From an idea bounced around at an away day breakout session to a trending hashtag that raised more than £3,000 for cancer research – here’s what I learned from helping make the University of Warwick’s first #CoolCapSelfie day a reality.
Here at Warwick, we’d never previously done much in the way of harnessing social media for our fundraising efforts, but during a team away day at the end of 2015 we decided to try and change that.
It started with a breakout session, which I sort of ran, at said away day where the theme was ‘how to create Warwick’s ice bucket challenge’ – talk about aiming high!
Anyway, once I’d done my usual spiel about managing expectations, those of in the room started talking more about what we were trying to achieve. The clear message was that we wanted to try and use social media to raise funds for our cancer research centres, as well as making more people realise that we even have cancer research centres here.
OK, a good start – if we’re going to get people to donate then it needs to be for a cause that will strike a chord with them, and cancer research definitely does that. But how do we turn this into a campaign, something fun that might go viral, on campus at least?
We talked more to find out exactly what sort of cancer research takes place at Warwick. A few things got mentioned, but without doubt the most interesting was the work we were doing around scalp cooling caps, which are worn during chemotherapy and can help reduce hair loss – one of the many, many horrible things facing anyone suffering with cancer.
The more we talked about these magical caps, the more ideas started coming – culminating in the final offering; the #CoolCapSelfie. Quite simply, we wanted people to post a picture of themselves wearing their coolest cap (well, any piece of headwear actually) using our hashtag. And, if they could afford it, donate £2 to our cancer research centre by text. We hoped it would be a simple thing for people to do that was also relevant to what we were actually trying to raise money for.
So far, so good – but we were far from done. Next we had to consider who we wanted to get involved with this campaign. With almost 200,000 alumni across the world, not to mention plenty of friends in high places, we could have been forgiven for aiming as far and wide as possible. But we didn’t.
Bear in mind we’d never done anything like this before. We had no idea if it would fly and, to be honest, we weren’t really sure exactly how much work we’d need to put in to make it happen and manage. That helped make our minds up; for the first ever #CoolCapSelfie we would just focus on our campus community.
It would almost be a like a dress-down day but with silly hats and we wanted to get staff and students involved. We wouldn’t worry about spreading the word beyond campus, instead we decided to keep it in our own space in the hope that it would end up being something that we could learn from and scale up to a larger target audience in the future (although if people outside of campus did find about it and want to get involved, then that would be absolutely a-ok).
Defining our audience early on was a massive help with the rest of the planning – we could spend our time utilising our existing communications channels to spread the word, such as our intranet, online student communications portal, the many digital screens across campus and, of course, social media.
We also made the most of our internal contacts book; the digital network I run for colleagues across campus who do digital stuff, our sabbatical officers in the Students Union, teams in our Campus Commerical Services Group and even our student sports teams who we’d worked with on a separate hashtag campaign this year were all primed and ready to get involved.
Our fundraising team also gathered some invaluable case studies to help make people more aware of the research we were raising money for – it’s all well and good us putting together some snappy copy about the difference our scalp-cooling caps could make to someone, but hearing it from the horse’s mouth is always far more effective.
Also, we made sure we gave people a good reason to get involved – namely chocolate, booze and money! Even though we knew cancer research was a cause most people would get behind, we figured that having some prizes for the best selfies wouldn’t help, so we managed to gather a hamper of Easter chocolate, a bottle of fizz and some other prizes from friends across campus. We also managed to secure a £500 bursary for the best photo submitted by a student society or club, to really try and pique student interest.
Finally, we had to think about money. The overriding attitude in the campaign team was that having anyone take part and spread the word that we actually do cancer research at Warwick would be incredible, but that harnessing that energy into raising some money to help continue that research would be even better.
We knew from our annual dress-down day at Christmas how much we tend to raise through specific days, and decided that £3,000 for a day of action was a good number – challenging but realistic. We then had to decide on how much to ask individuals to give, bearing in mind that we wanted students to get involved too. We settled on £2, which not only seemed an affordable amount but also was the rough cost of one session of scalp cooling. We made it possible to donate online or by text.
While I’m talking money, I should probably add that we also decided to enlist some volunteers to head out across campus on the day with collection tins, and pulled together a few bake sales too, so that people who couldn’t/didn’t want to donate online or by text could still do so in real life.
And with that, we went for it…and it was marvellous. Just look through some of the great photos posted on the hashtag.
But how did we actually do? Was it worth it and would we do it again? Well, let’s have a look…
First of all, we beat our £3,000 target, which was fantastic. With the money we raised from the #CoolCapSelfie day we will be able to pay for over 1,500 patients to access the scalp cooling machine.
Second, we genuinely saw staff and students embrace the day and get involved. Not only that, but they the spread the word about the amazing cancer research being undertaken by our academics. It might have been an internal campaign, but it felt like we were really standing proud and showing the world what a difference Warwick is making.
Third, our hashtag trended! From 10am to 10pm on the big day, #CoolCapSelfie was trending in Coventry. I had an inkling it was happening when I saw the first couple of spammers using our tag alongside whatever drivel they were posting, but when I checked back on TrendsMap and got confirmation it did make me feel good.
There 659 tweets posted with the hashtag, tweets that generated 3,284,032 impressions – not bad at all really. Especially when you think that, over six days of summer graduation last July, our associated hashtag generated a total of 12.4million impressions – meaning #CoolCapSelfie actually generated more than the average daily figure for #warwickgrad.
The campaign was a great way to highlight that we have a specific Twitter account for fundraising at Warwick, @supportwarwick – they drove the campaign, with support from the central University account, and did a brilliant job, with an average engagement rate of a whopping 5.49% (the central account tends to average around 2%).
Finally, it was fun! Look at the smiles in the photos. Look at the amazing variety of headwear available to the human race. It got people talking, it got people posting and it got people donating.
**UPDATE** We’ve also since found out that we were among the top 1% of fundraisers on JustGiving for the whole of March – pretty awesome!
It also feels like this is something we could do again (in fact, we’re already planning the next one) but go bigger next time. The approach we took here should be scaleable, but we still need to sensible with it. Our next step will probably be to involve the local region and see if we broaden our reach to the wider West Midlands. Much as we’d love to go for global domination right away, we need to patient and realistic with it and make sure we do the best job we can.
So there you have it – proof that you can go from a quirky away day session to a solid piece of engaging fundraising on social media…why not give it a go yourself?
If you do give a try, here are my top tips:
- Define your audience early on – it just makes the whole process far easier.
- Make your campaign simple and fun – selfies in silly hats was easy to sell, easy to explain and enjoyable to be part of.
- Don’t ask for too much – £2 was a good amount of money to people to donate as it wouldn’t break the bank. As they say, every little helps.
- Maximise the opportunities to donate – we had a JustGiving page and text donations as well as collection tins and cake sales on campus. Just because it was broadly a social media campaign didn’t mean it couldn’t have some real life elements too.
- Get some prizes – any extra reasons for people to take part will help…who wouldn’t fancy winning a tonne of chocolate? Or, for our societies and clubs, the chance to bag £500 was very exciting.
- Engage! – retweet, say thank you, and complement people on their hats. This is social media after all.
- Start small but always look to grow – devising a campaign that just concentrated on campus was definitely the best thing to do as a first attempt at this sort of thing. We now know how it works and can aim higher next time. But not too high. We’re thinking stepping stones rather than giant leaps.
If you’d like to make a donation to help fund our scalp cooling treatment you can do so via our JustGiving page.