The media mechanics behind a record-breaking fundraising campaign

August 18th, 2014

It is now seven months since we finished fundraising for our successful Department for International Development (DFID) backed ‘Safer Cities’ campaign for our urban work Southern Asia.


Some time ago I promised to give an overview of what we did, what went well and tips for a happy future appeal and (because I’m someone who always keeps his promises), below is an outline of last December’s somewhat breathless efforts.

The fundraising campaign was match funded by DFID and had a number of communications requirements which we were expected to fulfil:

  • We should identify a media partner who could enable us to reach a guaranteed minimum of 400,000 UK residents with the appeal messages, and (most importantly for DFID) the message that DFID were matching every pound we raised.
  • We ensure the voices of the people who would benefit from the projects would be heard directly by our supporters
  • There would be feedback to those who did donate about how much they raised and where the money would be spent.
  • All the campaign material should contain the DFID logo and messaging.In addition, we also made some pledges to DFID ourselves – promising the appeal would be complemented by a media stunt, to increase the reach of the appeal and also to promote in the local media in Warwickshire.

It was a stressful time, not just because we had a (much appreciated) Christmas appeal with the Guardian awarded to us at short notice, which ran alongside the DFID appeal, but because neither we, nor Premier Christian Radio, our media partner, had ever done anything like this before.

As it turned out, we needn’t have worried. DFID’s communications department were helpful and gave advice on what the Secretary of State would and wouldn’t say, and, where possible, what they were looking for.

IMG_9998The build-up to the appeal also coincided with a trip with a Guardian journalist to Nepal which allowed me and my colleague Hayley Lloyd to visit Nepal, promote a BBC Radio 4 appeal we were doing for the same project and collect lots of material and stories for the Safer Cities appeal. This gave us the opportunity to engage the local BBC radio stations and local press by suggesting they talk to me & Hayley about our experiences at the project.

Perhaps most importantly, it also allowed us to catch up with our colleagues in Kathmandu and explain to them fully what the appeal was about and the extent to which there would be demands placed upon them for pictures, interviews and case studies. From that point of view alone, the trip was worth every penny, because the communications and project team in Kathmandu rose to the challenge brilliantly, producing a succession of fantastic pictures and case studies, often at horribly short notice for use on social media around Christmas and New Year. The fact the appeal was a success was largely down to the hard work and flexibility of my colleagues Prabin and Swarnima.


Finally, we worked with a creative agency to develop some images of slums laid out on top of well-known British landmarks – Brighton Pier, Buckingham Palace, Edinburgh Castle and the Bullring in Birmingham to try and localise the idea of how slums would affect the UK.


The results were beyond our expectations, with coverage in British and Scottish national newspapers, leading regional papers and a range of websites, which brought our opportunities to view to well over the 40 million mark.

Of course, most importantly, the fundraising was an overwhelming success. The appeal brought in more than £900,000, of which more than £800,000 was matched by DFID, meaning we smashed all previous Practical Action fundraising appeal records and have now been able to start work in slums in Bangladesh and Nepal to help tens of thousands of people living in slums get themselves out of poverty, for good.

3 tips for a positive DFID match funding appeal experience:

  1. Get your local teams on board in a big way and set their expectations. Offer them plenty of support and make sure everyone is aware of just how much of a transformational impact the appeal can have on the organisation.
  2. Talk to DFID regularly. Like most of us in the communications game, they need to report successes to their bosses so keep them up-to-date with all your successes. Our relationship with DFID was so positive that after the appeal ended, Minister Lynne Featherstone visited our headquarters to celebrate the success.
  3. Make sure both you and the communications partner are on the same page (some sort of written agreement may be a good idea in which both parties state what they are committed to). They need to be aware of the minimum expectations that DFID has in terms of both reach and their messaging and that not living up to them could have a seriously negative impact on the organisation. Equally, it is important to identify interesting stories and editorial opportunities to ensure that the media partner fully benefits from the relationship as well.

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