Peter Gilheany: Find ways to make awareness days inspiring - not a recurring burden

The concept is going through a renaissance thanks to Movember and Cancer Research UK's Dryathlon. Our columnist offers his advice on making your awareness day a success

Peter Gilheany says an awareness event staged out of duty is doomed to failure
Peter Gilheany says an awareness event staged out of duty is doomed to failure

Awareness events are much pilloried, and the concept's demise has been predicted on many occasions. But awareness days, weeks and months have proved resilient as promotional vehicles for charities and causes.

In fact, it seems that they are going through a renaissance, thanks to fundraising campaigns such as Movember and Cancer Research UK's Dryathlon. So if your charity has an annual awareness event, how do you make the most out of it?

Decide who and what it is for Duty and routine have a great deal to answer for when it comes to uninspiring awareness events. You'll know you haven't got it right when a collective sigh goes round the office, followed by the question: "What are we going to do for X this year?" An awareness event staged solely because you have always done it in the past is doomed to failure.

Decide at the beginning of the planning process why you are running the event this year It might be that it can bring together your core team with regional and local networks, volunteers and supporters, and has no broader awareness-raising remit at all. This is a perfectly valid reason to run an event, but that purpose then needs to be reflected in how it is resourced and planned.

Be cause-driven, not event-driven Awareness events often have a momentum of their own and you can often find yourself developing communications activities to feed the beast of the event, rather than the event being a servant to your cause. An awareness day, week or month should be a vehicle for the cause, so develop your communications around how you are going bring that cause to life for your target audiences - then the event can be developed to serve that end.

Give audiences a role Awareness events shouldn't happen to the people you are trying to engage: these people should feel part of making it happen. Involve your internal audiences in its development so it can serve their needs as well as yours and, where possible, give external audiences an inspiring opportunity to get involved and do something positive, because it will have a greater impact than simply trying to raise awareness.

Try something different Do the same thing every year and the chances are you'll switch off staff, supporters and other audiences. Awareness events give you the chance to think about how you can engage audiences afresh.

Get the timing right Many events miss the opportunity for an integrated communications campaign because the planning is left too late for other parts of the organisation, especially fundraising, to get involved. Get planning early and involve as many different parts of the organisation as you can.

The event shouldn't be the end Solving issues generally takes longer than a day, a week or a month. If you are going to invest in a campaign, it makes sense for the day, week or month to be one of the staging posts rather than its sole focus. Abandoning the campaign the moment the event ends runs the risk of alienating the very audiences you worked so hard to engage.

Evaluate while the wounds are fresh The last thing you want to do once it's over is evaluate it, but the more recent your experience, the more likely it is that you'll learn something useful before the whole process starts again for next year.

Peter Gilheany is director of the social change PR agency Forster and a trustee of CharityComms

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