Building a legacy fundraising strategy at CancerCare

Guest post by Anna Webster, Individual Giving Fundraiser at CancerCare. Anna is responsible for all areas of individual giving at her charity. She shows that an impactful legacy strategy doesn’t need big budgets or time. She explains that legacy confidence and internal culture is key.

Anna gave this inspiring presentation at the CIoF Legacy Fundraising conference on 2 December 2021 (you can still buy tickets if you want to watch the recording from this and the other excellent sessions througout the day). She very kindly allowed it to be shared here.


CancerCare is a regional charity supporting people affected by cancer or bereavement in North Lancashire and South Cumbria. Gifts in Wills have always been important to us. On average, legacies make up around a quarter of our annual income.

‘Creating a legacy strategy’ has been on our to-do list for a long time but legacy income was often a strand of our fundraising that got knocked further down the list in favour of more urgent, or more ‘exciting’ fundraising opportunities. We’re a smaller charity. We work at a regional level. We don’t have a budget for legacy marketing.

When the pandemic hit, overnight our in-person events had to stop at the same time as demand for our support increased dramatically. Legacy income became a real lifeline.

It really hit home that if we wanted to maintain this important source of funding and secure the future of our charity, we needed to give this area a bit more attention. We needed to be more pro-active and less re-active!

As well as challenges, the pandemic also gave us a bit of space to breathe and to reflect on our fundraising activities. We were just doing the same things year in year out, because it was ‘just what we do’. For the first time, we had space to get to those jobs that had fallen to the bottom of the list, including creating our legacy strategy.

Creating the strategy

Working from home at my kitchen table during lockdown, I took some time to think about what we really wanted to achieve, and what was manageable, given the size of our organisation and limited resource. I did a lot of reading online about what made a ‘good legacy strategy’ and came up with five key headlines.

Working with my manager, we made a list of tasks and deadlines that would help us to achieve those key aims. Creating the strategy was part of my ‘agile sprint’; a focus list of tasks to complete in a short period of time, so the first draft went back and forth a few times, with comments and suggestions added until we had a finished strategy within a couple of weeks!

It’s very much a working document, that I constantly refer to, rather than something that is stuck in a drawer and forgotten about.

The strategy has five aims. Here they are along with examples showing what we have been doing under each.

1. Establish a clear legacy vision

We are asking people to join us and leave a gift that will achieve something big in the future. We should be able to communicate our legacy message simply and clearly – in one sentence if possible.

Our legacy message is essentially ‘A gift in your Will to CancerCare can ensure no-one in our community has to face cancer or bereavement alone’.

Once we had this clear vision to say what a legacy gift to CancerCare could achieve, we made it an aim to put it everywhere! A lot of our legacy marketing is about repetition. A drip-drip message to make sure legacy is always there!

We’ve also built into our strategy to review the vision regularly in-line with our other key messages and the re-brand we recently went through.

2.  Be a legacy confident organisation

Postcard from CancerCare saying - More than 90% of CancerCare's work is funded by people like you who donate, fundraise or give a gift in their Will. It then lists eight different ways to give including 'pledge a gift in your Will' at number 6.

We wanted to promote that Gifts in Wills are special, but not unusual. It was something that we had previously been apologetic about. Too scared to mention for fear of upsetting anyone. We want all representatives of CancerCare (staff, trustees, volunteers) to be confident in acknowledging that Gifts in Wills are an important way in which our work is funded and feel able to have a basic conversation on the subject as well as refer further action to the fundraising team. It also helps to share the load. Top tip – your message will be further reaching if it’s not just you shouting about it!

To achieve this, we deliver internal training on a regular basis.  This varies from PowerPoint presentations on Zoom meetings, quizzes sent round via email, and we’re working on a ‘basic info sheet’ for our therapy team.

We ensure that wherever there is a list of ways to support CancerCare, giving a gift in their Will is given as an option. We’re making sure that staff feel confident about this list. We’ll be giving out postcards (pictured above) at Christmas.

We created a funding statement that explains how our work is funded (donations, fundraising and gifts in Wills). We use this everywhere. On leaflets, on our website, on our letter heads, social media posts, in presentations we give to community groups. (Again drip-drip!)

This is working – my colleague who organises our events told me that she’d been able to have a conversation with a supporter who wanted to let us know that he had included a gift in his Will to CancerCare. She felt confident to have this conversation with him and then referred him on to me for the questions he had that were a bit more in depth.

3.  Deliver outstanding supporter care

Handwritten thank you card from CancerCare

If we treat our supporters well, and build good relationships with them, they are more likely to consider a gift in their Will. We’ve also introduced an organisational stewardship plan to make sure that our donors and fundraising supporters feel valued and build their loyalty to the organisation.  We are trying to make outstanding supporter care the ‘norm’ and an ‘inbuilt’ part of our processes.

We thank people promptly when they donate or fundraise, with personalised thank you letters or postcards. This year we sent out first postal newsletter in over eight years, helping us to feedback to supporters about the difference they make.

One thing that we also try to do, when we receive a gift in a Will, where possible, we write to the families or lay executors to acknowledge the gift left by their loved one, invite them to visit one of our centres for a cup of tea! This is a level of personalisation that we can do as a smaller charity and in this way, the legacy gift in not the end of a relationship, but potentially the beginning of a relationship with the family. This is also really helpful in gathering legacy stories to help us achieve our next aim….

4.  Create engaging legacy marketing

We don’t have a huge budget for legacy marketing so our marketing is done without spending a lot. We mostly try to communicate why supporters should leave a gift in their will by telling good stories and using the right language.

We try to tell human stories, in a sensitive way. We explain the difference they’ve made locally. For example, Sam Wyatt whose gift made a difference in her hometown. We aim to tell these stories as often as we can; including them on our website, in our e-newsletter, annual paper newsletter & send them to our local newspaper. (drip-drip… always there)

We aim for our marketing to dispel some of the myths that exist around legacy giving. For example, we include sentences like ‘In 2020/2021, the charity has been grateful to receive gifts ranging from £300 to £31,000.’ to show that you don’t have to be a millionaire to give a gift in your Will to CancerCare.

We also have a Will Writing Service to make it as easy as possible for people to make their Will. It’s not free, but a number of local solicitors offer our service users, supporters and volunteers the chance to make or amend a basic Will, waiving their fees in engage for a donation to CancerCare. We are a cancer and bereavement charity and we know that a lot of the people we support worry about having an up-to-date Will. It’s almost an extension of the support we offer to give them this opportunity to write a Will. In fact, the information brochure we created (free to us because the costs were covered by advertiser) is called One Less Thing To Worry About.

One of our key messages is that we understand that when making a Will, the needs of their family and loved ones will always come first, but after you’ve taken care of those closest to you, a gift in your Will for CancerCare could help to ensure no-one in our community ever has to face cancer or bereavement alone.

5. Steward legacy pledgers

Now that we are having more conversations about gifts in Wills, we know that there are supporters on our database who have told us that they have included a gift in their Wills to CancerCare. We need to make sure that these supporters are treated well and nurtured long into the future.

We do this by simply recording on our database when people enquire about gifts in Wills, request a brochure or tell us outright that CancerCare are mentioned in their Will. Again, we are a small enough organisation to make personal phone calls to check-in, to keep them updated about news we think they’d be interested in, or invite them in for a cup of tea and a catch up!

Onwards and upwards

Looking back over the 18 months since we created our first-ever legacy strategy, we can see the differences already. We are having more conversations about gifts in Wills than ever before and have far more living legacy pledgers recorded on our database. Although we probably won’t see a huge financial impact this soon, we are confident that the actions we are taking now will serve our charity – and importantly our beneficiaries – well in the future.

Of course, now that we are getting the basics right, we want to add more to our strategy and have some exciting ideas in the pipeline. One thing is for sure, by creating the strategy, we’ve created habits that are here to stay. Legacy marketing now has a permanent place on our organisation’s agenda and it will never go back to the bottom of the priority list! Onwards and upwards!

Further reading

Here are some of the useful links and examples shared during the conference.

If you were at the conference, what were your top takeaways? Please do share in the comments.

See also:

Getting started with digital strategy

Today I had my first Digital Candle call with someone from a community centre. She used the hour-long call to talk about how to start a digital strategy project.

Following the call, I sent her some links to resources and further reading to help get things started. Here they are for you too. This is a very big topic which people write books about, so this is very much a primer.

Knobs from an old telephone exchange. Lots of colours and wires

Define digital

Whether you are a large or small charity about to start a digital strategy project, it is worth clarifying exactly what you mean by digital. For some it will mean digital comms and/or fundraising. For others it will be about infrastructure and kit. For others it will be much wider – anything which is delivered digitally.

What does it mean for your organisation and crucially what does it mean for whoever is sponsoring your strategy project or whoever you need to persuade to own it (such as senior managers and trustees)? Be clear at the start.

Digital audit

When starting a strategy project, you may already have an idea about the issues you want your strategy to address. But there may be others. An audit of your processes and systems can help build up a bigger picture of where digital could help reduce inefficiencies or need investment.

Map out your organisation’s use of digital under big headings. You might do this in Word or Excel or something else. List your activity and make a note about how well these work. Include non-digital methods too and aspirational uses of digital. Talk to your colleagues and users to get a broad picture. Add in data about effectiveness if you have it.

Here are some headings to get you started:

  • external comms (eg website, social media, newsletter, forums)
  • internal comms (with staff, volunteers, trustees)
  • fundraising (eg website, contactless donations, thank you processes, databases)
  • systems (eg HR, payroll, volunteer management, purchasing, finance, CRM, online payment, document management)
  • services.

At this stage you might also do an audit of your peers and competitors in terms of their digital services and external comms. What benchmark are they setting in terms of what they provide to their stakeholders? What works and what doesn’t? Their digital services might be on a small scale such as out-of-hours contact or much bigger, such as full digital service provision.

An audit might also include a review of your infrastructure and kit. Where are the barriers to progress? Do you have an ancient database or lots which don’t talk to each other for example? Do you have enough PCs and are they installed with the right software? Can people work from home? Also, where are your digital risks? This might be cyber security, GDPR / data protection concerns or lack of IT support. This colourful diagram made sense to me as a way of showing an organisation’s infrastructure and where the risks are.

Finally, what is your digital culture like? Do your colleagues have the knowledge and skills to deliver your strategy? What is the mindset towards digital? You could run a skills audit to find out where people are at. NCVO’s building a digital workforce resource includes a template audit. Benchmark your results against the sector (via the annual Charity Digital Report). Who are the digital champions in your organisation?

Building a strategy

Developing a strategy which is practical, meaningful and actionable is the next step. What this looks like will depend on what you want it to achieve. It should always reference your organisation’s overall strategy and how digital will be used to deliver these goals.

It can be as broad or specific as you need. It could determine a direction of travel or have set goals and targets. It should include dependencies and outline where investment is needed.

It should always launch with an understanding that it will not succeed without buy-in from all involved, especially those with power to make it happen. A strategy needs to be owned and driven by someone in order for it to achieve real change.

Other useful links

Do check out Digital Candle if you haven’t already. This is a new platform from Matt Collins connecting charity leaders with digital experts who can give an hour’s phone time. Book your call or volunteer your services.

Your recommendations

What are your tips for developing a digital strategy? What made yours work? Please share in the comments.

Can I help you?

Get in touch if I can help you with digital planning, training or strategy. I work with charities of all shapes and sizes.

Small Charity Week – round-up of useful posts

Today I volunteered at the Big Advice Day event in London organised by the team at FSI as part of Small Charity Week. They organised an impressive 315 hours of advice between over 120 advisors and 100 charities in the room and over the phone / Skype. The room was buzzing all day!

I spent an hour in turn with people from five amazing small charities and talked about digital comms / marketing / fundraising. The charities were very different (two working in development / overseas, two health charities and one local branch of a national charity). And of different sizes and ages. All were doing properly amazing and vital work with limited funds.

Here are some of the main themes which we covered and some links to relevant posts I have written, useful to small charities.

(NB I mostly include examples from larger organisations in posts as these are easier to find. I would love to include more from smaller charities. I think we can all learn from each other. Did you see the Small Charities Coalition, #BigSupportSmall campaign which launched on Monday?)

urban street art - snoopy the dog looks up at a flying yellow woodstock (from Charlie Brown)

Legacy fundraising

Four out of the five charities I saw today wanted to talk about legacy fundraising. Many had received legacy gifts but felt that they could do more to drive this type of support. Some were uncomfortable about making an ask.

We talked about using hooks to make the ask easier like Remember a Charity Week in September, Free Wills Month in March or significant events like an anniversary or capital project.

We mostly talked about content – for example, how to make the ask, what terminology should you use to inspire supporters to trust you enough to make this future donation? Really this depends on your audience and their relationship with you. Your ask might be more effective if made via a letter or mentioned in a speech at an event. However, you should probably still have something about legacy giving on your website to help people with the practicalities. The tone of voice and images you use here are key. Your direct relationship with your beneficiaries / supporters is a huge asset as a small charity. If you understand and show that you understand their motivations, you can write content which is powerful and persuasive. If you can show that leaving a gift like this, is something people like them do, it helps them take action too.

It is important to check the digital experience you are giving on your pages – for example can people find the information about gifts in Wills easily (how many clicks and where is it), is the information practical and helpful (does it tell them what they need to know)? Check the statistics if you can, to see where people are dropping off your journey and make changes as needed.

We looked at examples of others being creative, confident and appropriate in the messaging. There are lots of examples of this here:

Involving people with ‘lived experience’

More and more charities are involving people with first-hand experience of the cause at board level, in co-design of services, and in strategy setting. Many of those I talked to today were doing this but not yet involving them in comms. There are big opportunities (and risks) to include first-hand storytelling in your on and offline comms, funding applications and in-person events.

Comms processes

Being a comms / marketing / fundraising person in a small charity means prioritising and juggling. It can be easy to be overwhelmed by needing to be on 24/7. Some of this pressure can be eased by sorting out your systems and processes so that you don’t waste time looking for an image or re-writing a standard piece of copy. (I have a crib sheet of standard tweets, messages and links I can modify and use which saves loads of time.)

Spending some time working out your image strategy, thinking about crisis comms or working on monthly comms plan is time well spent. In a small charity you can be reactive but to avoid feeling like you are always chasing your tail, make sure this is balanced with some planning and preparation.

Small Charity Week

There is lots going on during the rest of the week including fundraising day on Thursday and celebration day on Saturday. Do get involved. The hashtag is #SmallCharityWeek.

Find out about the small charities near where you live. There are sure to be lots of them working from kitchen tables (see this fab thread from Tiny Tickers sharing their working spaces) or shared offices. They are on the ground working in your community or supporting people further afield. Just look at this great A-Z of small charities in Camden curated by Camden Giving which gives a flavour of the volume and variety of organisations in one London borough.

Use the Charity Commission charity search to find a small charity near you. Then find out how you can help. Donate your money or time or skills to give them a boost. Small charities need your support.


How to mark your charity’s anniversary

A significant anniversary can be a big milestone for any charity. Surviving and thriving for a year or five or 100 is a big deal. How should you mark this?

Should you do something public? Could you use it to tell a story, reach new people, fundraise, raise your profile or change direction? A significant anniversary can be a good opportunity to talk about your impact and ambitions for the future.

number grid in a playground - close up of 10, 20, 30 etc

Here are two detailed examples of charity anniversaries and the digital comms they have produced to mark the occasion. Plus top tips with more examples to help you think about what you could do to mark your anniversary.

Combat Stress – 100

Combat Street tweet showing a leaflet from their archive

In May, Combat Stress will mark their centenary. With 100 days to go until the big day, they are sharing insights into their work. On Twitter they are creating one thread counting down. Follow #100StoriesIn100Days for a mix of images from their archive, stories and examples of their work today. The stories are also shared on Instagram and Facebook. Their website has a page for the centenary explaining the history of the organisation.

This volume of comms might seem impossible but if you have a rich archive of stories or facts or images, why not package them up to tell a bigger story? Take a look at the digital advent calendars to help think about the challenges of planning and keeping the momentum going over a long period of time.

London’s Air Ambulance – 30

screenshot from LAA website. Red helicopter against blue sky over London.

In January, London’s Air Ambulance celebrated 30 years. On Twitter they got lovely happy birthday messages from Saracens Rugby Club, London Fire Brigade, and others. They have been sharing fundraising and press coverage via #30YearsSavingLives. Prince William was named as a patron of the campaign and films of him flying a helicopter were widely shared and viewed.

This LAA short video shares how the service started and grew from its early years. Their website is prominently promoting the 30th, with pages dedicated to the anniversary including patient stories and the fundraising appeal. They are also trying to reconnect with patients via Facebook.

Of course we haven’t all got the luxury of Prince William or a lovely red helicopter to drive comms. But this campaign boils down to telling the stories of the impact the service has made. #30YearsSavingLives is a powerful and engaging statement.

Other examples and ideas

Show your impact and ambitions:

Be creative:

  • What can you do with your number? Kemp Hospice are turning 50. As well as decorating the windows of their shop windows gold, they have developed golden branding and shared what donations of £50 could do.
  • Get out of the office. Cumbria Foundation’s 20th birthday card was given its own roadshow so that 20 organisations supported by the foundation could sign it.
  • Get a nifty but simple hashtag which will work over the time you are using it. Track its use and join in conversations where you can.
  • An anniversary isn’t always a celebration to shout about. Think about how you can use the event to raise awareness instead. Missing People are 25 this year. Rather than talking about themselves, an art exhibition brings together portraits of missing people.

Use materials from the archive:

NCVO's time line - close up of highlight from 2005, 2011, 2012

  • Can you do something physical if you are celebrating a big anniversary and have people visiting your office? NCVO who are 100 this year have produced an illustrated timeline in the reception of their office.
  • Have you got an iconic building, product or brand that people love? Share behind the scenes stories or images from the archive. The Guggenheim in New York is 60 this year and are sharing highlights.
  • Have famous people been involved in your charity? Can you share details from the archive? For example, Kensington Palace shared this photo of Diana and William’s names written in The Passage’s visitor’s book from 1993.
  • If your organisation has shaped the way people live, let your archive tell the story. For example when NCT was 60, it was covered in a BBC magazine article.

Build and thank supporters:


  • Archive and look back. If you are celebrating a significant anniversary over a whole year, document events and share a review at the end. People might still be new to your news or if they were very involved, want to re-live achievements. The Fire Fighters Charity celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2018 and produced a review of the best bits including impressive fundraising activities.

Should you mark an anniversary?

Think about your audience. Do they care that you are 10 or 25 or 75? What might make them care? Do you have a story or hook to make your anniversary engaging?

Think about the practicalities too:

  • Do you have the capacity (time / funds / energy) to mark an anniversary?
  • Will celebrating improve or reduce team morale?
  • When was the last time you did this? Celebrating 30 might not mean so much if you made a fuss of your 25th.
  • What might you lose by doing nothing?
  • Will your comms be over the year if it is a big anniversary (say 100 or 150), in the run up to a particular day, or just one day?
  • Will you run comms across all your channels or limit to one where it fits your audience best?

New charities

If you are a new organisation, getting to an anniversary is a big deal. Celebrating years 1-5 with the people who have helped you get there can give everyone a boost. It can also be a hook to show your impact and reach a wider audience.

For example Little Village recently celebrated its 3rd birthday saying ‘we’ve made it through the critical first 1000 days of life’. They released new figures showing how demand for their service is increasing and the many different ways they have supported families to date, along with an appeal to raise £10,000.


These examples show that there are lots of different ways to mark an anniversary.

Planning and implementation of anniversary activities and comms can take up a lot of time and may only lead to low engagement.

But if you have a meaningful hook to share your impact, fundraise or tell a story and the anniversary is a special one, then go for it. Get creative. And don’t forget the cake.

screenshot from Ronald McDonald House Charities of Corpus Christi, cake celebrating 25 years

Your tips

Have you worked on a charity anniversary or seen any interesting or unusual anniversary comms? Did supporters get involved in the activity? How much time did anniversary planning take? Was it worth it?

I’d love to hear from you. Please share in the comments.

See also

With thanks to Gemma Pettman who suggested I write about this topic.

Can I help you?

Please get in touch if I can help you. I work with charities of all shapes and sizes. I can help give your comms or digital processes a healthcheck and ideas injection or help develop your digital strategy.

Brathay Trust: a lesson in crisis comms

How small charity Brathay Trust responded to suddenly being headline news and receiving thousands of donations.

In April 2018 small youth charity Brathay Trust in Cumbria had three runners competing in the London Marathon. One of them, Matt Campbell aged 29, tragically collapsed at mile 22.5 and later died.

The charity received an unprecedented response. To date Matt’s JustGiving page has raised in excess of £368,000 (+Gift Aid) from over 31,800 supporters. Thousands of runners across the country also pledged to run the remaining 3.7 miles to #FinishForMatt.

The charity quickly had to deal with the news, putting aside their own shock and grief from losing someone so active in their community. Here, Peter Grenville, Brathay’s marketing executive shares what happened and the lessons they learnt about crisis comms.

Brathay's website showing four news stories

The first day

I was told of Matt’s death first thing on Monday morning. We were aware that the London Marathon organisers were due release the news later in the morning. Colleagues were already in touch with Matt’s family, so we had a couple of hours to start working on our response.

We have a crisis comms plan in place for dealing with a major incident, either during one of our programmes with children and young people, or for something affecting our offices and staff. We also have a plan in place for the ASICS Windermere Marathon, which we organise every May as part of our fundraising. Whilst both were useful, this was a scenario we hadn’t specifically planned for.

We were startled by the large number of enquiries and requests for interviews/statements, which slowed our response a little whilst we prioritised. By the afternoon we had a short statement on our website and social media channels, and our tribute to Matt up later in the day. Both were posted as lead items on our homepage, and also our Challenge Events website, which had been carrying the story of Matt running to raise funds for us.

It became clear very quickly that people touched by the story were donating to Matt’s JustGiving page. Whilst we had some extra donations to appeals on our website, we rapidly decided it was better to focus on the JustGiving route. Although we had an unprecedented level of interest in us (our website had more hits in a day than we normally get in a year) we were aware that people were donating to ‘Matt’s Charity”, rather that specifically ‘to Brathay’, but they were checking us out.

How we worked together

Before the end of the first day it was clear that the those of us dealing with the unprecedented interest in Brathay needed to step away from our regular roles to work together to respond. Some decamped to a meeting room. We scheduled regular twice-daily meet-ups to check what was needed. A large whiteboard became our low-tech method of tracking things that needed doing. We prioritised tasks that required immediate attention, whilst compiling a list of less time-sensitive items that also needed responding to.

Although Brathay has around 100 staff, we are spread across several sites in the north of England. Pulling this group together, especially with our own flagship fundraiser, the ASICS Windermere Marathon, just a few weeks away, did mean we had to delay some planned activity. Organisationally, our colleagues absolutely got the importance of what we were doing and left us to get on with what was needed.

Throughout the whole period we were conscious that Brathay were not the ‘owners’ of anything that was going on. We needed to respect Matt’s family, who are huge supporters of our work, by not making statements about what was going on without consulting with them first.

As a team, we agreed what to write and when. Once one of the team had drafted something for our websites, this was circulated and changes suggested and agreed. We did this largely by instinct – monitoring how the conversation and messages on social media were changing and ensuring we regularly responded – conscious that there was a lot of attention on what the recipient charity of the large sums of money being donated were saying. We wrote updates on day two, on day four and at the end of the first week (30 April) and shared these widely across our channels.

Brathay - one of the total updates on Twitter

By the end of the second week, we were able to return to our normal work, but still with an elevated level of activity and a clear understanding of the need to continue our response.


After just a couple of days, the huge social media campaign to #FinishForMatt #RunForMatt (and some other variants) really took off. Messages and donations switched from being about simply remembering Matt to being about ‘completing’ the Marathon for him, as individuals or in groups. The London Marathon team really got involved with this too. People everywhere were organising runs. We did our best to contact the more significant ones, including those taking place in London, and one local to our HQ in Cumbria.

Interview requests came thick and fast. Our Chief Exec was on BBC Breakfast twice, as well as appearing on other news channels, interviews with local and national radio, and newspapers. Channel 5 produced and shared this short video across their social channels.

One thing that worked particularly well was identifying that people completing their 3.7miles and donating could use a text-based image on their social media posts to demonstrate their support. We quickly put together some simple graphics, loaded them onto our website, and posted about them regularly – it was great to see them being used widely.

Getting the tone right

We were very aware of our place in everything that was happening, and wanted to ensure that our responses showed respect to Matt and his family. The response was incredible, but we didn’t want to appear to be trying to ‘cash in’, or treat the situation as an opportunity to ask people to give. At the simplest level, everyone involved at Brathay really wanted to make sure we did the right thing.

I think what we said genuinely reflected how we felt – amazed, stunned and very grateful for each and every donation. I was keen for us to think about this from the point of view of someone donating. What would they want us hear from us?

Brathay tweet - if we have missed saying thank you to you, our apologies. We've never had so many tweets. Please know we are grateful to each and every one of you

We wanted to show our gratitude to those donating. We put in a lot of time outside normal office hours to try and respond to everyone on social media who were telling us they’d donated. We couldn’t manage it entirely – there was just too many messages – but we did as many as we could. We also tweeted general thank you messages to the running community who had organised special events.

Tweet thanking supporter for walking the 3.7 for Matt

We also published galleries of photos from our #RunforMatt events on Facebook, shared a few very short videos on Twitter including this one of the finish line which has had almost 1000 views and this one which has had almost 8000. We also put a selection of strong images on our Instagram account.

Brathay's instagram - image of a young man in a bright yellow t-shirt completing the run

Keeping up

Keeping up was tricky! We had five people from different parts of the charity working on this full-time, as well as many others involved to varying degrees. The extra hours put in by those involved ensured we responded in a way we were happy with. We discussed using an external agency to help with our social media response but in the end felt we could better maintain the appropriate tone by doing it ourselves.

Building new relationships

It’s early for us to fully understand the long-term effects and if we have developed lasting new relationships. However, more than 5000 of the 31,800 people who donated via JustGiving ticked that they wanted to hear from us. So we have emailed them updating them on the latest total and some of our thoughts about Matt’s legacy. They are now on our database, so will receive our regular updates.

We’ve also built relationships with those involved in the #MilesForMatt #RunForMatt campaigns and strengthened those held with local and national media. We gained a lot of new followers on social media. Of course, we know that the interest in us will inevitably wane for some people, but we hope that many will want to continue to hear from us, and understand what we do.

Brathay graphic explaining what they do

Matt’s legacy

The amount of money raised in Matt’s name is significant to us. We need to think carefully about how best to use it to ensure we have maximum impact on the lives of children and young people. We will consider both our charitable remit and the wishes of the Campbell family to ensure we have a fitting legacy to Matt focused on the development of resilient young people.

It is only a very short time since Matt‘s death and we need to respect that. While the total continues to rise, we are not in a position to finalise our plans but we are currently giving careful thought to the best way forward. We recently published a news story saying this. It is important for us to share an update saying that we are thinking carefully about how to use the money, rather than saying nothing. One of the ideas discussed to ensure we effectively communicate our plans is to have a dedicated page on our website, which will remember Matt and carry updates on what’s happening.

Some of our team were close to Matt. His death was clearly devastating for them and shocking for everyone at Brathay. I’ve been humbled by everyone’s resolution to ensure that we honoured our friend’s memory appropriately, and their huge efforts in coping brilliantly with the amazing response from the public. Colleagues attended the recent memorial service, and will continue our relationship with Matt’s family, who are great supporters of our work with children and young people.

10 top tips for responding to a crisis

  • Be prepared to put in the extra hours. It’s tough, but being part of the conversation at the times and in the places, where your supporters are, is essential.
  • It’s not about what you want to say – it’s about what your supporters/the public want to know. Try and look at the situation from their point of view.
  • Update regularly. Even if the situation is broadly un-changed.
  • Act even faster than you think at the outset! Any time you believe you’ve got will vanish.
  • Prioritise ruthlessly. Not just ‘today’ and ‘later’ but ‘right now’, ‘later this morning’, ‘before 3pm’ etc. If someone is missing deadlines, find a way to support the person who is struggling to keep up.
  • Relax the ‘whose job is it?’ rule. To get things done, use people’s skills if someone who would normally do something is already stretched.
  • Compare notes and meet regularly. Things change rapidly, and new, urgent, items come up fast.
  • Assemble a crisis team fast – even if you don’t need it, you can scale it down easily. Better to realise you’ve got too much resource than find you don’t have enough.
  • Remember to thank your team. They might look like they’re coping just fine, but situations like this are stressful for those involved. Reassure them they’re doing the right thing. It’s hard to know when you’re in the eye of the storm.
  • Make sure someone senior is part of the process. Even if they aren’t there all the time, having their support is invaluable to a team trying to cope with a stressful, and rapidly evolving, situation.

With huge thanks to Peter at Brathay for sharing his experience.

Further reading about crisis comms

Your top tips

Have you ever been in the middle of a crisis at your organisation? How did you identify it was a crisis rather than just a bad day? What worked or didn’t work? What top tips would you share? Please share in the comments.

Can I help you?

Get in touch if I can help you with digital comms, content planning, training or strategy. I work with charities of all shapes and sizes. Can I help give your comms or digital processes a healthcheck or ideas injection?


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Social media tips for small charities

Artificial brightly-coloured birds in a cage

Many small charities struggle with social media. They just don’t have the time or people to devote to it. Yet social media is increasingly where people get their news, their community, their information and their fun. If your organisation does not have a presence, you are not on people’s radar. Recent research from TSB showed that only 1 in ten people can name a local charity.

Here are my top tips for small charities new to social media or wanting to up their game beyond basic broadcasting.

1. Use social media to tell your stories

What makes your organisation special? Why do you do what you do? What difference do you make? Telling stories about the work you do is a powerful way to get your message heard. Well-produced stories can help to explain why your cause is important, show how the work you do makes a difference, explain about difficult topics, change attitudes and give a voice to those you help – from their perspective.

Read more about storytelling and don’t miss the charity sector’s own TED-style BeingTheStory event in September.

2. Be creative

Images, text and video can all be used to tell your story. This doesn’t have to cost anything other than your time. Use your smart phone to take pictures or video around your organisation. Have fun and be creative.If your garden is looking splendid, you are running an event or just want to say thank you to a supporter, take a picture.

Images can also be used as a reward to help build relationships. Look at how East London Group welcomes new followers with an image or Epilepsy Society’s Good Luck messages on Instagram.

Look at what other people are doing and think about what is appropriate for your organisation and brand. Think about the tone of voice you use across your social media channels and what type of content you share. Social media allows you to be more informal, personal and to show your personality. So you can talk about things outside your area such as the weather or seasonal events (think of it as social media small-talk) if this works for you.

See also Creative ways to illustrate data and stats on social media and simple graphics can bring your data to life featuring some work I did with MakeLunch.

3. Join the conversation

If your work is around big themes (such as poverty, homelessness, refugees or cancer) watch out for relevant TV programmes, soap storylines or news stories. Many local areas have regular Twitter sessions where people talk about local issues for an hour (such as #BedsHour and #HarrogateHour – see #HashtagHour for a list). Join in with the hashtags being used, to share your message. This can be an opportunity to reach new audiences and build new relationships. Listen to what people are saying and show what you are doing. These opportunities can be a big chance for small charities to get their voices heard and to connect with others.

For example: look at this Storify of tweets sent during a BBC1 documentary on homelessness.

4. Don’t try to do too much

With limited resources the pressure of using social media can feel overwhelming. Think about which channels your audience uses and prioritise these (see Sprout Social’s How to find the best social media channels for your business).  Use free tools such as Hootsuite to schedule and manage posts and interaction. Nurture your ambassadors, your staff, volunteers, beneficiaries and supporters who are influential on social media, and help them to speak for you.

See also: How can charities manage social media 24/7?

5. Give people ways to get involved

Include clear calls to action in your posts. Invite people to share / like / comment or donate via text giving. And thank them when they do to help build relationships. Having a large number of followers is not a measure of success, it is more valuable to have followers who are engaged and active. Measure what is working by using free analytics tools (such as those in Hootsuite or Twitter / Facebook plus Google Analytics to count click-throughs) to measure and track the impact of your efforts. What calls to action have worked?

See also: Please donate in 140 characters?

What are your top tips?

What tips would you like to share with small charities? Which small charities do you think do social media really well and why? Please do share them here.

Can I help?

I help charities and non-profits with their digital comms. Whether you are looking for training for the team, copywriting or input into your content or digital strategy, please get in touch.