Comic Relief’s digital challenge: talent, data and the No Make-Up Selfie

Social media campaigns such as the No Make-Up Selfie and the Ice Bucket Challenge threaten charities such as Comic Relief with their digital reach

Social charity campaigns including the No Make-Up Selfie and the Ice Bucket Challenge are threatening established charities such as Comic Relief through their organic digital reach.

Over the last year Comic Relief has been beginning to drive digital engagement through online giving and expanding its global brand. The charity now considers digital as part of its business strategy, but it still struggles to connect with teenagers who don’t necessarily know the brand.

The charity has run annual campaigns in the UK for 25 years, in the form of Comic Relief and Sport Relief alternating each year.

Chief operating officer at Comic Relief, Derek Gannon, said the recent viral charity challenges have raised a considerable amount of money in recent months, as well as engaging with the digital demographic Comic Relief struggles to reach.

The three viral challenges raised between them £60-£100m in three months with no marketing. In comparison, Comic Relief's turnover reached between £100-£150m over an 18-month period.

Speaking at the Digital Strategy Innovation Summit in London on Thursday 16 October 2014, Gannon posed the question of how those social ideas are created.

“We know in the public there’s another idea, but that £60-£100m is taken out of our market through fun ways to raise money. It will be much, much harder for us to get money.”

Gannon told delegates that a trustee of Comic Relief once asked him why the charity couldn’t make its own campaign go viral. “That’s why I think the public are our competition, that organic thing just grows.”

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“To find that big idea is almost impossible. I’m not sure we should compete but just welcome it, try to get the message out globally these are good things,” said Gannon, who thinks Comic Relief could adopt a similar viral challenge to one of its campaigns.

He said Comic Relief is looking for digital talent to increase the organisation’s digital skillset. Comic Relief is bringing together young entrepreneurs and getting involved with developers through hackathon weekends.

“We want to attract the best dig talent. Lots of developers are not attracted to charities – mainly because of the salaries – but they’re attracted to doing good and giving time for a good cause,” said Gannon.

“We see ourselves as a charity at the forefront of digital, but we want to be a digital thought leader. We work with some of the biggest celebrities, but don’t work with the best digital minds.”

The other challenge Comic Relief has is around data.

Our biggest challenge is the sheer amount of data we have,” said Gannon.

He said Comic Relief has corporate data as well as historical public data from people who have donated over the years. On a televised campaign evening, Comic Relief's audience numbers around 8-10 million viewers, but it also has over one million subscriber addresses from people who interact with the charity.

The company also has 25 year’s worth of video from the hundreds of appeal and corporate films the organisation makes every year.

“These are all digital assets, as a charity we haven’t got huge amounts of money to invest in this,” he said. “But how can we best use digital assets for future, what do we want to keep?”

“This whole thing around financial information, digital assets, text, and historical data, we’re not that different from many charities, or corporations – I haven’t been to many corporations who have a fantastic data strategy.”

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