Last night I had the fortune to attend the JustGiving Awards 2016 in London. It was a reminder of the power that comes from individuals who can tell, and share, their story with passion when it connects with a cause close to their heart.
The first award for Creative Fundraiser of the year went to Simon ‘Mac’ McDermott.
“I’m raising money for Alzheimer’s Society because of a woman at the end of a phone”.
That’s the tag line written by Simon, whose dad suffers from Alzheimer’s, on a JustGiving page. Simon was prompted to raise money for the charity when, in his hour of need, he phoned the helpline run by the Alzheimer’s Society. “She listened to me cry for 10 minutes” Simon recounts. Simon’s story made it clear it’s not just the person who has dementia who is affected – “When they go you go as well” reflecting on the moment his dad’s dementia had an impact on all their lives. The advice he received from a couple of phone calls had such an impact he decided to raise money for The Alzheimer’s Society.
Simon’s dad, Teddy McDemott was a former Butlin’s Redcoat and was a singer and earned the nickname “Songaminute man”. Simon found when Teddy burst into song his dad came back. To help tell his story on his fundraising and facebook page Simon put a dashcam on his car to film his dad as they drove around the neighbourhood singing together. It’s wonderful to watch. His initial target was to raise £1,000. It was raised in a matter of hours.
Once donations got above £1,000 that triggered someone from the Alzheimer’s Society to get in touch again and they immediately realised it was a powerful and moving story. Already it was starting to get shared on social media. Together they did some local press. It then hit some sort of tipping point and took off.
Simon has been relentless at promoting his JustGiving page (but of course that’s more acceptable coming from him!). The family have even been doing the thanking. Simon wasn’t an existing donor to the Alzheimer’s Society. He simply called the helpline to get support when he needed it most.
The result has to led to over £130,000 being donated by over 8,900 supporters on JustGiving with donations from all over the World. And the single ‘Quando Quando Quando’ by Teddy reached #43 in the UK singles chart and #8 in the UK sales chart. In the UK his Facebook page has attracted over 220k likes on Facebook. The video has had over 2 million views (and this is just one of the songs!).
The helpline, whilst a core part of the service provided by the Alzheimer’s Society, is perhaps not the most appealing aspect to fundraise for. Yet as a result of his story the Alzheimer’s Society have even had charitable trusts contact them wishing to support the helpline.
But its not about the money raised. It’s a story that I am sure will have an extraordinary ripple effect on people who hear it and help them think about the impact of dementia on everyone it touches. As Simon said last night “It’s not been about fundraising – It’s been about my dad’s relationship“. Fundraising isn’t about raising money – it’s about telling stories that touch our emotions and make us feel human. The closing speaker at the awards, in accepting an award for her late daughter who raised funds for Sarcoma UK, said “The most amazing thing about fundraising is having my faith in humanity reaffirmed“.
The awards evening was hosted by last years Creative Fundraiser winner, the amazing Caroline Jones (“a force for good” was how a friend described her). Last year, in memory of her mum who died following a battle with breast cancer, Caroline wore a different outfit sourced from Cancer Research UK shops every day (“Knickers Model’s Own” was her tag line). It took off in just 6 days before it was picked up by the BBC. Caroline told me how fashion brands like Boden were watching her social media posts. I think it took even CRUK by surprise. She has now written a book about it.
These examples show how an individual can now be an extremely powerful channel and engage a significant number of people in the message of your cause and in turn help attract others to you (and not just individual donations). In fact it shows your message can be much more powerful coming from someone else than the charity itself. The story told by Simon feels authentic because it is! And because it comes from him it feels so much more believable.
It also illustrates how the work you deliver to beneficiaries can impact on the people who are inspired to support you. So in this case it was the support that Simon received from the Alzheimer’s Society that has led him to fundraise for them and share their/his story. In receiving the award he dedicated it to his mum, as the primary carer for Teddy.
Stories that help us connect back to the WHY
What I love about Simon’s story is its just that – he told a powerful story – he didn’t run a marathon (or several). I think charities need to start viewing platforms like JustGiving in a different way. Not just as a conduit for someone doing a fundraising activity so they can attract sponsors – but as a basis for individuals to tell their story with passion about a cause that is close to their heart. I think part of the power we feel from these examples is that stories told by people like Simon help connect us back to the ‘WHY’ – something that a charity itself can all to easily lose in their own communications (which often focus on what they do, or how they do it but often miss why the do it).
Could causes do more to be prepared and help individuals spread their/your story? Are you on the look out for supporters who come up with creative ways to promote your cause which could take off with a little bit of help? And how can you encourage them and support their initiatives?