One of the charity success stories of the year, #nomakeupselfie was a grass roots campaign started by two young women who posted pictures on Facebook of themselves wearing no make up. Their stated aim? To show solidarity with the bravery of women facing cancer.
The trend caught on, and soon almost every woman I follow on Facebook and Twitter had posted their own #nomakeupselfie. But whereas the aim had at first been a gesture of solidarity, soon people were turning the trend into a fundraising campaign. Each #nomakeupselfie post and tweet was sent with a donation to Cancer Research UK. By the time the trend fizzled out, the charity had received over £8 million in donations.
The grass roots campaign was not without its critics, many of whom were women affected by cancer who questioned equating the ‘bravery’ of not wearing make up to their experience. One such criticism came from cancer survivor and radio broadcaster Jenni Murray, who wrote in the Mail Online:
‘Far be it from me to denigrate an effort which is reported to have raised such a phenomenal sum…But I feel I must ask: why would anyone imagine that posting a picture of yourself looking, as you imagine, your worst, would somehow demonstrate empathy with those of us who’ve been through what it really looks and feels like to have the disease all of us dread?’
Murray’s criticism is very valid and shows how #nomakeupselfie could never have come out of a charity’s fundraising department, precisely because it would open that charity up to these real and important criticisms. This campaign had to come from the grass roots, and its success is partly down to individuals’ enthusiasm for a cause they believe in. Because it was devised by individual, and sparked off the wider public’s imagination, Cancer Research UK was (rightly) not held responsible for any criticism the campaign received. Instead, they used the opportunity to put structures in place to make it easier for #nomakeupselfie participants to donate, and share useful information about their work.
As we have seen, #nomakeupselfie had to come from the grassroots. But that doesn’t mean fundraisers can’t take lessons from the campaign, and discover how its success can help us with our own social media campaign strategies.
The campaign tapped into the ever-growing ‘selfie’ trend – taking a photo of yourself using your mobile phone and then sharing it online via Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. For the #nomakeupselfie audience, the use of the term ‘selfie’ gave an instantly recognisable call to action, and immediately demonstrated how it was an accessible activity to take part in.
This provides our first lesson: the importance of monitoring social media trends like the ‘selfie’ in order to find a new and innovative angle for our own campaigns. We need to be on the look out to find the new social media trend (not the new platform necessarily, just how people are behaving on existing platforms) and make it work for our fundraising.
Another recent example of an individual’s grass roots campaign hitting the headlines and raising a fantastic amount of money was Stephen Sutton’s fundraising for Teenage Cancer Trust. Sutton, who was diagnosed with cancer when he was 15 and died in May this year, set up a Facebook page detailing his bucket list, which became a springboard to raise money and awareness of the Teenage Cancer Trust. As more and more people responded to his incredibly moving and inspiring story, his fundraising total rose and rose.
Both #nomakeupselfie and Stephen Sutton’s campaign were helped by unprompted celebrity support. From Holly Willoughby posting her #nomakeupselfie to Benedict Cumberbatch posing with a hand-drawn #thumbsupforstephen sign, celebrities can reach a huge audience in an instant and inspire their fans to take action. Of course, there are rules about paying for celebrity Twitter endorsements. But if you can get your celebrity supporters to join in your campaign for free, then it can make a real difference to your fundraising.
The final lesson we can learn from the #nomakeupselfie success story is how by encouraging participants to do something simple and self-sacrificing in addition to making a donation, you can really boost your fundraising.
Every year, millions of people feel inspired to do something that involves a bit of sacrifice in the name of a good cause. Think of all the reasons why ‘challenge’ fundraising events are so popular – people want to do something, to take action, as well as to give money. It helps us feel more engaged with a charity’s cause if we feel we are doing something active in support. Posing for a #nomakeupselfie wasn’t the same as running a marathon or hiking the Great Wall of China, but it did involve taking some kind of action.
Taking the selfie, sharing it and writing about it is more tactile and engaging than simply hitting the donate button on a charity’s website. What’s more, #nomakeupselfie gave participants a chance to feel part of a national movement – a member of a great community of people all working together to achieve something fantastic for charity.
And precisely because it wasn’t hiking the Great Wall of China, millions of women did it. Whilst still tapping into that desire to make a small sacrifice, it was still so easy to do that it only took two minutes.
What we learn from this is that encouraging people to do something easy, involves a bit of sacrifice, and can be shared across a community, can be more galvanising than simply directing people to the ‘donate’ button.