The Learning Post: insights from UK Aid Match

Insights and learnings from running a successful UK Aid Match appeal: an interview with READ Foundation

Episode Summary

In this episode, we hear from Aamer Naeem and Zahid Rehman from READ Foundation on their successful UK Aid Match, ‘Because She Can’ (Empower Her) appeal earlier this year.

Episode Transcription

Morven Loh: [00:00 – 00:30] 

Hi, everyone. I hope you're doing well today. My name's Morven Loh and I'm the Communications Manager for UK Aid Match, as well as your host for this episode of The Learning Post.

In this episode, we speak to Aamer Naeem and Zahid Rehman from READ Foundation, an international non-profit organization working to end poverty through education, and who also ran their incredibly successful ‘You Can’ appeal earlier this year. Welcome, both. 

Aamer Naeem: [00:30 – 00:34]

Hi Morven, lovely to be here.

Zahid Rehman: Hi, likewise.

Morven Loh: [0:35 - 0:43] 

I'm going to dive into our first question. Zahid, can you please just provide a brief overview of your appeal, its key messages and its aims?

Zahid Rehman: [0:44 –2:06]                                         

So, our appeal was fairly straightforward. READ Foundation is an education-focused charity working for deprived communities around the world, mainly in Pakistan, which was the focus of this appeal. The key messaging that we really want to push out was really focusing on something that we've been doing for a long time, and an opportunity came up through UK Aid Match to really put a spotlight on it, and that was supporting girls to succeed within these communities. 

When the opportunity came up, we'd already had a highly successful school, so we've already got the systems in place, and these girls are really ambitious. They really want to take on the world and achieve their dreams. What we wanted to push to the public was that READ Foundation is there. [00:01:30] We're already supporting young girls and providing them with a quality education, some of the best in the region, and we did it with the support of UK Aid Match in this one. So, we're already helping these girls, but with UK Aid Match, we can help more girls, so we're almost doubling our impact.

Our campaign message was to Empower Her. So, we took these young girls and used them as heroes, so each young girl was a hero and we headlined it with Empower Her, Because She Can. Because it's all about them. Once you give them the tools to succeed, they go off and they do it, and they really do... they're highfliers, they really are. 

Morven Loh: [2:07 – 2:45]                                          

You know, it was such a joy to work with you both on your campaign because that passion really came through. And I think it really nicely leads us onto the next question, because I feel like that key message really did resonate. And Aamer, I'll put this one to you, because you ran your appeal during Ramadan and the support you got from your local community was really incredible. [00:02:30] So how did you manage to harness the support and work with those communities and your communication partners effectively, and what part of that key message do you think resonated with them? 

Aamer Naeem: [2:45 –7:25]                                             

Sure. I think first thing to perhaps mention is that we did have a target of 370,000 and we eventually ended up raising 1.2 million. The way the... I suppose, the messaging and the opportunity kind of presented, did resonate very well with our kind of donor base. Timing wise, we launched the appeal two months before Ramadan, and that's quite intentional, because A, it gives us a nice runway up to Ramadan. But B, also, post-Ramadan, because Ramadan is that time where a lot of the Muslim community give their charity, post-Ramadan there's not much of an opportunity. So, number one, we had that Ramadan opportunity already presented. Then number two, the fact that the appeal itself was Zakat eligible, so the Muslim community have to give two and a half percent of their [00:03:30] wealth every year to charitable causes. 

It's a bit like a charitable tax. So, a lot of people use Ramadan as that month to calculate and give their Zakat, so we had the benefit of the fact that the campaign itself was Zakat eligible. Combine that with what Zahid's already mentioned, the fact that these are young, out-of-school girls in an area, Gilgit in Pakistan, where the literacy rate was less than 1%. The need is just so obvious and so apparent. You [00:04:00] combine all those together and then almost add to it this whole kind of, with every pound you give, it's going to be matched, we were just hitting so many points for people to be motivated to make those donations. 

We had a lot of good people who'd come on board initially. MPs wise, we had Afzal Khan MP, local MP here in Manchester, but we had Lord Ahmed also supporting us  too, but then what happened was, as the messaging went out, Yasmin Qureshi MP also [00:04:30] tweeted, so we had lots of people came on board because they heard the messaging. And there were influencers who were going to support us to start off with, but then as the messaging went out, we had this young man called Harris J who can only be described as the Muslim Justin Bieber, and I'm sorry Harry / Justin, if you didn't like that description, but he jumped on board, and with over a million... I think it's over two million if you add in Facebook and Instagram and they all do it together, there were so many followers. [00:05:00] Having him jump on board was amazing. 

We had a local radio station, the British Muslim Heritage Centre here in Manchester with a radio station, but then we had another opportunistic opportunity from Birmingham, Club Asia Radio in Birmingham. We had a Muslim school in Manchester, the Manchester Islamic High School for Girls. They were a proactive comms partner. Then we had Islamic School in London seeing what was happening, they came on board as well. So, we had so much in terms of [00:05:30] grassroots. 

One of the things definitely worth mentioning is the fact that I know the UK Aid Match were encouraging innovation and encouraging us to use digital in order to enhance our comms plan, and our digital did perform really well, but what's definitely worth mentioning is how the grassroots outperformed digital. 

So we had a local centre here in Oldham, the EIC, European Islamic Centre I think it's called. I mean, they raised almost £36,000 just [00:06:00] from their congregation. 

And Islamic School in London, they raised over £40,000. We also had some iftar dinners. Now, post-COVID, this was the first Ramadan where people were actually able to come out and actually have these collective iftar. Iftar - being where you break your fast together -, and those iftar dinners alone raised over £200,000 pounds. I think just the fact that we were able to get face-to-face fundraising, [00:06:30] good old-fashioned way, as opposed to just everybody... this kind of remote thing through a digital. It worked really, really well for us. 

I mean, there was an Imam from Cheadle Muslim Association called Abid Khan, and he did exceptionally well. This is an Imam. I mean, I suppose, he did use tech and his grassroots because he used crowdfunding platforms and fund raised from his congregation and raised over £36,000. 

And one last thing just before I go, 14% of the donors that donated to this particular campaign [00:07:00] were actually already on our database but had not donated for over five years. The messaging, the opportunity, it had to be the fact that your donations are matched pound for pound as well, that we had donors who, you had to class them as lapsed donors, because they haven't donated for over five years, were 14%. That's not a small number of people. That's almost 500 people donated. 

Morven Loh: [7:26 – 8:01] 

No, that is absolutely fantastic, and I think it just goes to show the power of one, a really motivational and empowering campaign, but also that match incentive. It's just incredible. The other thing that I think is just so important is the power that communications partners can bring, and the power that communities can bring. 

Zahid, I'll come back to you. This was the first year you ran a full-scale You Can appeal. Do you have any recommendations on what worked well and how you'd build upon [00:08:00] that if you were to run this type of campaign again? 

Zahid Rehman: [08:02 – 10:22]                                       

So, I think one of our key learnings from this campaign is to really have your plan as you do, work with your comms partners and make sure you have all your ducks in a row, but to ensure there's flexibility. I think the key learning from this is make sure you've got a plan B and a plan C. Influencers can be very difficult to work with. They work to their own timeframes and their own timelines and as you know, one of our digital partners didn't deliver as well as they could have done. So, we just need to be a little bit more aware that that is a scenario that could actually happen. So, to ensure that your plan has an alternative. 

And because of the success of our grassroots and the community fundraising and some of the events that we'd held, they really boosted and exceeded our expectations. So, they covered the cracks, shall we say, on some of these things. As Aamer identified, one of our community fundraisers, an influencer, Imam Abid, he utilized a digital platform, and we pushed all our influencers [00:09:00] onto a digital platform so they independently were raising money through those portals. 

The other thing that was actually really good was the fact that, and again Aamer identified it, was the re-engaging donors that had previously donated, and I think that was purely down to the matching donation. 

If that didn't exist, I don't think they would have donated because this is a programme that we're already running. This is something that we're already supporting young girls in Pakistan. We're already building schools, supporting orphans. We're doing a number of things already. So, they've already donated [00:09:30] to that, but to make this more attractive is the fact that well, if you donate during this holy month, during this special time, your donation will be matched by the UK government, and I think that worked wonders. And I think we, in terms of promoting it to our donors, we had a very solid plan. That didn't change, we stuck to that. 

So anything we had control over worked well. Anything that was either getting MPs on board or influencers, we were lucky enough to kind of fall on our feet, because we had others that we didn't expect to join actually [00:10:00] supported the campaign because they really liked the messaging, they really liked what we were pushing out to the communities. And it did resonate, because it was a very positive message. 

READ's philosophy is always positivity anyway. We always try and show the outcome and the outpour. We don't like selling misery. We like showing success, and this enabled us to do that hand-in-hand with the UK government. I think that worked very, very, very well. 

Morven Loh: [10:22 – 11:00]                                          

I think you guys had a really, really solid comms plan, but you were also just flexible enough to adapt and change when new things came your way, and I think that that is... you're right to identity that was what helped you guys be so successful in the end. 

You already touched on it a little bit, but Aamer, I'll put this to you. Was there any element of the appeal that really didn't go to plan, that kind of fell by the wayside a little bit, and what did you learn from that and how would you mitigate this or adapt to it again if you were given another opportunity? 

Aamer Naeem: [11:00 – 11:58]                                           

Don't mistake opportunities to view for fundraising. Not knocking opportunities to view because I think it was those opportunities to view that actually helped generate some of the new comms partners, but we raised 200K from our website, 50,000 from our call centre. The community fundraisers did their job and raised half a million themselves, et cetera. There were 40 JustGiving pages from volunteers. These are volunteers that we were able to reach, not new volunteers, these were volunteers that are within our network. 

Don't rely too much on your comms partners because they're giving opportunities to view. They're not going to fundraise very much, but they have got massive viewership. So, some of the radio stations are like that. They don't necessarily give you anything back, but they do have a listenership, whereas some other smaller centres we had, they've got a congregation of 600 people and they raised 30K. 

Zahid Rehman: [11:58 – 13:02]                                          

So Aamer, just to follow on that point, one of the things that we did notice was we ran it at the busiest time of the year for Muslim charities and digital platforms. There's a lot of things happening at the same time. A lot of charities make like 50% of their income in that one month, and we were gearing up for that, so we had three months where we were really pushing the message. These platforms, their priority is not us. Even though they've made an agreement prior to that, they agreed to something that they didn't realize themselves that there were going to get really, really busy. Or they thought they could accommodate, and when it came down to the crunch, they weren't able to do that. And it's no fault on them, it's just things were so busy during Ramadan that there's so much messaging going on, it gets lost. 

So, a lesson learnt going forward would be just to be very conscious and aware of that, and don't expect too much from some of these partners that they're going to deliver on that. And again, Aamer touched on that point, is if it wasn't for our community fundraisers setting up their own JustGiving pages and really pushing out to their own communities, and driving that traffic to the digital platforms, I don't think we would have been able to raise the amounts that we did. 

Morven Loh: [13:30 – 13:30] 

Thanks so much for talking to us today. That was really, really insightful and I think a lot of people are going to find your insights really interesting and valuable. 

Find out more about the UK Aid Match appeals. Head over to the live appeals and grants section of the UK Aid Match website at And don't forget to subscribe to The Learning Post so you don't miss any future episodes.