27th February, 2012

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Help for Heroes – Five years on

Now in its fifth year and with an annual turnover of over £50m, we take a look at the phenomenon that is Help for Heroes, and explore the secrets of its success.

Launched in October 2007 to support wounded service men and women, Help for Heroes has already raised over £100m. Some shrewd strategic decisions have contributed to their rapid growth and popularity:

  1. Their name was cleverly selected – clear and compelling, they are “the charity that does exactly what it says on the tin”. Organisations with more obscure titles can learn from this: consider a short, sharp strapline to ensure potential supporters aren’t left guessing about the cause.
  2. They adopted a simple, broad mandate, which allows them to direct funds to where it is most needed, on the advice of the experts. Working with and funding service charities ensures they complement and don’t compete with existing activity. We should all embrace opportunities to work with other organisations in our fields – the beneficiaries are always the winners where collaboration takes place.
  3. Their beneficiaries form part of a huge network within the UK. The Armed Forces offer a ready-made audience of potential supporters who need little motivation to adopt the charity – they understand and are passionate about the cause; they know they could potentially become a beneficiary; and their own friends and family will be equally moved to endorse their efforts. Are other charities missing opportunities to involve their beneficiaries in their fundraising?
  4. They quickly secured press support – The media-friendly nature of the cause benefited also from good timing, with growing anti-war feeling developing from the Afghanistan conflict. H4H didn’t shy away from cashing in on the consequent enhanced sympathy for our deployed forces, allowing them to tap into a whole new audience of people who had never before donated to a service charity. This is a great demonstration that we should never be afraid of opportunism.
  5. Maximising on the media coverage, they secured widespread celebrity and royal support. An element of luck in timing gave them two high-profile, dynamic young royals in military roles and again they were not shy in making the most of this. Through smart use of social media (primarily Facebook and Twitter) they heavily promoted their celebrity support while maintaining a ‘cool’ persona, and avoiding the high cost of advertising.
  6. Celebrity support also contributed to the success of some strategically planned events, such as the Rugby Challenge match and H4H concert – each carefully timed to capitalize on current public feeling. Correctly judging your audience’s preferences and accommodating these in your fundraising strategy will put you ahead of the game before you sell a single ticket.
  7. They are cost effective, and transparent about it. Their home page states funds raised, spent and their ‘wish list’.  Merchandise sales fund their overhead costs, and thus every penny of every voluntary donation goes directly to supporting wounded service men and women. A large volunteer network also helps them in raising funds and awareness. Every organisation should feature all and any in-kind and core cost support prominently wherever possible, and transparency about the percentage of income spent on direct charitable expenditure is expected.
  8. They have carefully cultivated an image of ‘rolled up sleeves, we’re all in this together, doing our bit for our blokes’, avoiding political or critical comment, ‘just getting on with the job’. Their rapid growth means they can retain the personal feel of their early days without appearing ridiculous or hypocritical, and this extends to the individuals they support. 

So what do you think has made Help for Heroes so successful in such a short space of time?

I will leave them with the final word:

 “It’s about the ‘blokes’, our men and women of the Armed Forces… It’s about Ben, it’s about Steven and Andy and Mark, it’s about them all. They are just blokes but they are our blokes; they are our heroes. We want to help our heroes.”

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