Speaking to Morven Loh, Communications Manager for The Social Change Agency, Gillian McMahon from Right To Play, talks about their charity's incredibly successful, UK Aid Match 'Save Her Seat' appeal.
Morven Loh: [00:00 – 0:48] Hello, and welcome to The Learning Post, a podcast dedicated to showing the insights from the UK Aid Match and UK Aid Direct funds.
My name is Morven Loh, and I'm the communications manager for UK Aid Match, as well as your host for this episode.
In this episode, we speak to Gillian McMahon, [00:00:30] the executive director at Right To Play, an international non-profit organisation working with vulnerable children to overcome the effects of war, poverty and disease through play.
Morning, Gillian. How are you doing today?
Gillian McMahon: I'm well, thanks. How are you?
Morven Loh: [0:50 – 0:58] I'm good. So, I'm just going to dive straight in and ask if you can provide a brief overview of your appeal, its key messages, and its aims.
Gillian McMahon: [0:58 – 1:30] Our appeal was called Save Her Seat and was really focused on girls' education. It ran from the 1st of April to the 30th of June.
The key messages were really around the challenges girls face in accessing quality education and equality of opportunity. Even before the pandemic, 129 million girls were out of school, and girls are twice as likely to drop out of school due to a crisis, and they stay out even the crisis is over because of the lower priority placed on girls finishing school.
[1:30 -1:57] As you know, when girls are out of school, they're at a greater risk of child marriage, early pregnancy, child labour, domestic violence, and female genital mutilation.
The appeal really focused on the importance of investing in girls' education and how that helps girls and benefits their families and their communities. We wanted to raise funds through our Save Her Seat campaign to use play-based approaches to improve educational opportunities for girls in the Mara region of Tanzania and other countries around the world.
[1:58 – 2:17] Through the campaign, we wanted to develop girls' life skills to support improved learning outcomes, strengthen learning environments so they become inclusive and safe, and enhance community support for girls' education. The aim was that we would increase girls' retention in school, improve exam grades, and increase transition rates to secondary school.
[2:17 -2:45] So we set out with a fundraising target, before matching of £370,000, based on the scale of our support base in the UK, but by the end of the campaign we had massively increased our reach in terms of UK audience and we'd more than doubled our fundraising target, raising more than £750,000 and with Match and Gift Aid, that's going to be about £1.7 million.
Morven Loh: [2:46 – 3:08] Thanks so much, Gillian. I think your appeal was so successful and really resonated with the UK public because of the message that you had. I think play-based learning is something that not everyone's necessarily that familiar with. It was such a powerful message. I was just so chuffed to see you guys do so well.
[3:07 – 3:35] However, your appeal was live whilst there was extensive fundraising and coverage of the war in Ukraine. As you said, you launched in April, and the war in Ukraine, I think, started at the end of February. So, media attention was really on that. And also, there was a cost-of-living crisis that happened at the same time. How were you able to achieve cut-through with your messaging and reach your target audience whilst all of this was also going on?
Gillian McMahon: [3:36 – 4:14] That's definitely something that was a concern for us in the build up to the appeal and something that we thought about. There were probably three areas that I could say that were a focus for trying to respond to that.
Firstly, we kept our message very simple and clear. That is something that I would say is really important.
Secondly, we did talk about the education crisis facing children around the world, and that's something that the public and our supporters are also keenly aware of. So, COVID had created an educational catastrophe that's widened the education gap that existed even before the pandemic, and it's putting children's futures at risk.
[4:15 – 4:58] Worldwide, 129 million children were out of school before the pandemic, and three quarters of children denied their seat in school are girls. In many countries, girls who do attend school are much less likely to progress and graduate. So, while there's been huge progress in access to education for girls, there are still huge barriers. In countries where Right To Play works, such as Tanzania, girls are just so much less likely to complete school even if they do attend so we really talked about investing in girls' education as a really key step for the world and towards a brighter future for everyone and we talked to our donors about what they were providing in terms of support and that they were able to help children access opportunities to stay in school and complete their education.
[4:59 -5:33] The third element was talking to our existing support base as well. So, the match element of the campaign was obviously very attractive to our supporters. The simple fact that their donations could be doubled was really appealing and part of our simple messaging focused on £30 being able to save a seat for a girl for a full academic year. So, it was a really simple, tangible ask.
And we were also really lucky to have some incredible pro-bono support from Right To Play's ambassadors, and their campaign really helped us reach new audiences.
Morven Loh: [5:33 – 6:11] As I said before, it was such a powerful message, and I think simple really does cut through and when there are big global crises happening, simple really galvanise behind a cause.
You touched on pro bono partners. I just wanted to circle to this because you had some incredible communication partners who supported your appeal, such as footballer, Sadio Mané and beauty blogger, Lisa Potter-Dixon. They've got quite different audiences, I'd say.
How did you engage existing partners, bring new ones on board, and work with them effectively to really spread your message?
Gillian McMahon: [6:13 – 6:53] We're a small team in the Right To Play UK office. So I think, looking back at it, the preparation that we did really helped us with the results.
Our partnerships team really worked hard to connect with our existing ambassadors and contacts, but it wasn't hard to explain to them the opportunity. Everyone just got really excited about it once we talked to them about it and recognised... People that are already supporting Right To Play just saw how much it could help us raise funds and reach new audiences. So, they were on board well before we launched the campaign, and we planned with them as much as we could when and how we were going to support and we tried to spread that out.
[6:53 - We were able to secure some pro-bono support from Wunderman Thompson, which is a creative agency, and they helped us develop our Save Her Seat TV advert. We had a lot of creative input but they very much created the look and feel of the advert for the campaign, and that's something that we really as a small team couldn't have delivered without their support.
[7:15 – 7:37] As our campaign was focused on female empowerment, we reached out to women's networks and new influencers with mostly female audiences. So, as you said, we had Lisa Potter-Dixon. We had Leighanne Robe, who's a footballer. And Marie-Claire. We were really attempting to reach new female audiences in the UK.
[7:40 – 08:42] With Sadio Mané, we're very lucky to have him as our global ambassador, and he's a supporter of ours for some years now. He was just crowned African Footballer of the Year for the second time, which is brilliant. He grew up in Senegal and he visited our work there in 2021. So he's very committed to supporting Right To Play and creating better opportunities for children.
We were able to get his support along with Leighanne Robe, as I said, who's a Liverpool Football Club women's player, before we launched the campaign, and they both recorded messages of support for the campaign. We didn't have long to get content with them, but we focused on getting some really quick, direct asks to camera that were clear and then asking them to share on their social media. So, Sadio Mané has 16 million followers on Facebook, and we were delighted that he shared our Save Her Seat campaign film on his Facebook account, which helped us reach over 100,000 views. It also meant we had appealing content for our press release and that our partner Liverpool Football Club Foundation shared the campaign.
[08:44 – 09:08] We also had our ambassador and football star Nathan Redmond, and he's also been a huge supporter and has seen our work first-hand in Ghana. So he was also a huge help and committed straightaway to the campaign and the opportunity that it provided for Right To Play. He actually created his own film in support of the campaign and shared that on Instagram, which meant that we were able to reach new audiences again.
[09:09 – 09:20] We went out to other influential Right To Play ambassadors and supporters such as Chemmy Alcott, who's our board member. She's an Olympian and a sports presenter, and she was able to also lend her support and get the message out.
[09:21 – 09:48] Lisa Potter-Dixon, who you mentioned, is an influencer and make-up artist. She created and ran an online Save Her Seat beauty raffle, which was just brilliant. It was a totally new, mostly female audience for us, and it was a really great example of people being able to buy a ticket for £5, donate in a small way, but create momentum. It was nice that it was her unique approach and imagination that helped her support the campaign.
Morven Loh: [09:50 – 10:06] My final question to you, Gillian. Was there any element of your appeal that didn't go so well, and how did you mitigate this? Given another opportunity to run this, how would you adapt to that in future?
Gillian McMahon: [10:06 -11:02] I don't know it was necessarily a surprise to us, but we had a text to donate number as part of the campaign and we really debated whether to include that, but we felt because we were asking an audience that was newer to Right To Play to donate to the campaign through the TV adverts, and also through our ambassadors sharing on social media, we chose to include it. While we got a reasonable number of texts to donate donations, it didn't convert to the level that we might have expected.
I think the adverts and all of the sharing on social media massively helped our reach and our profile, and that's obviously harder to quantify. It's a question mark about whether we would use text to donate again, but I think probably, on balance, we would but I don't know if you could call it hugely successful.
[11:02 – 11:39] The only other thing I would say is that we were still coming out of the pandemic and our approach to events was still evolving. We were planning in January. We were still quite cautious about what we might be able to do in terms of events, and that made us a bit more cautious about our planning. In the end, we were able to run a series of events, but it was an ever-changing picture and we didn't manage to do everything that we'd planned to the scale that we wanted because we were slightly more cautious at the start.
Morven Loh: [11:40 – 12:03] That is some really, really helpful advice, and I think people listening to that will be scribbling away on their notepads.
Thank you so much for your time, Gillian. I know we've experienced a couple of internet hiccups during the recording of this. So I really appreciate you taking the time out of your day, and just thank you so much for talking to me.
Gillian McMahon: [12:04 -12:07] Not at all. Thank you. It's been great to have your support.
Morven Loh: [12:12 – 12:39] To find out more about the UK Aid Match appeals, head over to the live appeals and grants section of UK Aid Match website at ukaidmatch.org/grants.
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Thanks for listening. Bye.