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How to make your BBC Lifeline Appeal a success

Spinal Research applied for and was lucky enought to be awarded a BBC Lifeline Appeal, which was broadcast on BBC1 and BBC2 in the last week of February 2011. The appeal has been a phenomenal success, raising well over our expectations: to date we have raised over £120,000 in donations and much more support is to come, after several people pledged to fundraise, run marathons and even leave legacies to our charity. Here are some things we have learned from the experience....

Things you'll need

  • To apply for a BBC Lifeline appeal


First of all, you need to apply for the appeal! Full guidelines and deadlines are available from the BBC charity appeals page.


First contact and next steps

If you are successful, the BBC wil contact you after a few months and let you know. They will also inform you of what next steps to take and when they will be in touch again. At this stage, it is worth thinking about ideas for a celebrity presenter, case studies and angle of your appeal, but DO NOT contact anybody yet - the BBC will need to approve your ideas first. Appoint a project manager to be the main contact with the BBC.


Pre production

You will work with the BBC to deadlines regarding case studies, scripts, presenters etc. We did not start promotion of the appeal until about a month before broadcast as anything can change until the filming is done, and the filming is done in the few weeks before the appeal is broadcast. Deadlines are very tight but the BBC will hold your hand throughout.


How to help your appeal be a success - 1. choose your presenter carefully

We were lucky had a very famous presenter (Richard Hammond) with a clear connection to the cause (he escaped paralysis in his much-publicised car crash in 2004). It is essential to find a presenter whose face is recognisable by most, but who - and this is even more important - also can speak passionately about the cause.


How to help your appeal be a success - 2. PR opportunities

Alongside Richard, we were incredibly lucky to have Melanie Reid, the Times columnist recently paralysed in a horse riding accident, on board as one of the case studies featured in the appeal.

A lot of people who donated were Times readers, and she was able to plug the appeal in her column in the Times magazine on the Saturday before the appeal was broadcast. We realise not everyone can do that, but having a supporter who can write in the press/internet about a cause from a first-person point of view made an enormous difference to the appeal for us so have a look at your contacts. The phones were going crazy before the film had even been broadcast!


How to help your appeal be a success - 3. the power of team work!

Promotion of the appeal was very much a team effort. Everyone in the organisation went out of their way to promote to all segments across the board -  we went to all our database, volunteer groups across the country , contacts in the City, Trustees, Patrons, Charitable Trusts, suppliers we asked each and every one of our contacts to spread the word as much as possible, providing them with email signature templates and PDFs of posters they could print and put up at work, school etc.

It was a real team effort, not confined to the fundraising team, and we believe the hard work paid off.


How to help your appeal be a success - 4. use social media

The use of Facebook, Twitter and e-mail marketing was vital to the success of the appeal. Word of mouth and viral marketing allowed us to promote the appeal to many more people than we could have done with expensive PR and mail only, and at a much lower cost.


How to help your appeal be a success - 5. pick good case studies

We had very good case studies. The human stories were heartbreaking but potrayed in a respectful manner. Picking good case studies is essential in my view - the BBC can help with making that choice - trust them!


How to help your appeal be a success - 6. show them your successes

Crucially for the success of the appeal we were able to show some results of our research and in fact part of the film showed Melanie using one of the rehab treadmill machines in Glasgow that are being funded by our charity and that are actually making a difference to people with spinal injury. In our previous appeal, there was a lot of 'theory' and no 'practise' of research - if you can show people what you charity actually does (quite hard with medical research!) rather than just tell them, I believe that definitely made a huge difference for us.


After the prepared

...because we were not - although we never imagined such a huge success! Be prepared for your phone to ring, for piles of letters to sort through and emails to answer, but above all be prepared with a strategy: what are you going to do with all these new contacts? What is your development plan? Also, make sure the rest of the team is briefed as you will not only receive donations but also requests for more informations or questions on other ways people can support your charity (for example by fundraising or volunteering). If you are a small charity, consider employing a temporary assistant for a few days or a couple of weeks after the appeal is broadcast to help with the admin of donations and new contacts.


Work with the BBC

A final point is: work with the BBC by providing them with all the information they need - often requested at a minute's notice so you will definitely need to appoint a project manager for this - but you also need to be able to step back when asked and leave them pretty much carte blanche when it comes to making decisions on the creative side of the filming, what case studies to use etc. These people are professionals who know how to make the most of  the stories they are provided with and for us they created an amazing piece of filming - moving and informative at the same time, without being cringeworthy of boring (far from it). WE could definitely NOT done a better job, no matter how much we fancied ourselves as the next Martin Scorsese....

Further information

Visit Spinal Research's website to watch their appeal.

Visit the BBC Lifeline website for the latest appeal and apply to be featured in the future. The BBC also invite applications for charities to be featured in their Radio4 Appeals.

See also: Scope's blog post about their BBCRadio4 Appeal from April 2012



Page last edited Jun 23, 2017 History

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