Campaigning and fundraising – 38 Degrees getting it right

I love the NHS. For me it’s been the place where life starts as our four children were all born in the local NHS hospital, it’s where life is extended as it gave us all extra time with my mum before she eventually lost her fight with cancer and it’s where the quality of life is improved as the NHS repaired my knee and got me playing tennis and football again.

It’s an institution that I am passionate about, that I am grateful for and that I am immensely proud of.

So when Jeremy Hunt, who happens to be my local MP, was given the role of Health Secretary last year, I was worried. Of course the NHS isn’t perfect, but I don’t agree that parts of it would work better under private ownership and I don’t want to see him, or any government, selling it off.

It was at that point the 38 Degrees contacted me. They had a plan:

Will you tell Jeremy Hunt that we're watching him?

Will you tell Jeremy Hunt that we’re watching him?

“From day one, let’s make sure he knows how important our NHS is. Let’s deliver him a huge open letter, signed by thousands of us, telling him that we’ll stand strong to protect our NHS. Let’s make it clear we’ll challenge him every step of the way if we need to. Can you add your name today?”

You bet I could.

So far, so good. I felt better (I’d done something) and I wasn’t on my own. But it’s what followed that I think was brilliant.

38 Degrees is a campaigning organisation, but if asking for donations sits slightly uncomfortably it doesn’t show. With great timing, they followed up with a donation ask.

But this wasn’t any ordinary ask. 38 Degrees’ plan was to buy some advertising space in ‘The Times – Hunt’s favourite newspaper’. To ‘prove we really mean business, and put our message where he really won’t want to see it. Can you chip in to splash our warning to Jeremy Hunt across a full-page advert in The Telegraph or The Times?’

Will you help pay for an advert that Hunt can't miss?

Will you help pay for an advert that Hunt can’t miss?

Of course I gave.

And four days later, my ad was in the paper. How great did I feel?

I did this!

I did this!

It’s a great story which I share because it’s a great example of how campaigning and fundraising can work together.

For all the lessons we can take, I think the most important thing they got right was the ask. They didn’t just assume that because I take part in campaigns with them that I’d be happy to fund their campaigning infrastructure, they gave me an opportunity to pay towards saving the NHS, something they knew I really cared about.

And they didn’t simply assume that because I had taken part in an NHS campaign through 38 Degrees, that I was ready to jump straight to an unrestricted direct debit.

They realised that the thing I cared about was the NHS, not 38 Degrees. And because of that they got my money, they developed my ‘supporter journey’ and, at the same time, they increased my commitment to the organisation.

Greenpeace IceClimb pt 2. At last, an ask.

On Friday I blogged about my frustration about Greenpeace’s failure to follow up the brilliant IceClimb campaign with any asks for those people who had engaged with it. Whilst I loved the IceClimb, Greenpeace has missed a tremendous opportunity to develop my support, and that of others immediately following then.

Two hours later, I received an emailed ask from Victoria Henry (one of the climbers). I’d love to think that everyone at Greenpeace read my blog and that it changed their approach to integrating fundraising into their campaigns, but maybe it was just a coincidence. But I thought it only fair to update my thoughts here.

The ask email - click on it to read it in full

The ask email – click on it for a larger image

The first point, that it was too late, was made last week. Enough said.

I love the fact that the email was from Victoria (or Victo, as she signed off) rather than some faceless job title. I love the fact that she shared her fears, her sleepless night, her aspirations and the way she felt what she read the tweets from people like me. It was very personal, added emotion to the email and allowed me to feel part of it again.

I wish there had been an image… of Victoria at the top of the Shard to remind me of the drama. Or a video, that would really have brought it back to me?

I liked the fact that it reminded me of the main issue – Shell’s plans to drill in the Arctic and Greenpeace’s determination to keep the campaign going for as long as it takes. But maybe there was a bit too much of that.

But my biggest disappointment is the ask. It simply asks: “Can you chip in with whatever you can afford to help fight Shell’s dangerous plan for Arctic oil?”

The email alludes to the fact that they need ropes, slings and karabiners, so let me buy one. Or use the asks that Greenpeace already has including asking me to Save the Arctic by becoming a Life Supporter.

Greenpeace ask for donations for a survival pod to stop drilling in the Arctic

Buy a Survival Pod to occupy a drilling rig in the Arctic

Or, best of all, ask me to help buy a Survival Pod that will be used in the Arctic to occupy an oil rig. That would be drama. That would take my relationship on. That would really keep me engaged.

I’ve blogged before about the ‘ask’, and spoke at the IOF convention earlier this month about them. The ask is the most important part of fundraising. So let’s get them right.


PS If you want to ‘chip in’ you can do it here. It may not be the best phrased ask ever, but we can help Greenpeace run more campaigns like this.

Or if you want to help buy the survival pod, that’s here.

Actually, it’s not an ask


My first job in fundraising involved opening letters and banking cheques from people donating to help send aid to Bosnia in 1992. What I learnt then, from reading the letters from these generous donors, has stayed with me ever since.

What we offer to a donor is immeasurably valuable to them. Often far more valuable than the face value of the cheque they were writing.

It’s why I think it’s misleading to use the word ‘ask’. The best ‘asks’ we make are actually great ‘offers’.

Of course, actually asking for their support is arguably the most important part of the fundraising process – just ask any successful Major Donor fundraiser.

But what’s most important in this is what we can offer to the donor and what they get out of it. Again, ask that successful Major Donor fundraiser.

At our best we make unique offers that no-one else can compete with. For £10 I can make a blind man see. Is there any other way of spending £10 that will make me feel that good?

Help the Aged - £10 can make a blind man see

For €25 I could buy a webcam on the new Rainbow Warrior. Who said giving to charity can’t be cool?

Greenpeace webcam

For £15 a year I can ‘own’ my own word – that no one else owns. I can even wear a unique T-shirt with my word on it.

ICAN Adopt a Word

Or I can ‘sponsor a day’ at the Royal Marsden Hospital. Not just any day – a day that is really important to me.

Royal Marsden Sponsor a Day WALL


I’ve worked with charities, hospitals and universities this year helping them to create their fundraising asks (and yes, I’m guilty of having used that word!). No matter who you are, we need to start from the point of what can we offer to the donor?

Remember, no-one else can offer the joy of giving and the experience of changing someone’s life like we can.

Connecting donors with the beneficiary

Sofii launched its 23 all time favourite campaigns a couple of weeks ago. I am proud to have worked directly on two of them, but it’s the Baby Boxes for Bosnia campaign that I will always be most proud of having helped create.

In the mid 1990’s, Bosnia was a war zone. Mothers with young babies were desperate for basic essentials to help keep their young babies fed, healthy and safe. Nappies, wipes, soap, disinfectant and feeding bowls. And a cold winter was approaching.

Feed the Children was a small charity that was providing aid to these mothers and young babies. A Feed the Children fundraiser and their agency Account Director donned flak jackets (literally) and visited the programme and came back with a brilliant idea.

For a donation of £30, a donor could provide a box with all the essential items a mother in Bosnia so desperately needed.

That the boxes were real (and packed by volunteers in the warehouse in Reading underneath the offices where we fundraised) helped with the tangibility of the ask.

But for me, the real power was in the emotional connection that we were able to offer the donor to the beneficiary. Donors felt that they were almost putting the boxes into the hands of the Bosnian mothers themselves.

This was made even stronger by asking the donor to put a message of support into ‘their’ box. Some of the messages we received were incredibly emotive and included stories, photos and drawings as well as many messages which were simply from one mother to another. Many times we received messages back from the mothers who had received them which we passed on to the donor if we could. We also published these in our newsletters so that other donors could see them and share in the connection. This was fantastic proof that the aid was getting through.

Rarely do I see a fundraising ask that creates the same level of connection between the donor and the beneficiary as this did. If you’re honest, do yours?

PS please do read the full case study at Sofii where you can also see the larger images!

The fundraiser’s dream – a great ask

I had the pleasure of speaking with Ruth Ruderham at the IOF convention last year. At the time she was at Christian Aid (she has since moved to British Waterways) and she spoke about the Nets campaign that they were successfully running.

£3 will save a child's life

It struck me at the time that the real strength of the campaign was in the ask. For those of you that haven’t seen it, Christian Aid is focussing in on one area of work, stopping the spread of malaria and therefore saving children’s lives. The answer, as so often is the case, is simple – a mosquito net that costs just £3.

What a fantastic ask – I can save a child’s life, I can see exactly where my money is going and I can feel great immediately.

With this ask, they have used lots of different channels. If we fast forward 6 months, you will find me sitting on a train looking at a Nets ad on a panel. It stands the test of time.

£3 buys a hero a drink

Train posters are a great discipline. To tell the story well, the ask needs to be simple, tangible and immediate.

The Christian Aid ad has all of this. There is a really clear need, a real threat, a solution that I can play. And, most importantly, I can see what I am going to achieve.

Alongside it is another that I think has a fantastic ask – buy a hero a drink. Again it’s a £3 text ask. Again it’s simple, tangible and immediate. Again, how could I not do it?

Again, I can see exactly what my donation is going to achieve and I can see the impact that I will have. I feel great!

£3 does something to do with water

Unfortunately, not all the ads I’m looking at are the same. (South West Trains has recently turned my  07:38 to Waterloo into a showcase for these ads recently). I am looking at ads from UNICEF where the ask isn’t clear. To be honest, it looks like they have started from the perspective of how ‘can we make an ad for Roger’s train?’ rather than start with a great ask.

Yes, UNICEF is a fantastic organisation and yes we know they do great work. But I’m left wondering what my money is needed for, what it will achieve and what I will have done if I give. I hope that the goodwill that UNICEF undoubtedly has in bucket-loads means this will be cost-effective, but I fear not.

Recently the Agitator asked us to share our dreams. Mine is simple – that all fundraising will be based around a great ask. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? So why do so many of us make it look difficult.

Over the next few weeks, I will blog about what I think the best asks in fundraising are. In the mean time, I’d love to hear what you think are the best.