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Alan Barnes

The astonishing story of the Alan Barnes Fund has made the headlines this week, with over £329,000 raised online in just a few days. So what lessons can this teach us for fundraising in our organisations?

It all began when Barnes, a disabled pensioner from Gateshead, was attacked and injured outside his home, after which he felt unable to stay there. His neighbour, 21 year old Katie Cutler, then launched the online Alan Barnes Fund on Go Fund Me, with a target of just £500 to pay for him to move house.

The £329,000 raised came from 28,000 donors, giving between £1 and £1,000 each, with an average gift of £11.75. Go Fund Me said this was the sixth largest total ever raised on the platform. So how did such a modest appeal end up raising such a large sum and what can we learn?

The first lesson is that "people give to people". In other words, the appeal related directly to a real person with an obvious need. Alan could have been anyone's neighbour, friend or relative. So in our fundraising we should never forget the human story, told directly and with emotion. A broader appeal to raise money for elderly victims of violence would never have raised as much.

Secondly, the appeal was to meet a simple, practical need that anyone could understand. Alan needs to move to feel safe and your donation can help achieve this. Job done. Sometimes we are tempted to over complicate our appeals and to overburden the donor with detail. This appeal shows how a simple, no frills ask that people can quickly grasp has a powerful effect.

Thirdly, the appeal shows the power of social media to reach people quickly and effectively. This was no charity appealing to its database of donors, just a kind hearted young woman doing a good deed online. Few of those who gave had probably ever met or even heard of Alan Barnes, yet donors all around the world have responded to the appeal. If this had been a charity campaign, it would have added many new donors to the supporter file at very low cost, as well as raising a shed load of money.

So what can your charity do to create stories and appeals that could go viral? Most won't of course, but it is worth testing a range of ideas to see what could work for you. And remember the points above - human interest, use of emotion and keeping it simple.

Happy testing!

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