The interactive nature of Channel 4’s Big Brother – TV screens, audiences connected in real time – was a spur to Child’s i Foundation founder Lucy Buck. As one of the series’ producers for seven years, Buck decided to quit her job to set up an interactive charity for abandoned Ugandan children. “I wanted to use the same skills that I’d honed from TV producing to create this connection and real time engagement with what was going on in Uganda,” she says, speaking from Kampala.
The charity is making a name for itself through digital media and has a reach that most small charities can only dream about. The “i” in the name stands for interaction: “The premise behind the charity from the very first thoughts has been about transparency and forming a connection with supporters,” says volunteer digital strategist Kirsty Stephenson. It is the interactive nature of the charity that has encouraged donations, most notably in the appeal for Baby Joey which raised over £10,000 in 38 hours entirely online (see case study).
Launched in 2008, the small charity – with just one paid member of staff in the UK – has an annual income of approximately £340,000, 28% of which is generated online using sites such as JustGiving, where supporters can donate and arrange fundraising events.
But their use of interactive media is part of a wider strategy. Stephenson, who met Buck when also working at Endemol, says they view Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and the blogs as, “channels integral to our communications and engagement strategy and not a pure source of fundraising”. So supporters can, for instance, trace the charity’s development – from the first child to be adopted to the building of the children’s centre – through videos posted on the website before choosing to donate.
Other fundraising initiatives include giving supporters the chance to buy a virtual brick in a wall and running an online baby shower to purchase equipment for the baby centre. However, to mitigate the risks of relying on one funding stream, it also fundraises from trusts, foundations, companies, high value donors as well as volunteers.
Most of their campaigns are run on no budget. And their use of social media is encouraging corporate sponsorship, with donations comprising 27% of their income. Stephenson says: “We’re finding we’re securing more corporate support from companies who are really inspired by our community approach and the ability to engage with the cause in a more interactive way.
“We don’t have the huge brand awareness of some of the larger charities but we feel that in many ways we’re able to create a more engaging and meaningful experience for these donors.”
Buck won £45,000 from the Vodafone World of Difference international award in 2009 which paid for her salary for a year and expenses to set up the project in Uganda. Endemol, Buck’s former employer, has made the Child’s i Foundation its Charity of the Year for the second year running and now pays her salary, albeit a much smaller one than the one she received from them as an employee.
The charity also has the volunteer support of skilled media and other professionals around the world, all of whom are individually credited online. At the moment, the charity is piloting a media campaign in Uganda to promote adoption using volunteer web designers, strategists and TV producers. It asked for an advertising creative on Facebook and has posted promotional YouTube videos of the charity’s work, made by volunteers.
The charity aligns technological advances with its own fundraising and communications strategy and is planning to use JustTextGiving next. “We have a tangible output – we have a baby centre and know how much everything costs to keep a child alive and out within five months,” says Buck. “So we really want to focus on JustTextGiving and come up with ways to communicate via mobile technology.”
The trick, says Buck, is to keep supporters in touch to see how their actual donations are making a difference. Supporters are kept informed with developments or thanked using film and blogs so they feel more involved. Buck attributes the charity’s successes to having “a real time interaction with people. People can see the films and have been with us from the very beginning and have grown with us,” she says.
The best example of how a digital campaign can spread like wildfire was the Save Joey’s life appeal in August 2010. Baby Joey was the first baby put for adoption but just a few weeks later, his adoptive parents discovered he needed critical heart surgery.
£10,000 was needed to fly him to hospital in South Africa for treatment. Using a zero budget multi-media strategy across all its available online platforms and social media channels, Child’s i Foundation exceeded the target within just 38 hours. As well as publicising the story on Facebook, Twitter and JustGiving, they emailed a newsletter to over 1,000 supporters using mailing list MailChimp.
The charity continued to update Joey’s progress through tweets and Facebook posts throughout the appeal, sending the hundreds of supportive messages to Joey’s adoptive parents George and Desire. Three videos were made showing Joey’s journey from initial adoption, through the shock of discovering his condition and the appeal, to his successful return home. The charity and parents also thanked supporters through video.
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