Many of you will have seen the amazing story of Darek Fidyka, the Polish man now walking again with a frame after being paralysed in a knife attack in 2010. The words “medical breakthrough” are perhaps overused but the reconstruction of nerve tissues enabling paralysed people to walk certainly warrants them.
What we don’t always see is how the breakthroughs were funded and I wanted to share the examples of the two charities involved in this amazing story by way of an example on how to make the most of success stories. The two charities are UK Stem Cell Foundation (UKSCF) and Nicholls Spinal Injury Foundation (nsif).
The medical breakthrough has appeared across numerous national media and broadcast channels (including a BBC Panorama programme) but the two charities appear to have taken a different approach to capitalising on it to drive further support for their work and this I think is of key importance when an issue drives so much positive coverage.
nsif have reworked their website to directly incorporate the scientists, the story and their involvement in this breakthrough. The slider at the top of the page tells a story that links directly to a fundraising ask, leaving users in little doubt about what outcomes their money would support. The rest of the page is very ‘mobile app’ in design and tells the simple story of the charity’s aspiration to help people walk again, linked to this breakthrough – described as having taken the first step – and asks for donations to continue the work.
The remainder of that home page then devotes itself to updates, stories and events but the majority of the real estate is given over to the breakthrough as a lever for generating future donations. Their Twitter streams and Facebook page follow a similar approach, although in a less voluminous way and in the ideal world, they would be shouting more loudly and more frequently over the next few weeks at least (resources allowing of course)
UKSCF seems to have taken a different approach. Their website homepage is simple, easy to navigate and has a contemporary design but doesn’t even mention the story and highlights one of the key scientists only as a regular feature on the broader research team. The twitter stream has a few mentions and retweets but the Facebook page has not been updated and you wouldn’t really know that UKSCF has been involved in this truly groundbreaking work.
Of course there might be lots of valid reasons UKSCF has taken this approach:
- they have a much smaller team and resources looking after communications
- they focus on a broader range of outcomes supported by stem cell research per se and not just this particular kind of injury
- they rely on government and corporate funding so don’t need broadcast publicity (highly unlikely given their donations web pages)
- or it might just be that the two charities decided that it would be nsif that lead with communications and promotions – all fair enough but this is a belting opportunity!
Consequently, I’m not criticising either charity but nsif’s approach, whilst undoubtedly taking more time and resources to plan and deliver, is well articulated, totally joined up and links fundraising directly to the long-term aspirations and immediate outcomes the charity is delivering.
In my experience, opportunities like a Panorama programme don’t come along very often and thinking across internal comms/fundraising silos and working on how to grow both the awareness of what your charity does linked to the funds needed to make it happen is vital to success. In fact, even without the documentary, the story of successfully transplanting olfactory cells to repair spinal nerves is plenty amazing enough to generate interest from new and existing supporters.
If I were working at either of these charities, I would have been planning from the point we heard about the medical breakthrough along the following lines:
- How we can leverage any coverage to raise awareness of the charity, the work and the outcomes
- How we can tell our story in a way that makes the fundraising ask completely obvious and powerful
- How these messages could be coordinated and delivered consistently on and offline across as many fundraising and communications touchpoints as possible
- What we could be doing to refresh the story over time to ensure we can use it over several months and beyond, not just at the ‘eureka’ moment
- How we could mobilise our supporters (celebrity, organisational and otherwise) to start sharing the story too
What would you be doing? And what are you doing at your charity to link your outcomes directly to generating support?
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