Reading a history of the WWII occupation of the Channel Islands, I was amazed to discover that in 1945, after liberation from German rule, a Red Cross appeal raised £170,000, an astonishing amount for that time. So what can we learn from this today?
The background to the appeal was that, for five years, the Channel Islands (Jersey, Guernsey and Sark) had been under German occupation, so that by the end of the war the population was almost facing starvation. Although France was liberated in 1944, the occupied Channel Islands were left behind by the invading Allies. As a result, the population ran out of many foodstuffs, as well as medicines and daily necessities.
Rescue came in the form of the Red Cross, which organised six shiploads of food and supplies, as well as delivering essential medicines. In all, 460,000 food parcels were delivered to the increasingly desperate population.
Clearly, the people had good reason to be grateful. But let’s look at the figures more closely. By the Summer of 1945 the combined island populations numbered around 80,000, including children. In other words, the Red Cross appeal raised more than £2 per head - and this at a time when basic wages were around £3.60 (3 pounds 12 shillings) per week. At today’s prices, the islanders donated over £17 million to the appeal – a very impressive total.
So what can we learn from this story? Firstly, that gratitude is a very powerful motivation. The Red Cross may well have saved lives with their food and medicines, so the donations were a way of saying thank you. So how can we apply this to our charities? Some organisations are very sensitive about asking beneficiaries for support. Sometimes, this may be justified, but not always. For example, some charities shy away from asking them for legacies, when in fact they and their families could be very receptive to the idea because they are so grateful.
Secondly, I wonder if the Red Cross got such a good response because people had witnessed the impact of their work with their own eyes. Seeing is believing after all. So again, how can we translate this to our charities? We may not be able to take them to the see work we are doing in prisons, or hospitals, or developing countries, but increasingly technology enables us to show them in other ways. So, for example, are you making the most of video on the web to show supporters the impact of your work? Some powerful footage with beneficiaries telling the story of how you have helped them could be very effective.
Whether you are using old or new technology in your fundraising, donor motivations don’t change much. The Red Cross did not have access to new media in 1945, but they tapped into a deep well of gratitude from donors who had seen their work for themselves. We would do well to learn from this today.
Sources: The German Occupation of the Channel Islands by Charles Cruickshank, Guernsey Press Co, 1975. Quoted in the above, Red Cross and St John War History by P. Cambray and G. Briggs, 1949.