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Do annual events raise more money than lots of one-offs?

Just a few weeks ago, we saw the annual Children in Need (C.I.N) event take place, which was the charity’s 41st outing, having begun in 1980. The infamous Pudsey bear, with his spotted eye bandage, was all over our screens during the evening, which, this year, raised £39.3 million for good causes (though donations are probably still coming in/being counted).

This is a far cry from the £1 million the first show raised.

We can rely on the general public knowing all about C.I.N as each November rolls around, and many donations are probably made because of this brand familiarity.

I wonder if the people working on this huge annual event find it more difficult to raise funds as the years go by…how do they keep coming up with unique fundraising challenges or things they’ve not done before during the previous four decades? I also wonder whether fundraising for this annual event feels automatic and mechanical to those involved, because it’s all for that one night in November—in comparison to a long series of one-off events that play out across the rest of the year, where specific holidays and the seasons can influence the events organised.

Clearly, in C.I.N.’s case, its notoriety does a lot of the hard work in raising the fantastic amounts it reaps. As does the event’s size and reach, which overtakes BBC1’s entire programming for the evening of the event. The celebrities it attracts, who donate their time for free (though a prime spot on TV and the positive PR the event garners is undoubtedly a pay off for them on some level)—altogether, it’s very powerful.

Compare this with other national charities, who hold lots of singular events throughout the year. Obviously, size matters, but to add perspective, Cancer Research raised £582 million in 2020. With 364 more days to campaign, to show their TV adverts, to have the general public raise money on their behalf, there’s little wonder their fundraising total amounts to more.

If someone plans a charitable jaunt up Everest in February, C.I.N may not be the first good cause that comes into their head. What if they planned to punt all the way down the Nile in May; again, C.I.N, being an event held in November, is likely to slip down their mental list of charities to support. Though anyone can donate to C.I.N at any time of the year, without Pudsey bear in their eyeline, or numerous TV adverts reminding them that the November event is nigh, it may be a case of out of sight, out of mind for C.I.N.

If you look at the top UK charities and the revenue they receive through public donations, The British Council tops all others, with an annual income of £1.2 billion. Nuffield Health is second, having raised just under a billion, with Lifearc in third place, raising a smidge less than Nuffield.

I find this quite surprising. The British Council isn’t hugely well known, and I would probably say the same about the charities at position two and three, in comparison to such as Cancer Research or The National Trust. According to the British Council’s website, ‘About 85 per cent of its turnover is earned through teaching and exams, tendered contracts and partnerships. The British Council also receives grant-in-aid funding from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. This makes up around 15 per cent of its total income.’

If you run your eye down the Top Ten, there are as many lesser-known charities as household names, which contradicts my earlier point about visibility and being a familiar brand. These organisations clearly have good connections, alliances with grant makers and burgeoning networks that house plenty of donors, in place of marketing budgets and recognisable branding.

It’s interesting to see that, in the same report, the impact of telethons such as C.I.N. and Comic Relief has lessened since their inception. For example, in 2011, Red Nose Day (Comic Relief’s annual event) raised £108 million, whereas the same event in 2019 raised £63 million. This is most likely to be as a result of declining viewer figures of terrestrial TV. In the past, TV events just had to compete with the programmes on other TV channels—nowadays, we consume media in many different ways, such as through subscription services, streaming channels and social media platforms like YouTube. The TV audience has dissipated; if there are fewer people watching a charity’s annual TV event, it makes sense that fewer people would donate.

Looking at this at face value, nearly £40 million, C.I.N’s current total for 2021, is not to be sniffed at. This is an amazing amount that many smaller charities benefit from, if they’re lucky enough to win an award from the C.I.N. grant makers. Whether the audience is declining, or the event raises less than the previous year, it’s still a lifeline for so many good causes throughout the UK.


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