As the CEO of a charity, I'm always looking to find new ways to make ourselves heard in a crowded space. There have been some brilliant examples over the years of organisations like mine reaching new and existing audiences to help support those in need. One of the best known is of course the ice bucket challenge, a global phenomenon that's raised millions for motor neurone disease. This was one of those exceptional campaigns that really caught the imagination of people around the world. So how can other charities - such as the MicroLoan Foundation - hope to secure even a small piece of that level of funding?
One way is through advertising posters targeting the general public with a call for action, asking people to donate. This can be an effective tactic, but doesn't necessarily have any guarantees that the execution will lead to donations. It is also a channel that MicroLoan has employed previously with some degree of success. But this year, we decided to do something different. Using London Underground advertising poster sites kindly donated to us by Exterion and Total Media, we decided to ask UK-based small businesses, owned by woman in the main, to "buy" a poster for a £100 instead of a donation. Companies jumped at the opportunity to advertise to tube travellers for such a reasonable cost, with businesses ranging from Pilates instructors to burger bars, osteopaths to recruiters, advertisers to estate agents excited to be involved - you can find a full list of those involved here.
Deciding to do things differently enabled us to help businesses in the UK - by giving them access to affordable advertising in prime locations on the London Underground with professionally designed posters. This in turn helped us to raise £20,000 to support women looking to start and run small businesses in rural Malawi and Zambia, and that was before a single poster had even gone up on at a station or on a train platform!
But just selling the poster spaces isn't enough for a charity that wants to raise as much as possible for its beneficiaries, and social media has proved to be a powerful weapon of choice for many. For our campaign, we engaged with the businesses that bought the posters spaces and, through our own network and theirs, encouraged people to look for the posters and then post a picture with a #SeeAPosterHelpABusiness hashtag. This proved to be incredibly successful, with over 200,000 users reached during the month the campaign ran. In an unexpected twist, the businesses (who were otherwise unconnected) also worked together to find each other's posters, creating a new network of business women who are supporting each other and the aims of MicroLoan.
Off the back of this successful campaign loans will be made available to women in Malawi to set up their own businesses. By doing this they are then able to pull themselves out of poverty by generating an income which pays for vital food, education and shelter. Not only have we raised enough funds to help 300 women in Malawi and Zambia, we've been able to reach a new group of businesses and people willing to help our cause.
To those charities looking to reach new audiences and find ways to raise crucial funds I have one recommendation - "Do things differently, you never know how successful it may be!"