Becky Hewitt: A media-led Christmas appeal has been transformational

When it became the subject of a national newspaper's charity appeal, Changing Faces was both delighted and nervous - but it worked far better than had been anticipated

Becky Hewitt
Becky Hewitt

Every year, hundreds of charities apply to be part of a media-led Christmas appeal. From The Times to Radio 4, these appeals not only shine a spotlight on the work a charity does but also raise much-needed funds. Yet they are tough to get.

When we decided at Changing Faces to apply for The Daily Telegraph’s 2018 Christmas Charity Appeal last summer, it felt like an enormous long shot. We are a small charity that supports people with visible differences, such as marks, scars or conditions. It’s a cause that often gets overlooked and that not many people know about or understand.

So fast-forward to the day we heard we’d been chosen. There was a lot of screaming and jumping up and down in the office, but also some nervousness about how it was all going to work. Would we be able to deliver on the stories we’d pitched? Was our website ready? Would people connect with our cause and donate?

Yet being part of the appeal has been transformational for Changing Faces. We have had a chance to give a high-profile platform to stories that have long been overlooked and to voices that have too often been silenced. We have professional digital content that will help us raise awareness for a long time to come. We have new evidence of the stigma and discrimination faced by people with visible differences. And, of course, the income the appeal has brought in is vital to a charity of our size.

So what have we learnt over the past three months?

The pitch

At pitch stage, think very carefully about the specific stories you will tell, who you have ready to give interviews, whether you have a range from across the country and how those stories will speak to that paper’s readership or audience. The strength and diversity of the case studies you put forward are probably the most important success factors.

Include someone in the pitch who has benefited from your services. The appeal is all about their voice: having one of our champions talk about his experiences first hand made our case so much more powerful.

Have ideas ready that work across all sections of the paper. We did more than 20 articles and they ran across news, features, the magazine section, fashion, food, film and culture, and many more.

Don’t forget about digital content. The films we made during the appeal – including a wonderful video of our teenage champion Marcus drawing with the Telegraph’s cartoonist Bob – were some of the most impactful elements of the campaign.

During the appeal

Be prepared for a VERY busy time. If you think you have enough stories and interviewees, then get more. You will never have enough.

Make sure the stories you pitch stand up and don’t promise what you can’t deliver. Several days after you are chosen, the journalists will start calling to set up interviews, and they’ll want more ideas and more interviewees. Don’t see this as a negative. It’s a great way to build strong relationships with key journalists. We found all the Telegraph journalists very respectful and mindful of any sensitivities.

Make sure the people telling their stories feel supported and know what to expect. Give careful briefings, check in with them after interviews, send them articles as soon as they appear and say thank you. It is a huge act of courage to share your story on a national stage, so it is vital that people feel valued and have positive experiences. Our champions have told us how moved they have been by people’s reactions to their stories. Working with the journalists on the appeal has felt like a real partnership, with care taken to tell stories in a sensitive way.

Have a clear campaign. We chose to delay a key campaign and launch it as part of the appeal – our #IAmNotYourVillain campaign with the British Film Institute – so we could make the most of the profile. This gave our appeal real focus and news value, and the publicity helped us gain far greater traction than we could have achieved otherwise.

Involve your whole team. We had weekly meetings with people across services, digital communications, fundraising and finance. Our best story ideas came from all corners of our charity. The campaign affects everyone, so it needs to be celebrated and owned across the charity, and this  includes trustees.

Finally, use the appeal to deepen your relationship with supporters. How can you make existing supporters feel part of something special and significant? And how can you use the appeal to start new relationships with audiences you haven’t reached before?

Above all, enjoy it and celebrate it with your team. We feel incredibly privileged to have had this opportunity to tell our story and raise awareness. So my advice is go for it and good luck.

Becky Hewitt is chief executive of Changing Faces

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