Kirsty Marrins: The secret of an enduring event

Have a simple idea and keep it fresh, advises our columnist

Kirsty Marrins
Kirsty Marrins

Hundreds of events or campaigns run by charities take place in the UK every year, from giving up alcohol for January to encouraging women to attend cervical screening tests. Many are time-limited, but some annual campaigns and events have stood the test of time. So what’s their secret? I believe there are two elements to running an enduring event: having a simple idea and keeping it fresh.

A simple idea

For people to take part, year after year, the concept has to be simple, which is why Macmillan’s World’s Biggest Coffee Morning is so successful. What could be simpler than inviting friends and family round to drink tea or coffee and eat cake, or organising a get-together in your office?

It started in 1990 with just a handful of people and has grown into the largest and longest-standing fundraising event of its kind in the UK. In 2016 it brought tens of thousands of people together and raised more than £29.7m.

Asked why the event continues to be so successful, Imogen Stead, fundraising marketing manager at Macmillan Cancer Support, says: "The idea is so simple. We just ask our supporters to get together with friends, family or colleagues over a hot drink and the rest is up to them. This means that anyone can get involved and do as much, or as little, as they are comfortable with. From a small gathering in a local home or community centre that raises £25 to larger get-togethers in offices or shop chains raising thousands, every single fundraising effort makes a difference."

Another fundraising event that has truly stood the test of time is the Poppy Appeal – the first one was held in 1921. Every year the Royal British Legion sells poppies throughout the country to mark Remembrance Day and raise funds for armed forces personnel past and present. It’s so simple for anyone to take part: simply buy a poppy from a poppy seller and wear it to show your support. In 2016, £146.9m was raised.

Keeping it fresh

For annual campaigns and events, it’s important to freshen it up a little bit to keep your audience interested or to keep getting column inches. Don’t do anything too drastic, though – it’s not the concept that needs changing.

#SmearForSmear by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is a campaign that encourages women to attend cervical screening or smear tests. It’s an awareness-raising campaign with a small fundraising element. The concept is that women (and men, if they so choose) take selfies with smeared lipstick, encourage each other to attend their tests and make donations if they wish.

Kate Sanger, head of communications and public affairs at Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, says: "Every year, #SmearForSmear makes a big impact on smear test attendance, so we know it works. However, because it was in its fourth year in 2018 maintaining public and media interest was a challenge. Our focus was keeping it fresh while retaining the elements that make it so popular. One way we did this was through the creation of a film that imitated the campaign concept and gave an option to those who didn’t want to post selfies. The film alone was viewed more than 100,000 times during the week."

Last year, the Royal British Legion refreshed its campaign by asking the nation to #RethinkRemembrance, the idea being to reframe "remembrance". Most people associate the poppy with remembering those we lost and those who fought for us in the first and second world wars, but many more have died in more recent conflicts, and some are still fighting. The poppy is a symbol of remembrance, but also of hope, so #RethinkRemembrance asks people to consider the meaning of the poppy and share what it means to them.

For me, bringing in this social media element is clever because it’s connecting a younger audience to the cause and encouraging user-generated content.

If you’re embarking on a new event that you hope will be an annual affair, make sure it’s simple for people to take part. People lead busy lives, so it needs to be something they can do easily or quickly that’s not much hassle or too time-consuming. If you have an existing annual event that seems to be waning, consider making some changes. What can you do to make it fresh and keep your supporters interested?

Kirsty Marrins is a digital communications consultant and a trustee of the Small Charities Coalition

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