Five tips on fundraising for national occasions

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With numerous occasions throughout the year to hook fundraising events to, head of fundraising at the Cardiomyopathy Association Nick Posford shares the lessons they’ve learned from their Great Pancake Party.

For the Cardiomyopathy Association, 2015 was the second year for our Great Pancake Party. We developed the event after being approached by a supporter whose mother had raised hundreds of pounds each year by inviting family and friends round to indulge in pancakes on Pancake Day. 

In our first year we raised over £20,000 and we used the money to pay for videos to help GPs better understand cardiomyopathy (heart muscle disease). It’s clear to see the impact that the money raised has made as these videos are helping to improve diagnosis and care for people affected by the disease.

This year has proved difficult for several reasons and we’d like to share what we’ve learned with you.

1. Choose your occasion carefully

There’s huge amounts of traffic around these big shared occasions, even if they have been artificially constructed by retailers. We had some help linking with a few food bloggers, but it’s been really difficult to promote a fundraising event for an occasion that has such a massive sudden peak, as this Google Trends graph shows.

Pancake keyword search

There is lots of build-up for Christmas, but Pancake Day arrives suddenly and then quickly retreats into the background again. During the last few months of the year preceding, it’s difficult to get people to focus on an event after Christmas. Then when the new year hits, everyone is reeling from their festive overspend and end of year fundraising. Plus with Pancake Day being a movable feast, we have to learn afresh every year, what timing works best.

2. Make signing up online (and offline) easy

As we all know, a fundraising event should always be as smooth as possible for people to sign up to. Pancake Day may be a single occasion but as our Grand Pancake Party is centered around it, we’ve made it a week so that people can hold their party the weekend before or after. Next year we want to let people show their interest in a Great Pancake Party at any time of the year rather than limiting it to the few months beforehand. The packs will be sent out in good time for people to plan their event, but we want to collect emails and addresses throughout the year so that we can send out supporter communications, such as fundraising tips, pancake ideas as well as letting people know how their fundraising will make a difference to the charity.

3. Be clear what you want the money for

As income last year was restricted to a specific purpose (the information videos for GPs), we wanted this year to fund our general support services (nurse helpline, support groups, information days). However, we found that such a general ask was more difficult to articulate in social media posts, emails and on the website and as a result, engagement has been lower. Next year we plan to choose a specific focus that will last for several years so that our supporters have something tangible to focus their fundraising efforts towards.

CMA How your money helps

4. Your brand matters

As Pancake Day (or Shrove Tuesday) is determined by the Tuesday preceding Ash Wednesday, the timing of this year’s pancake week fell in the middle of our transformation to a bolder, more ambitious charity – Cardiomyopathy UK, the heart muscle charity. Our marketing materials, therefore, had to use the brand of our former self but at the same time we had messages on our website and social media telling people that we are in the process of changing, which may have been confusing to some. Despite excellent work by our designer, our older brand sits uncomfortably in the midst of the modern style of the campaign brand. We’re hoping that next year our new charity brand will stand out for all the right reasons rather than stick out like a sore thumb.

5. Build good links with anyone who can help

It’s essential to make the most of any opportunity for your supporters to promote your fundraising event. This year we worked with some really supportive food bloggers, but we feel we missed an opportunity to also link in with pancake recipe recommendations from all the major media outlets whose chef recipes have been prominent over the last couple of weeks. Next year we plan to make more of the potential media opportunities surrounding Pancake Day as well as build on our support from food bloggers.

Do you run occasion fundraising events? Share your top tips in the comments below.

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Nick Posford leads the fundraising team at the Cardiomyopathy Association where he also oversees marketing and volunteers. Nick came to fundraising after a career as a stage manager in the theatre, and a stint in local government policy. He has worked for Durham University, Asthma UK, Planning Aid England and recently developed fundraising in the South region for Parkinson's UK.