Corporate supporters have the power to leverage their networks in ways that are highly effective for charities. In the case of Ripple Effect, a letter delivered in veg boxes led to £100K-worth of donated advertising space in an influential international broadsheet.
We’re a charity that delivers highly effective agriculture and enterprise development programmes to farmers on the frontline of climate crisis in east Africa. Like all of us in the third sector, we need donors: government, institutional, corporate and individuals.
The Financial Times readership, including corporate Environmental, Social Governance (ESG) decision-makers and High-net-worth individuals (HNW), was an audience we were keen to reach. The unrestricted funding they can offer – not tied to delivering specific project work on the ground – is vital in plugging the gaps between committed institutional funding, and the full support costs of delivering well-planned and rigorously evaluated work.
But we also need the connections that this audience can help us make.
This is where the power of communications can help. We were confident that the evidence of how we multiply the impact of funder support and are working directly to mitigate against climate risk, would resonate with them.
It started with a veg box
Guy Singh-Watson – founder of organic veg box company, Riverford – writes a newsletter that goes out with the weekly deliveries to Riverford’s 70,000 customers. Back in February this year, he wrote about why the business has supported Ripple Effect for more than a decade (to the tune of £1m now): Ripple Effect fights a ‘triple crisis’ of hunger – Wicked Leeks.
One of those customers who read it was the company secretary for the Financial Times (FT), who contacted us saying: “I became aware of Ripple Effect as a customer of Riverford, and I think what you do is inspiring.”
As a member of the FT’s sustainability employee group, she asked if we would like to be shortlisted for the opportunity for a free full-page ad, which the FT offers as part of their sustainability efforts.
Would we ever?
We supplied them with information about how valuable this opportunity would be for us, and a month later, we got the good news: a free ad in the UK and European print edition (rate card value £106K).
Then an ad agency got on board
As Communications Manager for Ripple Effect in the UK responsible for media outreach, when someone contacts us offering us ‘free ad space’, I’m the professional cynic who takes the call. It doesn’t take me long to find out how many strings are attached.
When this turned out to be a genuine offer from such an important publication for us, it absolutely made my day.
While we were on a roll, we decided to see if this ripple effect of corporate goodwill would extend even further.
We’ve got lots of experience designing direct mail-shots, but a broadsheet advertisement was new territory for us. We asked our corporate contacts to ask the ad agencies they work with if any of them might design the ad for us pro bono. Freuds ID very kindly offered us their creative team.
The result was published on Monday, 16 October.
Did it work for us?
The corporate contacts and donors we’ve heard from have loved it. One fund manager – notoriously difficult to please – emailed saying, “Wow.”
Committed supporters like to know that we’re actively seeking out new donors rather than just coming back to the same well. We’re pretty sure that the FT coverage was influential in persuading one longstanding supporter to match-fund our Radio 4 appeal in December.
But more than anything, this kind of corporate/charity collaboration is incredibly invigorating. It’s great to get access to people outside our sector who are as highly motivated to make positive environmental changes as we are.
What we learned
The Creative director we worked with at Freud’s was incredibly helpful with an outsider’s eye on our messaging and agreed that “investor” language would land with this audience. He also did a very useful review of advertising imagery in the FT and recommended that a green, rural background would really stand out as a contrast to the iconic FT pink pages.
We wanted the impact of a full-bleed image, but it is vital to have a plain background to run text over: to avoid having to use a tonal screen that muddies your image. Printing on pink paper also distorts the colours of your image: blue goes to purple, green goes to brown! The Head of studio at Freud’s responded via WhatsApp to photos being sent in by our Multimedia manager in a village in Uganda to determine what would work for the advert.
We needed to bridge the channel-gap between the print advert and collecting phone or email contact via a QR code taking readers to a landing page. We worked hard on refining it, but in retrospect, we could have made that call-to-action (CTA) more compelling. Plus, our landing page needed to do more “work” than we first planned for, serving as an explanation of the whole project as the social media ripple spread wider.
And finally, when a heavy-hitter agency works for you pro bono, you don’t get endless revisions: your consultative team need to be experienced – and disciplined!
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