Focus: Fundraising - Case study - Caffeine hit to bring Macmillan £5.8m

Nathalie Thomas,


Macmillan Cancer Relief has been running the World's Biggest Coffee Morning for 15 years. Income from the campaign, which was first trialled in 1991, has grown progressively from £300,000 in its first year to a record £5.3m in 2004.

The charity expects revenue from this year's event, which took place on 30 September, to total £5.8m. Although Macmillan will not be able to produce a final figure before the new year, it has already received £4.6m.


Macmillan has built upon its successful coffee morning formula since the early 1990s to help fund its nationwide services providing expert care and emotional support for people living with cancer. This year, Macmillan aimed to raise at least £5.8m through the event.

The campaign is run predominantly in-house, but Macmillan also enlists the assistance of media agency PHD to co-ordinate advertising in the press, on the radio and online. JCDecaux and Viacom, which run outdoor advertising on billboards and street furniture, also donated space for the event this year, while some TV advertising was paid for by npower.

How it works

People who are willing to stage a coffee morning register in advance with the charity, and participants are free to turn up to events as and when they like. The formula of the coffee morning is left up to organisers - which, according to Peta Delahunty, fundraising PR manager for Macmillan Cancer Relief, contributes to the event's success.

"It's a very flexible concept, which helps to make it work," she says.

Macmillan starts to approach potential organisers in February. At this stage, it sends a thank-you card to warm supporters who held a coffee morning the previous year and offers them the chance to pre-register for the next event.

In early June, Macmillan contacts everyone on its warm donor database, sending out direct mail packs and tailored coffee morning newsletters.

The main drive to attract cold donors begins in August through a public advertising campaign that continues into September. The event is promoted using the strapline "Get together for a cup of coffee with friends to help people living with cancer".


The coffee morning has raised £4.6m so far this year. Macmillan estimates that by the time all the money has been received, the final total will reach or exceed the charity's £5.8m target.

Coffee morning registrations in 2005 totalled 45,000. Of these registrations, 65 per cent were warm donors and the remaining 35 per cent were newcomers attracted through Macmillan's advertising drive.


Andy Todd, joint creative director, DSJ

The World's Biggest Coffee Morning is a community fundraising initiative to get people involved.

The creative begins with a newsletter-style piece, talking up the success of last year's event. The approach is fronted by a chirpy, apron-wearing lady and the words "coffee, cake and £5m... the story of the world's biggest coffee morning" on some mugs.

This will probably cut ice with the affluent, middle-aged 'ladies who lunch' audience, but it might miss the mark elsewhere. Equally, the direct mail pack appears intent only on snaring the Calendar Girls audience.

Both look like in-house efforts.

The great thing about the event is its broad appeal - particularly given that few people remain untouched by cancer, directly or otherwise. But by engaging only one type of supporter, the work ignores this universality.

How about a change to the creative to target other segments? What about creative adapted to schools, workplaces and other places in which people get together?

I'm sure there is much accumulated wisdom from this 15-year-old campaign, as well as a tried and tested contact strategy and some paid-for TV spots courtesy of npower. The results remain impressive, and I wish Macmillan every success in exceeding this year's target of £5.8m. I just can't help thinking how much more successful it could be with a more intelligent and better executed approach.

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