MS Ltd had not entered the FIA awards for quite a few years. Whilst we had some strong fundraising programs, we do not think we had anything new, or especially strong to put forward. However by 2018 we had a breakthrough with a number of programs and decided to put the revitalsied MS Readathon campaign up. To win both the events award and the national campaign award was a great surprise to us as we though it was a very competitive field – there were some great campaigns shortlisted. So, the judges choosing to recognize the difficulty of getting a 40 year old, nationally iconic, but terminally declining program like MS Readathon back on its feet and growing again was very heartening to everyone, from the team who worked on it, our agency Donor Republic, right the way up to the board.
One of the most important consequences of winning the awards is that it gave our CEO and board confidence that we could grow the program further and so more funds were released to invest in it. This is already showing strong signs of paying off in the 2020 MS Readathon, which has seen registrations growth well ahead of target. We were even given enough funds to do a TV campaign for Readathon in 2020, which is going extremely well. The resurrection of MS Readathon has been exciting for everyone, but particularly for staff and the MS clients we serve. I can’t count the number of people, who, having known Readathon since childhood, tell me that they are very glad to see that it’s back and thriving again.
MS Readathon is, as I’ve said, a 40 year old Australian icon. People often tell me that they participated themselves as children or got their kids involved when they were small. At its peak in the early 2000’s Readathon used to attract about $5m in fundraising revenue nationally, but by 2017, due to underinvestment and changing behaviour, this had shrunk to less than $150,000. We were faced with the dilemma of closing it or trying to make it work. Assisted by Donor Republic we did some research and then came up with a new version that was more appropriate for modern kids – mostly managed on-line and with fun new avatars so children could safely interact on line. When we launched in 2018 we saw revenue almost triple from the previous year and in its second year after relaunch revenue reached almost $1.3m. This year we are looking to double it again. Parents are very keen to see their children reading more – and not just from a screen. They are also keen for their children to understand that life is harder for some people and that we all have an obligation to give to help them. It is also good for kids to learn early how gratifying giving to others can be. I think it was also a hit because the system worked so smoothly, we had some great incentives and kids loved the avatars – the mermaid, the spaceman, the monster, the knight and the warrior princess. This year we have added Dean the dinosaur, who was created by one of the great kids who participated in 2019.
MS Ltd will be looking to enter at least one category each year from now onwards. Just entering has the benefit of getting you to reflect and refocus on your campaigns – testing their strengths and weaknesses, which enables you to possibly refine them in future. Entering also galvanises the team to support their projects. Winning is a great chance to build the profile of fundraising in your organisation and gives everyone a spring in their step. FIA have also streamlined the entry process, which I think used to put some people off. It’s much clear and easier to enter now, so we will be thinking about what to put forward very soon. Still, next year I will dress up a bit more for the awards dinner – just in case we win again.