How to get a Christmas appeal with a national newspaper (and is it worth the hassle!?)


April 10th, 2014

The run up to last Christmas was the most exciting and exhausting time for me as a media officer at Practical Action.

We had been chosen by The Guardian to be one of four charities to benefit from its Christmas appeal, Future Africa. At the same time, our Safer Cities Christmas appeal was in full swing. This was being match funded by the Department for International Development and had a substantial communications commitment from us, in which we promised to reach 400,000 members of the UK public with our message.

Safer Cities campaign to tackle urban poverty in Nepal and Bangladesh

Since then, I’ve had calls from other charities eager to know how we managed to get chosen by the Guardian, what we had to do and whether it made a big difference to us, so here is the excitingly titled: “Guardian and Observer Charity Christmas Appeal: The Inside Story, in bite-sized chunks” (it sounds better if you read it with a US TV announcer’s voice)

  • We were in the right place at the right time. The Future Africa theme was dreamt up by the bigwigs at the Guardian, and it fell perfectly into our work, helping the poorest people in Africa via clever technological solutions to the problems they face every day.
  • Make your own luck – because I like to think we did that. Although the Guardian chose their charities without a formal application process, I phoned them in autumn and discovered they were planning on doing a technology-based agriculture appeal. I then wrote an email detailing just how well we fitted into that category and listed our relevant work. I can’t say for certain that even got to the right people or led to anything, but it certainly didn’t hurt.
  • We had to work effectively across our teams. When we got a call from the Guardian, they asked us to put together a list of our technologies we use in Africa within 24 hours. It was a daunting task, particularly as I was going on leave the following day, but thanks to regular updates from our international teams and with the help of fundraising manager, Matt Wenham and our programme teams, we were the very epitome of dynamism and managed to get a comprehensive list submitted quicker than you can say ‘everybody panic and start shouting’.
  • For a couple of weeks, our plans were thrown into disarray and it was absolute madness. The Guardian decided they wanted to focus on our Zimbabwean work and gather the stories within a fortnight. It was a very tight deadline and imperative that we had a discussion about what was feasible from the point of view of the team out there. Due to the political situation out there, The Guardan used the very fine services of Zimbabwean freelance journalist Ray Ndlovu and we identified two projects we felt would showcase how technology can help development – knowledge transfer via podcasting and the use of hydroelectricity to power change in the Himalayan region of Zimbabwe.
  • It felt like we were a hair’s breadth away from disaster at times. Martha Munyoro, our communications officer in Zimbabwe had already booked leave at the time of the trip and the team there requested that I stepped in to help. Again, thanks to the hard work of Killron Dembe we arranged the trip and managed to help Ray file to fantastic stories detailing the impact of our work in Zimbabwe.

    Guardian freelance journalist Ray Ndlovu (back in red) listens to a podcasting session given by an agricultural worker in the Gwanda province of Zimbabwe.

    Guardian freelance journalist Ray Ndlovu (back in red) listens to a podcasting session given by an agricultural worker in the Gwanda province of Zimbabwe.

Was it worthwhile?

  • On a purely financial basis, the cash was very welcome, but not game-changing. The appeal raised around £340,000. Half of that went to the Guardian’s project in Katine, which they run with Farm Africa and we shared the remaining cash with the two other charities featured, Worldreader, Solar Aid.
  • But it was about much more than just up-front donations. We also gained details (with permission) of some the people who donated to the appeal, which gave our fundraising team the opportunity to contact potential supporters and ask them if they would be interested in making regular gifts.
  • We also gained fantastic exposure from the Guardian and Observer. The appeal was featured daily in the newspaper and on the home page of the Guardian’s website. The Guardian editor, and one of the most respected men in journalism, Alan Rusbridger, mentioned our call for Technology Justice in an editorial piece and dozens of Guardian journalists took part in a telethon event where they voluntarily gave up their time to speak to people over the phone in return for donations – a truly admirable effort by them all, and a great way of raising our profile amongst their staff.

So there you have it, the inside view of one of the most stressful, yet rewarding, few months of my professional career. I’ll give a similar insight into the DFID match-funding process when my hair starts growing back.

Killron with me after a whistlestop tour of Practical Action projects in Zimbabwe

Killron with me after a whistlestop tour of Practical Action projects in Zimbabwe

One response to “How to get a Christmas appeal with a national newspaper (and is it worth the hassle!?)”

  1. Nicola Craddock Says:

    Wow! Well done.
    I saw the appeal and was immensely proud of all of you at Practical Action for making it happen. It gave me a reason to mention PA to various friends and acquaintances as well. I’m sure, in profile terms, it was worth it.
    Anyway Practical Action is the best charity ever so definitely deserved it!!!

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