How to: Start and run an ambient fundraising campaign

Last summer, boxes of fruit were delivered unannounced to offices across London. They were part of a test fundraising campaign by domestic violence charity Refuge aimed at persuading companies to offer the charity their corporate support.

In a similar vein, Shelter handed out spoof glossy interiors magazines to visitors at a recent Ideal Home Exhibition, and Save the Children persuaded its supporters to photograph sticking plasters in unusual places, forming an online gallery that would raise awareness and funds for its Ouch campaign for health services in Africa. The three campaigns used different media to attract attention, but all three used what are known as ambient marketing techniques.

The Chartered Institute of Marketing defines ambient media as "communications platforms that surround us in everyday life, from petrol pump advertising to advertising that is projected onto buildings and advertising on theatre tickets, cricket pitches or even pay slips".

Mike Taylor, co-founder of creative communications agency Monkey and an ambient specialist, offers a wider definition. "Ambient is about finding interesting, fun ways to take user interaction to an enjoyable level," he says.

Any charity can include an ambient fundraising campaign in its marketing mix, and the costs can be kept relatively low. Here are some tips:

1. Think of a creative idea

Consider what sort of message your target audience will respond to - one that will enable potential donors to understand your concerns with little or no effort.

"Hopefully, they will appreciate your clever thinking and connect it with other marketing activity," says Taylor.

Such connections require a strong link between your choice of materials and the cause. Closer inspection of the apples and pears contained in Refuge's fruit boxes revealed bright pink stickers that read "bruising also happens on the inside", illustrating the long-term effects of domestic violence.

The charity also left baskets of 'Slap' concealer make-up in washrooms.

At first glance they appeared to be free gifts, but anyone looking closer would have discovered that each pack carried the charity's brand, a message saying that one woman in four is affected by domestic violence and information on how to donate.

2. Brainstorm

Ask everyone in the organisation to come up with ideas for an ambient campaign, including policy and media departments as well as fundraising. Taylor suggests using props, visuals and case studies.

Talk about other advertisers' ambient campaigns with the aim of borrowing those ideas that work best.

3. Keep costs low if necessary

Don't be afraid to start small. Last year, as part of a marketing campaign to make up a shortfall in legacy income, Phyllis Tuckwell Hospice in Surrey produced 10,000 beer-mats for local pubs, each one requesting a text donation. It was part of a low-cost campaign that raised nearly £200,000.

4. Plan ahead

"Look at the media calendar, the events calendar and the political calendar, and see if you can tie the activity in with a relevant date or day," suggests Taylor. "Wherever you are - on your journey to work or in the pub - always be on the lookout for opportunities that might bring the campaigning and fundraising message to life."

In June 2006, Save the Children projected huge images of celebrities who supported its Ouch campaign onto buildings around London, just in time to remind the G8 leaders about the promises they made at the Edinburgh summit a year before.

5. Measure effectiveness

Agree beforehand how you will measure the success of the campaign. "Agree what proportion of the investment contributes to fundraising and what doesn't, but be positive, flexible and open-minded about the benefits," says Taylor. "If an ambient campaign did not generate a lot of money, you can be sure that, providing your idea was good, it will be spoken about from peer to peer."

Catherine Cullen, communications manager at Refuge, says the success of her charity's fruit campaign was measured by the number of online responses it received and the number of calls that were made to the fundraising team. "But we were open-minded about it," she says. "Refuge has a high profile in the media, and other benefits, such as awareness, were simply immeasurable."

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