You’ll have seen that 99 year old, Captain Tom Moore (@captaintommoore) has been raising money by walking the length of his garden. Initially he set out to raise £1000 to mark his 100th birthday.
Today (17 April) the total on JustGiving stands at a staggering £17m. JustGiving have done an amazing job to process hundreds of donations per second. The story has been all over the media and donations have come from 52 different countries.
People want to support Tom and give something to the NHS at this impossible time when we need them most. But as the story has grown, the messaging about how and where the money will be used has been lost. As with any windfall fundraising on this scale, transparency is needed about who gets the money and how it will be spent.
The public is heavily invested in Captain Tom and most will know that this money is going to the NHS in some way. It gives us a good news story, a heroic person to connect with and reassurance that the NHS has much-needed extra funds. All good.
But as with other huge windfalls the sector has seen, there comes a responsibility by the recipient charity to be transparent about where the money is going. Most of the coverage has focussed on Captain Tom, the total he has raised and the progress of his garden challenge.
There is little mention that the funds are going to NHS Charities Together for them to distribute to their NHS charity members – not ‘the NHS’.
Think back to the Claire Squires Fund in 2012 which raised £1m for The Samaritans, #ThumbsUpForStephen in 2014 which raised £5m for Teenage Cancer Trust (until a few days ago holding the record for the most raised by an individual through JustGiving), or #FinishForMatt in 2018 which raised £380k for small charity Brathay Trust).
Each of these was a high-profile news story which prompted a wave of love and action by thousands of donors. Each charity had to respond to this event happening outside their control and quickly communicate their plans about how they would use these large unexpected funds.
For most, donors were responding to the story of Claire, Stephen and Matt, wanting to do something. The cause was secondary. The charities had to get the right balance of letting the story drive donations but at the same time making sure it featured prominently in all their comms (such as website homepage, social media, email marketing). They had to connect with and educate a new audience about their work, and as the size of windfall became clear, make and share plans about how the money would be used.
#WalkWithTom has additional complications as we are all connected to the cause. But in this case, there is also complexity around the messaging of who is holding the money and how we think about the NHS and how it is funded.
About NHS Charities Together
NHS Charities Together is an umbrella organisation for the NHS charities. There are more than 250 across the UK, although only 140 are members. Most hospitals and Trusts have one (see list of NHS Charities Together members). They operate a bit like a school PTA which raises money for ‘extras’ not covered by council budgets.
Most people don’t know or need to know about NHS charities, why they exist and what they pay for which is different from the government funded frontline NHS. But actually this matters. In recent days I have seen lots of people talking about this story, confused (and sometimes very angry) about how and why this money is ‘going to the NHS’ which we pay for through our taxes. Some have raised concerns about the precedent it is setting for people thinking they are donating to the NHS.
Lots of the media coverage simply says that Tom is ‘raising money for the NHS’. Even the Chancellor said it in this message! Most reports don’t mention specifically that the money is going to NHS charities and how it will be used. Maybe people may assume the money will go on PPE and ventilators? Maybe it is too technical to explain or gets in the way of a good story?
But we are once again left in a situation where the technicalities of how charities operate are a mystery to most and the lines are blurred between charity and public sector services and who pays for them.
Hopefully as the story moves away from Tom’s garden, it will focus on the difference this money will make. And explain where it is and where it isn’t going. If the media, simply said that the money is going to NHS charities, rather than ‘to the NHS’, it would be a good start.
How the money will be used
Unfortunately, not much has been said about how the money Tom has raised will be used yet. NHS Charities has been celebrating Tom’s achievements and the ever growing total. They probably haven’t got time to do more. They are only a small organisation and they are running several other campaigns and fundraising efforts of their own.
NHS Charities’ own appeal on Virgin Money Giving has raised £27m (including £26m raised offline from major donors). This appeal gives examples of some of the ways the money could be used including:
- wellbeing packs for NHS staff and volunteers
- covering staff / volunteer expenses such as car parking, travel and accommodation
- communication devices for isolated patients
- mental health support for staff, volunteers and patients
- helping patients leave and remain out of hospital.
These sound like very valuable ways to use the funds but what does this look like with £44m+ behind it? Will only member charities get support or all of the NHS charities? How will this be allocated? Is this more than enough to cover these activities or is more needed?
It must be a complicated challenge to allocate this amount of money quickly across hundreds of partners in a crisis of this scale and under such pressure. But donors and the press need their ‘what now’ story about the impact of these generous donations.
Good comms is key
As with any massively successful fundraising appeal, attention will turn from the event to how the money has will be used. Here, questions will be asked about the speed of getting the funds to where they are needed.
Hopefully NHS Charities Together will be able to give clarity through their own comms and press outreach about their intentions for this unexpectedly large amount of money. As well as the numbers, it would be good to see stories about impact to give a human context. We need more good news stories.
The hashtag #ThankYouTom is already being used by people. Maybe the NHS charities could share their stories of how the money has been used in their hospital using this?
This Civil Society article (NHS Charities Together appeal raises £55m for members (17 April)) gives some detail about how the money is being spent.
Some of the same information is also in the mainstream press. See How will Captain Tom Moore’s £14m be spent to help NHS workers? (Huffington Post – 16 April) and Covid-19 appeal to benefit NHS staff through array of charities (The Guardian, 16 April).
Captain Tom’s fundraising was closed after his 100th birthday. The final total was over £32m.
NHS Charities Together raises £100m through Covid-19 appeal – UK Fundraising.
- Captain Tom Moore breaks JustGiving fundraising record as total passes £12.8m – Civil Society.
- Captain Tom breaks records and other fundraisers raise millions on JustGiving for Covid-19 causes – UK Fundraising.
- Captain Tom Moore raises over £12million: 3 fundraising lessons – Rob Woods.
- What charities can learn from Captain Tom – Margo Horsley.
- JustGiving shares a thread of other people raising money for NHS Charities, inspired by Captain Tom.
- Welcome to Yorkshire send thank you messages to Captain Tom.
For more coronavirus-related fundraising and comms, see April’s Digital round-up.