Jo Moseley raised £10,000 for Macmillan Cancer Support in 2014 through an indoor rowing challenge. I asked her to write a guest post summing up her lessons learned about the charity fundraising process. She has 9 Top Tips to help you do a better job supporting your charity of choice.
Are you planning an adventure or challenge and are you combining it with fundraising?
If so, I hope this account of the valuable lessons learned made from my indoor rowing challenge for Macmillan Cancer Support in 2014 will help you.
It will be especially beneficial if your challenge is not of the ‘beautiful sunrises’ or ‘record breaking’ type and cannot rely upon great photos or epic achievements to raise your profile. Mine wasn’t and yet we raised £10,000. The only place I regularly explored was my local council leisure centre.
Despite the lack of ‘epic-ness’ I had excellent coverage in local and regional newspapers and radio, was invited to be part of the This Girl Can campaign and 4 years later, discussed the challenge in a double page national women’s magazine. I was also asked to contribute to two books on women’s health and exercise and have been interviewed on a number of podcasts.
What did I do and why?
On 21st December 2013, my sister, Dad and I had the heart breaking privilege of holding my Mother as she took her last breath. She died of Lymphoma (blood cancer) and my world crumbled.
I explained to a friend that it felt as if I was standing in a tiny wooden boat in the middle of a stormy lake. Waves of grief and fear constantly hit the sides. Everything felt unstable.
“What do you need to do?” he asked.
“I need to row to shore” I said. “I need to row back to my life.”
A couple of weeks later, on the 5th May 2014, my parents’ wedding anniversary, I embarked on a huge rowing challenge to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support. I wanted to thank the nurses for the care they had given both to my Mum, who had had breast, bowel and skin cancer, and to my Dad.
My goal was to raise £4,2195.00 by rowing a million metres and a marathon (42 195m) on an indoor rowing machine. Every other night for 8 months I rowed 10,000m on the same rowing machine in the gym.
On 21st December 2014, a year to the day that Mum died and 5 days before my 50th birthday, I rowed a marathon (26.2 miles) in front of family and friends.
Although not many women aged almost 50 row marathons, certainly not those with a very limited sporting history, I didn’t break any world records. I had no celebrity or athletic connections. I was a middle aged Mum of two who had only started rowing a short time before because I couldn’t sleep.
So how did we raise £10,000? how can what I did help you?
9 lessons I learned About Charity Fundraising
- 1 – 3 are things I did well.
- 4 – 6 are lessons I learned from my mistakes.
- 7 – 9 are what I would do if I were launching a new challenge today in 2018 as opposed to 2014, in the light of changes in social media, technology and having studied other fundraising challenges in the interim.
But first – do you even need to fundraise?
Before you begin, you need to ask yourself Why. Are you choosing a challenge in order to fundraise for charity or charity fundraising to justify your challenge? Which is more important?
Why this charity? Why raise money for them this way? Could you help them by writing, giving a talk or making a film to raise awareness instead of money?
Having clarity of purpose at the outset will guide how you use your time and help you define the parameters of success.
1 - 3 are things I did well
1. Know Your Why and craft Your Story
It is easy to assume that because you are fundraising for a charity, donations will flood in without much effort on your part. A nice thought, but it is not the case.
Of course friends and family will donate. But if you want to fundraise beyond your personal social circle you need to attract sponsorship from people you don’t know and who are being asked to contribute to equally worthy causes every single day.
Your goal is to find a way that creates a connection so memorable that it leaves them happy to part with their hard earned cash.
Unless you already have a high profile, you might also need to drum up newspaper and magazine coverage. How can you make your story stand out from the huge number of emails journalists receive each day?
Digging deep into what motivates you will:
- add greater conviction and authenticity to your story
- help you overcome any personal nerves about self-promotion
- sustain you when you are tired/ have a dip in confidence/want to give up
Be honest and authentic about what happened that moved you to start. Share small, unique details about the event, person or cause that others can relate to. For example, are you raising money for the hospital that cared for your Dad or saved your own life? Are you fulfilling a wish on their behalf? Was it a TV programme of a dead whale caused by plastic pollution that brought you to tears?
Creating an emotional connection is important but never embellish for effect. You will lose credibility and your own self worth. The truth is always enough.
Simon Sinek’s ‘Start with Why” book and TED talk will be helpful.
KISS – Keep it Simple Stupid. Once you understand your why and have crafted your story you need to convey it simply and effectively. Think ‘elevator pitch’ – you have the length of a ride in a lift to share the challenge, the charity and the reason you are doing it.
You will repeat this over and over again as you share your story in person, in emails, on posters, with journalists or on social media. Work on it, add, edit, curate, make it yours, own the message and share it proudly.
Make it simple enough for your supporters to share with people they know so the message reaches a wider audience. If only you understand it, your reach is limited. If they do, you simply don’t know who might hear it or what serendipitous connection will be made.
As an example, my message was – “I’m rowing a million metres and a marathon on an indoor rowing machine for Macmillan Cancer Support to say thank you for their care of my Mum, who died of Lymphoma, and my Dad, who has had breast, bowel and skin cancer.”
The extra details I added were:
- I start on what would have been their wedding anniversary, 5th May,
- I am rowing 10,000m every other night for 8 months,
- And I will row a marathon on 21st December, the 1st anniversary of my Mum’s death and 5 days before my 50th birthday.
Clarity, conviction and consistency of message are key.
I recommend Jan Murray’s book “Your Press Release is Breaking my Heart” and also Antonia Taylor PR to understand the power of storytelling. Also read Cathy O’Dowd’s article How to Present a Project Pitch.
2. the challenge and fundraising will take up a big part of your life
You will already know that planning an adventure takes a lot of time and energy. Add fundraising to the mix and life will become very packed.
I once saw a tweet from a London marathon runner and fundraiser sharing the fact she had no time to train because she was spending so much time fundraising. Many responded “Phew, I thought that was just me, thank you for sharing!”
If, like me, you have a job, a home and a family to look after too, you will be pulled in many directions. You will have to step back from some of your social/family/community commitments for a while to give yourself the freedom to give 100% to fundraising. This will be worth it.
As Brad Stulberg, author of Peak Performance and columnist for Outside Magazine, says, “You can’t do it all. Trying to is a trap, and one that makes both you and your work subpar. You have to say NO to some things so that you can say YES to the ones that matter most.”
3. Build Relationships for the Long Term & Give as Much as You Take
In a world of social media, it is easy to think that followers, retweets, likes and comments are paramount. From my experience, this is not the case.
What is most important is building long term, mutually beneficial relationships. These may start out on Twitter or Instagram. For example, there might be a journalist you discover whom you would like to send your pitch to, but ultimately it is about building a relationship beyond that.
Who can you build relationships with?
1. Your charity
Go to their HQ & understand their work in greater detail so you can share it in your story. Do they have a national fundraising event that you can piggyback onto? For me, the Macmillan Cancer Coffee Morning, which has widespread media coverage, gave me a focal point to invite friends to talk about the challenge, eat cake and raise several hundred pounds on the day and subsequently.
Has the charity arranged collection days in your local area that you could do and put towards your total? Can their social media share your challenge for you?
Local papers are keen to promote interesting stories. Make their life easier by providing them with the information and pictures they need. Read Cathy O’Dowd’s article How to Present a Project Pitch as well as Abigail Wise on Breaking in as a Freelance Writer for good ideas on how editors want to be pitched.
I kept my local paper updated as I stretched the fundraising target and did the final marathon. Use local coverage to build up to regional and national coverage. Treat everyone with respect, value their time and overflowing inbox and always say thank you.
3. Your supporters & other fundraisers
A simple thank you is hugely important, either via your donation page, email or a personal card. Having a wide team of people you can call upon for events (coffee morning, a talk, selling raffle prize tickets) is important so you don’t feel you are imposing on the same few.
Team up with another fundraising group and split the work and the money you raise between you. I arranged bag packing days at the supermarket with a group of students from a local school. We divided the time at the tills between us and each raised several hundred pounds for our chosen charities.
4. Local businesses
Asking for raffle prizes or opportunities to do a charity collection can take up a lot of time but can also be very worthwhile. Businesses you already use personally will be happier to donate as they know it builds your customer loyalty. In return, you can promote them on your literature, in blogs, on your social media.
5. Schools and networking, social or business groups
Can you give a talk about your challenge in exchange for a raffle, cake sale, donation of the ticket value? My son’s school had a bake sale and in return I gave a short assembly about self- belief and pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone.
6. Bloggers / Podcasters
Can you collaborate where your interests genuinely overlap and share each other’s work and give progress updates?
7. Social media followers
Some people will watch you for months whilst you complete the challenge, perhaps wishing you well or commenting on your progress, before donating. A thank you for their interest is not only good manners but may mean they will choose you to donate to over someone who simply doesn’t take the time to reply.
This happened to me with a number of people and added a significant amount to my final total. Of course, I would always ask privately if my supporters were happy for me to thank them on social media before doing so.
4 – 6 are lessons I learned from my mistakes
4. Be Prepared
Whilst I am proud of the passion and commitment I gave to the fundraising, I began without a strong structure. I had no website, I barely knew how to use the Just Giving page, I had one Twitter account (no Facebook & only used Instagram to add a filter to pictures) and I didn’t have a simple business card to share until month 7.
I was always trying to catch up with myself and this added an unnecessary strain.
If I were starting today I would take Sarah Davis aka Paddle the Nile’s excellent advice on Branding your Expedition and tailor it to my needs. I would select which social media channels I had the time & energy to maintain and ensure that I showed up at least daily.
5. Stay in your own lane, run your own race
Comparison is the thief of joy, said Theodore Roosevelt. Do not fall into this trap!
Stay in your own lane, run your own race, fundraise in the way that feels authentic and just about manageable to you. It is all too easy to see other people sharing their amazing successes, celebrity endorsements or epic adventures and think you aren’t doing enough and become disheartened. I did this and it is the road to nowhere!
Be the best possible fundraising you. Your story, your age, your circumstances might be the exact reason someone chooses to donate to your target over another.
Many people told me it was the sheer ‘unrelenting boringness’ of my challenge that actually inspired them to donate! They realised that it was something they could do at their gym but simply wouldn’t. They couldn’t see how I would personally benefit from it in any way and thus were drawn to donate generously.
Also remember, people will have their own personal charities that mean something to them and nothing you do would motivate them to donate to yours. Maybe their heart lies with Alzheimer charities or dog protection and you are fundraising for the RNLI. It is not a reflection of you, it is simply their priorities so don’t take it personally.
6. Have a Post Challenge Plan!
There has been a lot written about the ‘post marathon blues’ - none of which I read before my challenge – but the feeling was real. I hadn’t left my daily life at all, everything on the surface was exactly the same. I had continued to work, look after my family and home all through the challenge.
But it had been a huge emotional adventure that was no longer part of my every day and for a while, I felt a little lost. Here are two good articles about the post-marathon blues that provide some tips on how to handle the void that is left:
Cathy O’Dowd’s Trek and Mountain article about why she hates being asked What Are You Doing Next? is also very useful.
Do what is right for you and if that is to rest and catch up on Netflix, then that’s fine.
7 – 9 what I would do if I launched a challenge today
7. You’ve Got Mail! The Power of a Newsletter
In the four years since my challenge, there has been a significant shift in how we communicate. Talk of smartphone addiction, how social media can be manipulated and the ever increasing platforms available makes me wonder whether I could have the same success in engaging an audience today without making some changes.
One medium I would explore would be a well crafted, meaningful newsletter which cuts through the noise of social media and, with explicit permission post GDPR compliance, pings into someone’s precious inbox.
Think about the newsletters you look forward to – The Business of Adventure is one for me! Look too at the ones you subscribe to and then unsubscribe from after a few weeks. What can you learn from this?
David Hiett’s book Do Open & the Hiut Denim Co are great resources. (David Hieatt who has based his entire Hiut marketing strategy around a simple email newsletter.) I like Deakin & Blue’s Swimspiration for its simplicity and also Adventure Uncovered for its content.
You can’t be all things to all people but developing a consistent authentic voice can build your community of supporters by sharing details of your challenge, the charity and ideas related to the issues you are addressing in a meaningful way.
8. Podcasts and Films
Like newsletters, they are a way to build a loyal audience and technology today makes it easier to for the non-professional to share a message. For example, I love the podcasts Wild Ideas Worth Living, Tough Girl Challenges, and We Are Looking Sideways.
Filming parts of the challenge allows you to share your personality and your experience in a much more immediate way. Look at Sophie Pavelle’s wildlife You Tube channel, or Find it Film adventure films and Jessica Pearson’s The Space Outside for different, engaging styles.
9. Believe you can make a difference!
At the start of my challenge I questioned myself, set the targets low and wondered if I could make a difference. I wasn’t breaking a world record or going anywhere exotic. Would anyone notice and donate?
Perhaps you think the same? Don’t! Believe in yourself!
Your unique story and your contribution matters. Every penny you raise can make a difference.
Remember Ralph Waldo Emerson's thoughts. To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
Choosing a challenge in order to fundraise or adding fundraising to a challenge will test, inspire, possibly exhaust you. You will see the very best of yourself and others. Their kindness, generosity and courage will overwhelm you. Your sense of purpose and gratitude will be awakened.
I hope these tips will help and wish you all the best! Please let me know how you get on!
Jo Moseley is a 53 year old Mum living on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales, with her sons, 21 & 17. In 2014 she raised over £10,000 for Macmillan Cancer Support by rowing a million metres and doing marathon, as a thank you for their care of her parents .
A huge advocate of tiny adventures bringing joy to the everyday, Jo took up running in 2017. She loves the trails near her home and the cliffs of the Yorkshire Coast. Keen to bring a sense of purpose, she also picks up litter as she runs & is a happy plogger (picking up litter and jogging)!
She enjoys bodyboarding, SUP and the simple delight of treading water in the North Sea, wearing her fins & watching the world go by. In 2018 she is learning to surf and freely admits this may take a while!