Fundraising: Case study - Plan UK tsunami appeal a big winner

Francois Le Goff


The tsunami appeal by overseas child sponsorship charity Plan UK raised £650,000 and the average gift was £71.62. The charity explained that child sponsors tend to make large gifts because of the close links they have developed with local communities.


Plan UK does not usually send out emergency appeals, but after the Asian tsunami of late last year it felt it had a duty to respond.

Its last cash appeal was in 2004 after floods in Nepal affected the communities with which it works.

"We don't often ask our supporters for any additional cash because the decision to sponsor a child is an important one and the ask is quite high - £12 a month," said Jeremy Copper, head of marketing at Plan UK. "So when we do, we make sure we explain why."

Of the communities Plan UK works with nearby - in India, Indonesia, Thailand, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka - only those in Sri Lanka were affected by the disaster.

How it worked

The appeal was sent on 12 January to 112,840 supporters in the UK and 2,589 from overseas.

The mail pack included a letter by chief executive Marie Staunton explaining that Plan UK was working with local governments and partner agencies to assess needs. The letter said that although it is not a relief charity, Plan UK would provide its expertise in child protection and trauma counselling, and that it would also help survivors through other means if needed.

It also informed recipients that correspondence with their sponsored children might be interrupted because the disrupted communication networks would take time to rebuild, and most of the charity's resources would go towards helping the victims.

The pack included an interview with Plan Sri Lanka IT officer Chathura Perera, who experienced the tsunami in the south-eastern coastal district of Hambantota, which sustained heavy damage. Perera described what happened the day the tsunami hit, how it affected him and what he thought local needs were.

An email was sent to 4,221 donors who had opted to receive e-mail communications. Ninety per cent of them were people who were interested in Plan UK's work but had never given cash nor signed up to a child sponsorship scheme.

A donation form explained how such donations could help and suggested a range of amounts, from £10 to £2,025, describing what they would help to purchase or achieve.


The appeal has raised £650,000 and had a response rate of 7 per cent.

The average gift was £71.62. The email appeal raised £30,148 by 21 January.

"It's by far our most successful appeal," said Cooper. He added that donors tend to be generous when asked for a special gift because of the close connection they have with local communities through sponsorship.

Cooper said that more than any other type of donor, child sponsors are more likely to give extra cash because the charity tells them about developments in the community and the progress of the individual child.

The money will be spent in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India on rebuilding schools, health and education, supporting voluntary teachers and water and sanitation.


Some people might say that it's no wonder Plan UK's emergency campaign did so well. After all, it wasn't exactly hard to fundraise for the tsunami - or was it? Collecting coins outside a supermarket is one thing. Getting someone to read your pack, write a cheque and get to the post box is another.

Plan UK's emergency mailing had to work hard. Millions of people had already donated to the Disasters Emergency Committee, moved by pictures of suffering children and on-the-ground reports. Both of these classic motivators can be found in Plan UK's pack.

Creatively, it's not an exciting pack - but it didn't need to be. The letter is factual, not emotional. It's very corporate and doesn't flow particularly well. Instead, it's the interview with a Plan Sri Lanka worker that brings this pack to life. It provides the real voice, not (dare I say it?) the copywriter's voice. Reading this first-hand account of the tsunami was fascinating. Call it morbid curiosity, but I wanted to know what happened to the relative who'd climbed a tree to escape the flooding but lost hold of her husband. More importantly, I wanted to help.

Cleverly, the pack always brings you back to the children. It even goes so far as to hint that many Plan-sponsored children could be at risk.

No wonder Plan UK sponsors responded so generously.

Like the pack, the campaign email wasn't a creative masterpiece. I believe it worked so well simply because it got into inboxes at the right time and made it easy to give.

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