Joe Saxton: Why does Comic Relief raise so much more than Children in Need?

The two charities have similar ways of fundraising but Comic Relief has become the brand leader, writes our columnist

Anybody who watched Sport Relief in March could only be impressed at the continued creativity of the charity behind it, Comic Relief. It has now raised well over £1bn in its 30-year life. What I am most interested in is why Comic Relief averages about £100m a year over the past five years, while Children in Need averages just £50m a year over the same period.

When you think about it, the two events are a split test in fundraising effectiveness. They both have access to the same BBC resources: a night of BBC programming and the marketing resources of the BBC to promote the event.

Where Comic Relief has got it right is that it continually innovates. Each year there is a new fundraising theme: "Do something funny for money", "Pants to poverty" and the like. Rather than do the same thing every year, it alternates Red Nose Day and Sport Relief, which gives it new and different ways to woo the public and both comedy and sporting celebrities. It also has a core fundraising proposition - we'll make you laugh and you'll raise money.

Children in Need's public fundraising proposition is a little harder to work out. Its slogan in 2014 was "Become a fundraising hero for Children in Need", which isn't really a proposition. Its emblematic device is Pudsey Bear, which doesn't have the merchandising appeal of all those red noses. This is probably why Children in Need raises just under £2m in trading and Comic Relief £15m.

Merchandising aside, what Comic Relief has worked out is that if you want to raise money you need to ask for it. And on broadcast media you need to be pretty bold to cut through into people's lives.

Doing something funny for money cuts through; being a fundraising superhero doesn't.

Put crudely, Children in Need and Comic Relief have very similar ways of carrying out fundraising; it is just that Comic Relief is now the brand leader. Children in Need needs to stop doing what Comic Relief does and work out how to develop its own unique case for support.

So how has this come about? Perhaps at the heart of the difference is the relationship with the BBC. Children in Need is, in effect, the BBC's in-house charity. Its staff work in BBC buildings and follow some of its rules. Almost the entire Children in Need team has moved up to Salford as part of BBC strategy, resulting in the loss of a number of key staff, including the chief executive.

In contrast, Comic Relief is not based at the BBC and appears to use that freedom to great effect. So the irony may well be that freedom from the BBC would help Children in Need fundraise much better through the BBC.

Children in Need has fantastic brand strength with the public and it funds vital and often small-scale children's projects throughout the UK. The big challenge for the new chief executive is to work out how it can create a fundraising strategy that plays to its amazing brand and funding strengths and carve out a positioning that is distinct from Comic Relief. For the sake of the UK's children, I really hope it can make that happen. Another £50m of income would fund a huge amount of extra, life-changing work.

Joe Saxton is the founder and driver of ideas at the research consultancy nfpSynergy


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