Five of the best charity online campaigns of 2014

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Another year, another slew of online campaigns by charities each attempting to raise more money and somehow go more viral than the last. But 2014 was different, says Matt Collins.

This was the year that viral campaigns really stepped up. They went from mostly planned and modest in success, to entirely unplanned and enormous in success. That’s right, no planning – just quick wits and millions raised.

Here are five of the best online campaigns of 2014:

1. No Makeup Selfie

You know #nomakeupselfie already. Take a picture of yourself without makeup (or for men, with makeup), donate to Cancer Research UK among others, nominate three friends to do the same.

The campaign raised a staggering £8 million in just six days, and lasted even longer… It was brilliant for having shareability to increase free reach, text donations and, for many, confidence building incorporated into the activity from the start.

But it was controversial too, sexist even. Journalist Sali Hughes claimed it opened the floodgates to “more reductive, sexist, self-congratulatory campaigns for ominous gain”. Could another activity have been less controversial? Maybe something involving ice cold water…

2. Ice Bucket Challenge

For a while, you couldn’t move for videos of friends and celebrities dumping buckets of ice cold water over their heads for the ALS Association in the US.

Like No Makeup Selfie, the activity was (relatively) simple, also had a nomination element and had a weird, suffering-based activity many would gladly pay to see their friends go through.

Ice Bucket Challenged raised well over $100 million for hundreds of charities across the globe. And herein lay the problem – when a campaign starts from the ground up, who owns it? Macmillan attracted controversy in the UK for paying for online ads encouraging people to do the ice bucket challenge for them.

So what’s the solution – only let charities start campaigns, not supporters? At least it would be clear who owns what campaign.

3. Bedless

London’s free homeless shelter, Shelter From the Storm, started the #Bedless hashtag in 2014. Tweeters were encouraged to sleep in an unusual place and take a selfie with the hashtag, then make a £10 donation on JustGiving, which is enough to support a guest in the shelter for a night.

#Bedless was a campaign that had a serious awareness message about the extent of homelessness. It raised a comparatively modest £2,500 – but a very respectable total for the size of charity that Shelter from the Storm is.

If they ran it again, I’d make the fundraising ask part of every image to add context to users unfamiliar with the campaign. Oh, and avoid calling it “the ‘latest viral charity campaign” on the campaign website – don’t do it down before it’s begun!

4. Shake4mike

Another user generated campaign but with a very different intended outcome. Shake4Mike was set up by Mike Brandon’s fiance to raise awareness of his search for a stem cell donor to tackle his leukemia.

The campaign asked people to post “shaky-face selfies” on their social media profiles and nominate others to do the same. All this drove a massive 650% increase in registrations to Anthony Nolan’s bone marrow register – and what’s more, Mike found the matching donor he so desperately needed.

A fantastic outcome. Perhaps a fundraising ask could have been incorporated for those who aren’t eligible to join the register but wanted to help? That said, the focus of this campaign was vital.


5. Find Mike

A beautifully personal and touching story, #FindMike was the mission of mental health campaigner Jonny Benjamin, with the help of Rethink Mental Illness, to find the person who talked him down from a bridge six years ago.

The campaign drew the support of a whole host of celebrities using the #FindMike hashtag, till eventually Jonny was reunited with ‘Mike’, aka Neil Laybourn from Surrey.

This campaign was just perfect as it was. Through one person’s simple and inspiring story, awareness of the huge impact mental illness can have (as well as the power of listening) went through the roof. And for many charity campaigns, that awareness can have a bigger impact than money ever could.

FindMike campaign by Rethink Mental Illness

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Matt Collins is managing director at digital marketing agency, Platypus Digital, and tweets @charitychap