Fundraising news, ideas and inspiration for professional charity fundraisers

Thumbs up: what I learned from Stephen Sutton

Thumbs up: what I learned from Stephen Sutton

This month – May 2015 – sees the first anniversary of the death of a young man who taught me so much.

This blog is a tribute to Stephen Sutton. Stephen battled cancer from the age of 15, and became known for his bucket list of the 46 things he wanted to achieve, and for the amounts he raised for Teenage Cancer Trust (currently over £5 million).

So, what did I learn from Stephen?

Harness positivity

Stephen Sutton - thumbs up

Stephen showed me that fundraising can be just as successful, if not more so, if it focuses on positivity, as symbolised by his thumbs up gesture. His website has these introductory words:

“This is not a sob story, this is Stephen’s Story!”

Supporting charity is a great thing to do, and it should make us feel good to give. Let’s learn from Stephen that we don’t need to use negative case studies. Or, at least, that we can focus on the uplifting elements of our work and still be successful.

Communicate well, particularly through social media

Stephen was a fantastic communicator. If ever anyone you work with is sceptical about the power of blogs, you need to show them Stephen’s blog. He understood and harnessed social media brilliantly, with his legions of Facebook and Twitter followers effectively becoming his own mini-activists.

Set clear goals

Stephen set clear targets that were easily embraced by his supporters. Initially his bucket list of things he wanted to do, and of course his fundraising target (which was number 1 on his bucket list, incidentally). His friends and his supporters helped him to achieve many of his aims, and of course that included smashing the fundraising target he set.

Tell your story, from a personal viewpoint

What is the name of Stephen’s website? Stephen’s Story. “Story” is an interesting word to choose, but I think it’s wonderful. Stephen reinforced for me the power and the importance of story-telling.

Charities can communicate best with their supporters with a clear narrative. And we tell our stories best when we focus on individuals to whom our supporters can relate.

Establish a legacy

One of the wonderful things about Stephen’s story is that it continues. You may have noticed that Stephen’s mother ran the London Marathon for Teenage Cancer Trust recently. Stephen’s work endures, and funds continue to be raised in his memory. I’ve found that we can struggle in the charity sector to show our supporters the importance of legacies. What better illustration could there be?

Thank you, Stephen. We didn’t know each other, but I learned so much from you.

This one is for you.


Richard Sved is Director of 3rd Sector Mission Control, and a charity sector professional.

Get free email updates

Keep up to date with fundraising news, ideas and inspiration with a weekly or daily email. [Privacy]

* We do not share your email or personal details.
" />