Change maker: Macmillan Cancer Support

The cancer charity's national coffee mornings are a simple idea, but have raised more than £95m so far

In 1990, a Macmillan Cancer Support fundraising committee in Kent came together and decided to hold a coffee morning to raise money for the charity's nurse appeal. Little could they have imagined that their simple idea would go on to raise more than £95m for the charity and become an archetype of successful event fundraising.

Macmillan's central fundraising team was quick to spot the event's potential and the first national World's Biggest Coffee Morning was held in 1991, with 2,600 supporters raising £208,000. Last year, the event raised a record £20m, with 154,000 people registering to host coffee mornings.

Hannah Redmond, head of national events marketing at Macmillan, says the campaign's growth has been phenomenal because it is simple and supporter-led. Last year's total was up from £15m in 2012 and £10m in 2011. In both 2012 and 2013, 56 per cent of hosts were new to the event.

Redmond, who has worked on the campaign for the past three years, says the charity's fundraising totals had flatlined between 2007 and 2010 and were floating at about £7m.

"We needed to start again from scratch," she says. "It was moving away from our core audience. It was getting quite confused and we were losing that simple proposition."

After carrying out audience research, the charity came up with a new proposition - "make time for what matters" - and in 2011 reviewed its entire communications plan.

Redmond says the charity began testing new channels, such as telephone, face-to-face and email, and reactivating supporters who had not held a coffee morning in years. It also extended its use of media from print adverts to TV, radio and social. "Fundraising cake sales are an old idea, but we've managed to own that space," says Redmond.

The broad appeal of the campaign has inspired many similar events, such as Breast Cancer Care's Strawberry Tea and World Jewish Relief's Big Bagel. "It has had a huge impact and the growth in third-party events reflects that," she says.

But she also believes the campaign has changed the way other charities talk to their supporters. "I see them talking to supporters on their level, rather than as brands," she says.

Macmillan is continuing to test new creative channels for coffee mornings, Redmond adds: "I think we are definitely more ambitious. Everyone was happy with £8m, but now we've seen it has got so much more potential."

Expert view: Debbie West, Senior planner, The Good Agency

It's easy to get complacent when you have a flagship event such as Macmillan's World's Biggest Coffee Morning bringing in £7m. What's admirable is the charity's bravery in taking a fresh look at an event that was working very well.

This ground-breaking step change in income is due both to an increase in corporate support and to a refreshing of the media strategy and proposition. "Make time for what matters" gives the audience the scope to make this event their own. It has the experience at the heart of it. But you can also see a clear shift from coffee and biscuits to cakes and baking - capitalising on cultural behaviours and interests such as The Great British Bake Off.

The introduction of direct response television has taken it from a successful community event to a truly national one. The use of the participants to tell the story and showing an event in action help to continue that sense of ownership as well as making it look simple, easy and fun.

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