,

he says. "We've got no plans to run it again."

He believes that if ideas are creative and fun enough and the reasons behind them are compelling then people will continue to be moved to donate to Comic Relief projects.

"The Sport Relief campaign shows the potential we have to raise funds from non-traditional donors,

he says. "The people who are putting on events in yachting or tennis clubs won't necessarily be the same people who would lie in a bath of baked beans for Red Nose Day."

The increasing segmentation of audiences requires different propositions to meet different needs, and Cahill believes this is what Sport Relief was all about.

"We saw the opportunity to get new hands into pockets,

he says. "You have to put yourself into the heart and mind of your donor and understand what will move them."

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