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Planning for Social Media Fundraising and the Stephen Sutton story

27/05/2014

A few weeks ago, we wrote a blog around how difficult it is to plan and budget for social media fundraising success. We used the example of Teenage Cancer Trust and their megafundraiser Stephen Sutton who sadly died on May 14th.

A follow-up blog was promised but was delayed due to Stephen’s passing; we thought the articles and coverage that week should be about the incredible fundraising achievements.

But back on track, we asked social media commentators and Teenage Cancer Trust fundraisers what they had done or do to better plan for fundraising via social media. And overwhelmingly the feedback has been that this kind of success just isn’t planned for…

The team at Teenage Cancer Trust have been understandably busy and weren’t able to share any specific insights but their Digital Communications Manager Chloe George did get in touch. Straight away she explained that Stephen’s story was not a Teenage Cancer Trust campaign;

It’s an inspiring story of an incredible young man, which has caught the public’s imagination and grown organically. The team here have been supporting him online, but the momentum has come from Stephen himself and the power of his story.

The willingness of the charity’s team to support Stephen online is important as the positive association with the brand plus those individual efforts would have ensured the whole was greater than the sum of the parts in terms of sharing the story.

The theme of personal drive and inspiration was also picked up by several other people.  Karen Phillips, Fundraising Manager at Dudley Group NHS Charity had met Stephen Sutton and remembered that;

He was worrying that he wouldn’t sell all the tickets for a forthcoming ball. I’m sure that Stephen is just as amazed as everyone else at the phenomenal success of his fundraising. Anyone who has actually met him though will know that such an endearing, unselfish young man would be sure to have an impact.

Karen also noted that Stephen’s campaign did not focus on asking for donations. Other people did that. The core messages were around sharing his story and what he hoped to achieve on behalf of others. I think this is a point we missed form the original blog and that fundraisers could note in terms of planning future activities. We could plan for sharing stories or at least being ready to help others share their stories on our behalf whilst accepting we might not be immediately financially successful.Stephen Sutton celebrity endorsement

The first blog suggested that celebrity endorsement can significantly help when we need to reach a wider audience and this does appear to have been the case here. The picture used by the campaign shows glimpses of just a handful of those who have shown their support. Again this can’t be predicted but charities could include ‘quick mobilisation on social media’ as part of their arrangements with celebrity supporters and patrons to be prepared for quick action when required.

Finally, charities have to make it very easy for supporters to donate when they are inspired by stories and this can be planned for and forecast with some degree of accuracy. Teenage Cancer Trust encouraged donors to give via SMS – a service with known and controllable costs. Online giving was facilitated through JustGiving (and it’s various apps with other sites like Facebook). Again, the fees for these services are clearly laid out by Just Giving and, in this case the team there also donated some £50,000 of their fee back to the cause.

Services like these have to be in place to support the scale of the giving catalysed by social media so perhaps they should be the first budget lines included within a fundraiser’s plans.

The evidence is not conclusive of course but the activity and comment we’ve seen over the last month suggests that whilst there are some things fundraisers can plan for, the traditional budgeting process of immediate and direct cause and effect is probably unsuitable for the highly social way of communicating we’re getting used to.

Perhaps it’s time for the Finance and Fundraising thinkers to sit down together and work with Trustee Boards to come up with an alternative planning approach that enables charities to be ready to support viral stories like Stephen’s. I’m sure we’re smart enough to optimise any resources needed during quieter times and we’ll certainly be grateful for them when donations start growing.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. 08/10/2014 5:51 pm

    Social media is huge in our days for fundrasig camapigns and a great story is always the best way to achieve de desirable success.

    Good article 🙂

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