Fundraising: Case study - Red Nose Day breaks its own record

Francois Le Goff


This year's Comic Relief raised £2m more on the day than its 2003 total of £35m, and money is still coming in from the sales of millions of products such as red noses, T-shirts and comedy DVDs.


Comic Relief's 10th Red Nose Day revolved around the theme 'Big Hair and Beyond', which asked people to adopt a funny hairstyle for the day in support of the charity.

Comic Relief has raised £337m since its creation in 1985 and has funded 7,000 projects in the UK and developing countries.

Most of the money raised this year will go to the Make Poverty History campaign. Lenny Henry, the face of Comic Relief, said: "There's a place - the G8 conference in Scotland - and there's a plan - to fight poverty with a magic cocktail of three things: cancelling debt, more and better aid and justice on trade."

How it worked

The event officially kicked off on 1 February with the release of the Red Nose Day single All About You by boyband McFly. The band flew to Uganda to record the video of the single and visited medical centres, where they met children affected by HIV and Aids.

A fundraising pack including sponsorship forms and posters was available for people to download from the Comic Relief website. They could also find out details about various events organised in their region during Comic Relief Week (7-11 March).

Many companies and charities, including the Scouts Association, took part, with their supporters and staff organising raffles and dressing-up contests.

The big show was on Friday night on BBC 1, with a series of sketches from comedians such as Ricky Gervais and the Little Britain cast. Elton John and George Michael both made guest appearances in Little Britain and there was a special edition of The Vicar of Dibley. Radio 1 DJ Edith Bowman helped raise £1.4m when she beat EastEnders' Kim Medcalf in the Celebrity Fame Academy final.


Comic Relief raised £37.8m on Red Nose Day, up from £35.2m two years ago. Donations are still coming in from sales of the McFly single and the Little Britain/Comic Relief DVD, and late donations from thousands of events run throughout the week.

Comic Relief said that six million red noses were sold and that it ran out of T-shirts. "We have also sold 44,000 'deeley-boppers' in just a week this year," said a spokesperson. "We sold 250 of them last time, which is a good indicator of this year's success."

Scout Association head of media and communications Simon Carter said that his charity's participation in Comic Relief has been greater than in 2003. But he added that it will actually be impossible to know how much money supporters have raised as most of them did not register directly with Comic Relief. "Most people raise the cash and then send it to Comic Relief without registering first, which makes it impossible to know where these donations come from," he said.

Carter was disappointed that Comic Relief failed to acknowledge the full contribution of his charity to the event. "Like many other charities, we suffered from not having a direct association because being associated with Comic Relief is good in terms of branding," he said.


Comic Relief's biennial Red Nose Day has undoubtedly become a British institution. Every two years the fundraising team comes up with a refreshing twist on the red nose theme, and this year's 'Big Hair and Beyond' was no exception.

The organisers must have been nervous about how the appeal would fare following the Asian tsunami, but they have already beaten the 2003 total and donations are still coming in. This is testament to the huge reach of the campaign as well as its energy, enthusiasm and relevance. After 20 years, it's still not getting tired.

The strategy to rein in the teen market with the McFly single was a stroke of genius and, coupled with Peter Kay's version of Show Me the Way to Amarillo, sweeps up both ends of the market.

Of course, the climax of Red Nose Day is the TV marathon on the Friday night. The cynic in me says that this roller-coaster of emotion, weaving tragedy with comedy, shouldn't work - but the fact is that it does.

I literally found myself laughing one minute and crying the next. And despite being subjected to years of overwhelming campaigning for Africa, I felt the case studies helped me reconnect on a personal level with the plight of the continent.

The hijacking of TV comedy shows by celebrities reduces their humour to an extent, but the viewers are prepared to overlook this. Likewise, the posters and stickers supporting the campaign don't involve creative brilliance, but they tie in with the theme and do the job well.

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