The Learning Post: insights from UK Aid Match

The secrets to a successful fundraising appeal: an interview with Trocaire

Episode Summary

Running a successful fundraising appeal during a busy external environment and a cost-of-living crisis, is a challenge that many charities are facing. So, what makes for a successful appeal? Listen in to hear UK Aid Match charity Trocaire's top tips.

Episode Transcription

Julia (00:00):

Hello and welcome to The Learning Post, a podcast dedicated to sharing insights and learnings from the UK Aid Match and UK Aid Direct funds. My name is Julia and I'm a Communications Consultant for UK Aid Match as well as your host for this episode. In this episode, we speak to David O'Hare, Communications Officer at Trócaire, the overseas development agency of the Irish Catholic Church.


Trócaire works in partnership with local development and humanitarian actors to support people and communities to tackle the root causes of poverty, injustice and violence and use their own power to create positive and lasting change.

Thank you so much for joining us, David, how are you doing today?

David (00:36):

I'm great, Julia. Thanks to the opportunity to share with you.

Julia (00:39):

To kick us off then, please could you give our listeners a brief overview of your most recent UK Aid Match appeal and run us through its aims and key messages?

David (00:47):

Sure. So our latest appeal was the Trócaire Lenten appeal, which is our largest fundraising and awareness raising appeal every year, and it ran in 2022 from the 2nd of March and was focused on Zimbabwe. Trócaire asked the public in Northern Ireland to support a project in Zimbabwe that would improve food security and coping strategies for vulnerable women, men and children who were affected by drought and the long-term impacts of COVID-19 and the project also included a specific women's empowerment element.


The overarching theme of our campaign was about creating long-term positive change in people's lives. So the Trócaire pack last year featured the story of Thandekile and her family and the challenges they were facing and how donations can make a positive impact. So we used Thandekile's story as just one very tangible example of what people were facing in Zimbabwe. And as you know Julia, people connect with people, not stats, so it's very important to us to ensure the human face of the challenges is presented and that real people are given the opportunity to tell their story in their own words. And at the heart of everything we do is the respect for the dignity and agency of all the people we work with.


So the pack included the Trócaire box, and that's something we have had for many decades now. It's a collection box that sits in people's kitchens or on their mantel piece, an A3 leaflet with more information on the family's story and ways to donate and also taking learnings from our successful 2021 UK Aid Match appeal, we developed the UK Aid Match insert, a very specific insert to highlight the key Match funding messaging.


And the pack is Trocaire’s largest piece of direct communication reaching almost 135,000 homes in Northern Ireland. All of the communications clearly highlighted that donor support would be matched through the UK Aid Match collaboration. And just to say, our overall target as per the application we made was £2 million and we actually raised an excess of £2.3 million which we're absolutely delighted with.

Julia (02:36):

That sounds amazing. Thank you so much for sharing that and it sounds like a really brilliant appeal. You mentioned that your appeal went live in March 2022, which was very soon after the war in Ukraine started, but despite that, you still seemed to manage to generate a really impressive amount of media coverage.

So I was wondering, how did you manage to achieve that cut through in the middle of this really busy external environment?

David (02:58):

It was an incredibly challenging time in terms of getting coverage, as quite rightly the focus was on the terrible events in Ukraine. Our communications partners, our media partners, were absolutely crucial in getting that cut through. So we had a total of seven comms media partners and we've worked very hard at building our relationships with them over a number of years. We had a great mix of partners for the appeal, so we had the Mirror, a national daily newspaper, we had the Sunday World, a national Sunday newspaper here in Northern Ireland. We had a local newspaper group, the Belfast Media Group. We had Q Radio Network, which is the largest regional radio group.

And then we mixed it up a little bit, so we had an ambassador supporter, Carl Frampton. Carl's a former two-weight world champion boxer from Belfast. And then we have two corporate partners as well, which are actually two shopping centres, one in Belfast and one in Newry.


We were really lucky, we were able to connect with donors through multiple channels and some of those partners have actually been with us since 2012, which was our first UK Aid Match appeal and others are more recent. In fact, the Sunday World was actually a new partner.

So I think it's really important to have that mix as we're able to build on the message and deepen the understanding with audiences who've been hearing about our work for a while, as well as connecting with new audiences. You have to think about what the appeal will bring to partners and their various audiences. One of the great things we bring to the UK Aid Match collaboration is our access to regional donors and audiences, so not just through our community networks of parishes and schools, but also through our network of volunteers.


A quick example, in order to make press releases resonate with regional newspapers, I worked with volunteers in various areas to make them our spokespeople in those releases for the titles in their area. So we found it was much stronger, much better received from local media if the message is coming from a local person who's known in their community. So that worked really well for us, and actually our partner collaborations and our earned media resulted in over 4 million opportunities to view for the appeal rollout.

Julia (04:51):

Wow, that brings me really nicely onto my next question. You mentioned that you have to think about what you are offering to a potential media partner when you're bringing them on board. Do you have any other kind of words of wisdom for other organizations on how to secure those media partnerships that you seem to do so successfully this time?

And also, you mentioned how some of these partners have been working with you for a number of years, so how have you managed to keep that relationship going and keep them really engaged in your cause after the end of a push and fundraising appeal has ended?

David (05:22):

Yeah, it's a really good question. It's very simple from my perspective, it's all about building and maintaining relationships, Julia. The other thing I would say is it has to be a win-win scenario. So media outlets in particular, though they may be predisposed to an element of corporate social responsibility, they still have to sell papers or engage listeners and viewers, so you've got to be able to show decision makers that the consumer base is interested in the subject matter. Now we've been able to do that because of the empirical evidence that we have that shows the level of donations are very high during Lent in Northern Ireland and also the wide geographic spread of our donors.


The other thing I would say is you've got to be able to supply really powerful and impactful human interest stories that will engage media audiences. And another inducement is being able to offer the chance for them to send a representative on a media trip to the focus country. So what I've found in the past is with that time investment, you have a much better chance of not just coverage landing, but the breadth and depth of coverage and it can be very authentic for the readers, listeners, viewers, as its first hand reporting. And that was one of the challenges last year was we weren't able to organize a media trip because of the ongoing challenges with Covid, but I did manage to travel alone myself during the appeal period and was able to create content for them that they could use back home in their various outlets.


The reporting back element of UK Aid Match is much trickier with partners, because they have to commit sometimes maybe 18 months in advance and that's difficult and this is where solid relationships really come into play. It was a challenge this year getting that reporting back comms work implemented, but I have to say every single one of our partners came through in the end.

What I would say is, encourage your partners to big up their role and the role of their audiences in getting the funding, that should be blowing their own trumpets as well because we couldn't do it without them and their audiences, and we actually ended up with around 3.3 million OTVs from partners in earned coverage in our reporting back.

So my advice is very simple, start building those relationships, get a really strong pitch ready for decision-makers that shows what they will get out of the partnership.

Julia (07:20):

Great, thank you. Some of the CSOs listening to this will really appreciate that advice.

You just mentioned there about the challenges in terms of content gathering that you experienced as a result of COVID-19. You mentioned that you went on a trip yourself. How did you go about content gathering in a way that ensured you were telling authentic stories and that your programme participants in Zimbabwe were really front and centre of your appeal even despite those challenges that you mentioned?

David (07:45):

It was challenging. We had to gather content remotely in advance of the appeal for various pieces of collateral, because a lot of them, as CSOs will know, have a long lead in time. So that was a challenge. Very simply, we held regular planning meetings with our Zimbabwe office, they project-led the materials gathering and we used the local photographer and videographer.

An essential element in making that work was coming up with a really comprehensive terms of reference that everyone agrees beforehand and everyone's bought into. And part of that was stressing the importance of making sure the programme participants and partners were the voices we wanted to hear, so this gave great agency to them.

This whole approach of remote content gathering is quite a departure from how we used to do things pre-Covid, when a number of head office staff and supporting photographers or videographers would travel to the focus country to gather collateral. Going forward, I envisage a much more hybrid approach to materials gathering with most of the personnel being national staff and national providers, with perhaps maybe one home expert on the appeal supporting. And we also utilized technology too, Julia. We conducted Zoom interviews with local leaders in Zimbabwe, which brought a very immediate authentic voice directly to the audience in Northern Ireland. It actually worked very well in the end.

Julia (08:58):

That sounds like it was a great success. I know another thing that seemed to be really effective about your appeal was your community outreach work, especially with churches and schools. So how did you encourage people to get on board and support your cause, especially in this context of the cost of living crisis and so many other issues happening closer to home?

David (09:19):

Julia, we are incredibly lucky to have the access we do to both our Catholic faith and schools communities and also volunteers, as I've mentioned before, as we are the overseas development agency of the Catholic Church in Ireland. 2022 was still challenging in terms of physical access to congregations in schools, things were only slowly returning to pre-pandemic attendance levels. But in terms of church engagement, so before, during and after Lent we communicated with bishops, with parish priests, parishioners and volunteers, we produced parish Lent resources including digital toolkits, and that was moving on from innovations from the year before. We created posters with the UK Aid Match messaging to be displayed in churches and schools, delivered mass talks through staff and volunteers and parishes right across Northern Ireland, we connected with about 120 congregations, and then workshops, encouraged community fundraising and we did those with parish volunteers during Lent.


On the school side of things, with school talks and presentations, both digital and in person, so again, a hybrid approach. We delivered those to 129 schools. We facilitated initial teacher education training on the Lent theme. And what we try to do as well with our development education work is tie the themes and the foci of our various appeals in with the curriculum, and we're very good at doing that. We had a lot of supporting materials and as with the church audience, we ensured regular contact with the school stakeholders.

And then as I've mentioned before, we have a really, really strong volunteer base. We have about 27 volunteers across Northern Ireland, but they're absolutely invaluable in delivering those outreach activities for us and really as a multiplier for the message. Again, what was key in the public engagement work was bringing that authentic voice to audiences and really reinforcing the fact that we are their agency and it gives them great ownership.

Julia (11:07):

Yeah, great. Thank you so much for that, David. That brings me onto my final question. So as you know, with UK Aid Match appeals, for every pound donated by a member of the public, the UK government also contributes a pound up to £2 million. So having this safety net of match funding often offers charities the ability to test innovative approaches and trial new tactics. Did you try anything new with this campaign? And if so, how did it go?

David (11:32):

Yeah, well much of the innovation we commenced in 2021 and that was all obviously post-Covid. It was innovation which was necessity, so when all the churches and schools were closed, we had to come up with a new way of working. It included digital outreach, which we built on again this year, we had a ‘My Trócaire Box’ initiative for school kids to be able to build their own box. And we further developed that in 2022 by adding weekly activities with an ambition to leverage technology to enable cashless giving.

So we added a QR code to the Trócaire box for the first time and this new way to give proved really, really strong for us. We had a great conversion rate with almost a third of people who scanned it actually donated to the appeal. So it does give you the opportunity to try new things while still obviously building on those proven channels and ways of working that we've used for a long time.

Julia (12:21):

And do you think with the QR code, cashless giving, is that something that now you've tried it that you might incorporate into your work in the future?

David (12:28):

We will certainly be looking at that again for Lent 2023. 

Julia (12:31):

Oh, that's really great to hear. Well, thank you so much for your time today, David. It's been really great to learn from your experience of UK Aid Match and I'm sure our listeners will really appreciate hearing your thoughts.

David (12:41):

It's been a pleasure speaking to you, Julia. Hope the listeners are able to take something away from the conversation that might help them in the terrific work they do. I'll leave the listeners with one last observation.


It can seem like a huge amount of work to be a part of a UK Aid Match collaboration, there's a lot of reporting and so on, but you don't have to have a huge team working on this. So there'll be a lot of CSOs, some very small, some very large. Our core team was maybe three or four people, which will probably sound like a lot to some CSOs, but I'm the only comms person working on it, and there's also great support available from both yourselves at the Social Change Agency and from MannionDaniels. And this funding stream has been incredibly important for us, it's resulted in an extra £11 million for our work over the six successful applications. So what I would say to people is, be brave and just go for it.

Julia (13:22):

I think that's a brilliant note to end on. Thank you so much, David. To find out more about the UK Aid Match appeals, you can head over to the 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 out on any future episode.