If we had a quid for every time we’ve thought “I should do something for charity!” and then spent another weekend napping in a fort made of Domino’s boxes, we’d have… well, the beginnings of a pretty generous donation. But when your own limited funds feel like a drop in the ocean and you don’t know any millionaires to tap for cash, how do you even get started?
Sometimes, it takes a huge life event to give you that motivation. When Lucy Trafford’s mum Tina passed away after a devastating stroke, aged just 53, her grief felt like a push to do something positive.
“I had no idea that strokes could impact people so young,” she says. “I started doing my research and discovered that even young people, babies, it’s possible for everyone to have strokes. And I needed to get that awareness out there.”
Some people might raise awareness through a little sofa clicktivism, but Lucy took a much less comfortable path – on a bike saddle. “I have a mad long bucket list of things I want to achieve in my lifetime, and cycling to Paris was one of them. It would be a challenge, but maybe a few friends and family would want to join me on my cycle ride.” Was she a keen cyclist? “Definitely not! I hadn’t cycled since I was about 15,” she says. “I just knew that my bike was pink and that was it. I had no idea.”
But one thing she did have a handle on was recruitment. And like any good millennial, tech was Lucy’s most vital tool. “I created a website using one of those free online tools, for people to register their interest,” she says. “Then I literally just plugged it away on social media, daily on Facebook, on Instagram, on Twitter, I got friends and family to share it...”
Not just friends and family, but bonafide famouses too. James Norton, Greg James and Fern Britton were among the celebs who lent their support, and Lucy’s story was picked up by newspapers after she issued a press release. Soon she had 150 people registered, and decided to raise the stakes – first to £53,000, in honour of her mum’s age, then as more and more support rolled in, to a whopping £100,000. “I said ‘I’ll cover the cost of the cycle and the trip and the transport and the hotels if you raise £1000 each. We made everyone pay a £30 deposit – I wanted people to put their money where their mouth was. I knew a lot of people would say ‘yeah, sounds great!’ but actually when it comes down to it, are they prepared to pay?”
Lucy quickly discovered that there’s no shame in asking for favours; especially if you turn them into business opportunities. She invited five different cycling events companies to pitch for the job, and selected the best one to handle the tickets, hotel bookings and other logistics involved in getting more than 100 people and their bikes 300 miles across the English Channel.
“If I’m honest, it was like running a business,” says Lucy. “It took a LOT of time. But because I wasn’t working, it was doable. I knew I was doing it for a good cause.”
And despite a few hitches along the way (“About two weeks before the cycle we had a few dropouts, and I’d already paid £500-odd pounds per place. Those people had no idea that they were letting down such a big thing”), the memory of her mum was all the motivation needed to keep her hustling. “She was so full of life, she would have thought it was so much fun. Although she probably would have been like ‘oh god, you’re not doing all this for me?’,” says Lucy. “I think she’d have loved the fact that it was all different ages taking part, from young people right up to my dad’s age. It was just a real celebration.”
Champagne in hand under the Eiffel Tower, Lucy gave herself permission to rest on her aching bum muscles, but not her laurels – having collected her Fundraiser of the Year Award from her business hero, Baroness Karren Brady, she’s already plotting ways to get the overall total, currently just under £150,000, up to £200,000. “It’s just kept me going really,” she says.
“When we were cycling up to the Eiffel tower I looked back, and everyone was wearing their little purple tops and it was just the most amazing sight. And I’d say probably half the people on the cycle didn’t know my mum. Probably a quarter didn’t even know me. You’ve just got to inspire those people to want to do it.”
Lucy’s five tips for effective fundraising
1. Be persistent
Asking for money is really difficult. But I really believe if you don’t ask you don’t get, so don’t be shy about asking people. If you’re confident and you can give people good reasons why they should give you money, it gets easier. I used to keep a little list in my pocket so I always knew what to say!
2. Spread the word
Use and abuse social media. Use every platform you can – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter – even if you think you’re overdoing it. It might be that one post that makes all the difference. I used to look up when the best time to post was, and I even ended up putting £10 behind one of my Facebook posts. That one post then reached over 1000 people. And get creative, think about all the ways you can get the word out there. I really can’t write, my English is terrible, but I thought ‘I’m going to write a press release, send it round and see what happens.’ And as a result I was in five or six different papers, lots of local radio – the amount of response we got from that was amazing. It’s amazing what people can connect with.
3. Host events
I did cheese and wine evenings, with cheap (but delicious) wine from Lidl and glasses on loan from Majestic, and I asked everyone who came for a £15 donation. And because it’s £15, lots of people would have to break a £10 or £20 note, but most people were too shy to ask for £5 back because it’s for charity – so we made a huge profit.
4. Give people something in exchange
I realised that people are much more prepared to give you money if they’re getting something in return. Ask them for a donation and they’re a bit more reluctant to do that, whereas if they’re paying for an experience, like a ticket to an event or something, then people are much more likely to give you the money. I was also very aware I wanted it to be realistic – so, a £30 deposit per person, and I didn’t want them to have to put any money towards the logistics of the trip. Because when all your money each month goes on rent and living expenses in London, people aren’t prepared to pay £500 or something to cycle to Paris. I wanted to take away all those potential negatives and make it as attractive as possible to people.
5. Set ambitious goals
Maybe I was a bit over-ambitious... but if you’re determined, it’s amazing what you can actually achieve. I know that sounds really cringey, but it’s true.