Your charity and the BBC

Can you outline your charity’s mission in less than three minutes? Sally Flatman, BBC’s charity appeals adviser, writes about what it takes to be featured on Radio 4 or Lifeline.

In the unlikely event you should want to read this blog post out loud – I predict it will last 2 minutes, 50 seconds.  That’s because it is 420 words long. Sounds pedantic –  but I’m putting myself under the same constraints we put charities under when they are writing a Radio 4 Appeal script.

As we say to those charities, I won’t be able to tell you everything I do in that time.  I need to focus my thoughts, grab your attention and ensure you don’t wander off to make a cup of tea!

The BBC has been giving charities ‘airtime’ since 1923.  Every year the BBC offers 60 charities the opportunity to broadcast a radio or television appeal. I’ve learned so much from charity appeal scripts – for example, land mines are sensitive enough to be triggered by a child’s footstep, and powerful enough to rip apart a car (source: MAG). The audience may not be able to see your work in action, but you can paint them a picture.

Our BBC producers work hard with the selected charities, filming contributors for Lifeline, recording presenters for Radio 4, and helping to craft the scripts. Many charities get great presenters. Professor Green knew about CALM’s work, and began their BBC One Lifeline appeal by talking about his own father’s suicide. Sometimes relationships between charities and presenters continue, something we all hope for. I have a fond memory of the late Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop, heading out of Broadcasting House deep in conversation with a charity representative she’d just met.

We never know how much money we’ll raise. Some appeals exceed all our expectations.  Sometimes charities are disappointed and we understand because we know how hard we worked together. Recently, however, a donation was given 2 years after the original appeal!

Of course, money is important, but these appeals also raise awareness and for me, it’s crucial that we give people a voice.  In radio, either directly – like this young woman who presented the appeal for The Honeypot Children’s Charity– or told by someone else, such as in this appeal for Vision Care for Homeless People, told by the poet John Hegley. On television, including a presenter and beneficiaries works really well.

Maybe a BBC appeal could work for your charity! You can see past examples here and here, and results here. If you are interested, take a look at the application criteria and speak to some fellow CEOs who have done it. Next application deadlines: 9 September and 9 December 2019.

Photo by Josh Appel on Unsplash

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