Focus: Fundraising - Case study - Sustrans inserts net new supporters

Ashley Mastandrea


Sustrans, the sustainable transport charity behind the National Cycle Network cycle paths, raised £13,000 from a national newspaper insert campaign to raise money for its general funds. The charity, which raised a further £2,251 in Gift Aided donations, was also aiming to increase awareness of its work and boost its supporter base, which is its only source of core funding.


Sustrans has run insert campaigns in magazines for the past seven years.

This year, the organisation produced a million inserts for placement in national newspapers at the beginning and end of Bike Week, which ran from 17 to 25 June. Its aim was to raise £16,000.

How it worked

Sustrans hired a media buyer from the direct marketing firm Response One to liaise with publications and find the cheapest rates for inserts.

Costs ranged from £25 to £120 per thousand inserts, depending on the publication.

The inserts were produced in two designs to target two distinct groups of potential supporters - environmentally aware readers and the health conscious.

The environmental insert ran in four publications, including the Youth Hostels Association magazine Triangle and The Independent. The health insert ran in Cycling Plus, The Observer and the Financial Times. Both designs ran in The Guardian.

Donors were asked to give either through direct debits of £3, £5, £10 or more each month, or by making one-off donations of £15, £25, £50 or more.

The Sustrans press office worked alongside the fundraising campaign to secure a double-page feature in the Friday Independent during Bike Week.

This profiled popular walking and cycle routes on the National Cycle Network.


The campaign has so far raised £13,000 for the charity's core funds, and a further £2,251 in Gift Aid. It also managed to increase supporter numbers, with 58 per cent of respondents opting to join the charity's direct debit scheme.

"It's too early to tell the overall results, but we expect the campaign to be close to target," said Jenny Sheriff, fundraising director at Sustrans.

"The regular givers we recruit are very loyal and our attrition is low, so it's reasonable to expect a five-year lifetime value."


As a charity dedicated to sustainable transport, Sustrans straddles hot topics ranging from air quality and congestion to health and fitness. With rocketing petrol prices, congestion charging and the heatwave making summer-time public transport more akin to human trafficking, momentum is gathering behind pedal power as a means of getting around.

Activity timed to coincide with Bike Week was a sensible strategy. As a cheap and effective medium, inserts can be a good bet, but these don't really exploit their interesting subject matter. Inserts let you go to town with print techniques, but these seem models of convention.

I'd also question the creative angle - I suspect many Sustrans donors are already committed cyclists. The benefits cycling offers the environment and your heart are well documented, but surely what stops most people from cycling is fear of being late, getting wet or being killed by a bus.

As cycle routes exist primarily to reduce these dangers, addressing these concerns directly might have been more effective in recruiting new followers.

The results are decent and the loyalty of its donors suggests a solid future for the National Cycle Network. But if Sustrans wishes to preach beyond the converted, it might need a more creative approach.

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