There’s no such thing as society

 In this, as in so many other things, Maggie was wrong.

Despite the rise of the individualist society over the last 30 years, groups of people do still come together to fight for a shared cause. And if Fundraisers can learn to support these groups in the way they want, they can move mountains.

3 year old Ryan Ferguson lives in East Kilbride with his parents and two older brothers. In August 2011 the family were on the cusp of a new life: their visas for Australia had been approved and they were planning to emigrate before Christmas. Then Ryan was diagnosed with leukaemia and they were told he needed a stem cell transplant from a matching donor to survive.

While Ryan started chemo, and Anthony Nolan (the stem cell charity I work for) searched for a match for Ryan, his Dad Stuart started to campaign. Stuart organised a recruitment event for people to join the Anthony Nolan register. New recruits were unlikely to be a match for Ryan, but they could be a match for someone else needing a lifesaving transplant.

The response to Ryan’s Appeal for potential donors was incredible. Tireless work by the family and blanket local media coverage led to 1,074 people joining the Anthony Nolan register on the day of the recruitment event in East Kilbride – an all time record. 5,000 people joined Ryan’s Facebook page in 3 weeks. Since October, Ryan’s supporters have raised over £16,000 by selling Christmas cards and wristbands, doing sponsored walks and donating cash.  10 of Ryan’s supporters will run for Anthony Nolan this year, including his Dad and Uncle running the London Marathon.

Anthony Nolan found a matching donor for Ryan. He now has the chance of life, and the efforts of his family, community and supporters will give that hope to many other blood cancer patients and their families over the coming years.

Most of Ryan’s supporters have no connection with his family. They’ve just been moved by a little boy fighting for his life and have wanted to help. 

What does this mean for charities? It means groups of people will still come together quickly and dynamically to support a cause. However, today’s individualistic and rights-driven society has changed how these campaigns run.  Charity Fundraisers tend to be control freaks and want to tell people how they can fundraise. That doesn’t work with this type of campaign.  The group itself is in charge. They need support and advice, yes, but they call the shots.

This is partly because social media has had a profound impact on this type of fundraising. This new fundraising means virtual, online communities form quickly, driven by Twitter and Facebook, hungry for content which is relevant to them and easy, accessible ways to help. Ryan’s supporters joined the Register online; re-posted content to their social networks; and posted ideas of how to drive the campaign forward. One casual post on a thread about Peter Andre coming to Ryan’s hometown to turn on the Christmas lights led, within 45 mins, to the Facebook group deciding to approach Peter to back the campaign; track down details of his management company; and find a link to someone involved with the event. And Peter Andre, bless him, made time to meet and record a message for Ryan.

People do still care and want to make a difference. And the Fundraisers who learn to react quickly to these groundswells of support, and work out how to steer and support rather than attempt to control them, will find hugely powerful sources of support.

And here’s the little guy who inspired all of this, Ryan. His Dad Stuart’s Justgiving page for the Marathon is on www.justgiving.com/stuarts2012marathon if anyone wants to sponsor him. Thanks.

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