The Big Give Christmas Challenge

The Big Give Christmas Challenge

A view of the South Tynedale Railway
A view of the South Tynedale Railway
Today marks the beginning of The Big Give Christmas Challenge 2015. Brian Craven, Deputy Chairman of the South Tynedale Railway Preservation Society (STRPS), shares his experiences of the UK’s biggest online match funding campaign.

Creating Europe’s first self-sustained community railway

In 2013 HLF awarded the Society a £1m Catalyst: Endowment grant, allowing us four years to raise a further £1m in match funding from private sources to help build an endowment.

Income from the endowment is to be used for planned preventive maintenance of the Society’s 70 or more heritage assets including the Grade II listed Alston Station House, Grade II* listed Viaducts at Lambley and Alston Arches, and a wide range of many unique, heritage steam, diesel and electric locomotives and related railway equipment.

The Big Give Christmas Challenge 2014

During October 2014 a surprise letter from the Garfield Weston Foundation invited us to participate in the Big Give Christmas Challenge. They said they would sponsor £1 for £1 for up to £40,000! The invitation was grabbed immediately with both fists and the Staff and Volunteer Team worked for the next few weeks to raise awareness and to solicit online donations for the Challenge event which ran over the first weekend in December.

Excitement mounted as the season for South Tynedale’s Santa Train events and the Big Give Challenge edged ever nearer. Finally, with Christmas Carols, Guard’s and Steam locomotive whistles in the background we were off!

Reaching the target

The first day went incredibly well, and we hit our daily target in the early afternoon. Armed with this experience, the second day was even better, with the daily total achieved before lunchtime. Then, with a balance of £10,000 to raise on Day three, the lines suddenly went quiet. However, armed with feedback and results from the first two days, the team redoubled their efforts and by 2pm had hit the magical £40,000 maximum limit!

Wonderful, wonderful news, through the busiest time of year. The team had inspired members, supporters and others, to donate a magnificent £40,000, much of it with Gift Aid to be added. Garfield Weston Foundation added their £40,000, HMRC a further £7,000 of Gift Aid, and to cap it all STRPS submitted the whole amount raised to HLF as part of our Catalyst: Endowment campaign. This re-doubled the total benefit to the Society to more than £175,000.

Without doubt the opportunity provided to the Society to raise such a magnificent amount in such a short period owes a great debt and a huge thank you to the Big Give, to Garfield Weston Foundation, to our many members, supporters and friends who gave so readily and generously in response to our appeals and pleas!

The Big Give Garfield Weston approach is unique in STRPS experience, but among the very best and most straightforward once we got our heads in gear! We also found it to be one of the most productive fund-raising experiences we have ever enjoyed! What a fantastic way to stimulate and encourage interest and support!

The combination of a huge carrot from the sponsor, the competitive and quick results style of the Christmas Challenge event, the minimal rules, ease of access, and relatively major returns, must make this one the very best fund-raising schemes available to charities in the UK!

On behalf of the Society I am delighted to record our appreciation to all concerned for all the support towards our success. I only hope STRPS will be able to avail ourselves of more opportunities in future!

Top Tips

  • Think Why Not? ......... Then work out ‘the How’
  • Focus on your resources and your potential donors. Is it a little from many donors; much from a few; or a combination of both
  • Plan and prepare. Get the message out; repeat it; reinforce it and follow it up
  • Keep everyone posted and in the loop before, during and after the event. Information is essential, but superb communication is crucial
  • This isn’t an easy option – it is hard work and it can be fun
  • Commit, commit, commit – STRPS mostly managed much from a few; but we had an eloquent organiser/communicator on the phone four to five hours each day for four days – immediately before and during the Challenge event
  • If in doubt, remember how much time and effort it takes to raise the same amount with routine applications

How to find out more

Read more about the The Big Give Christmas Challenge 2015 on the Challenge's website, and on STRPS via the Society's website.

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