Tuesday 7 June 2011

Mountain Rescue - how to raise funds?

In the last three days I’ve heard a few things about Mountain Rescue teams and how to raise funds for them. First, I was chatting to a friend about raising funds for a rescue team with a shortfall right now. He was trying to think of ideas to raise funds directly by increasing donations or by generating cash by business activities. Second, I was asked (as I often am) to post on my blog and retweet messages pointing at Mountain Rescue sites, or other charitable organisations.  Third, I was listening to Stephen Fry on Radio 4 today talking about how he is asked continuously to retweet messages of all types (charitable and corporate) and how doing this just doesn’t work for either party in the long run.
Occasionally, it is right to talk about a charitable organisation, when you do some work for them or have a direct personal involvement of some kind. For instance recently when I was at an event for the Linda Norgrove Foundation, a charity I’m hoping to keep a personal involvement with in the future. But Stephen’s point was that the whole idea of a person having a blog or twitter feed is that it’s personal - it’s about you. Distorting that once in a while to promote is OK so long as it has personal meaning for you, but overdo it, and in the long run it’s unsustainable. It just doesn’t work, like spam.
I can see why organisations try to harness the established audience of someone well known in the relevant field in order to get promotional mileage. But if it’s purely a spam exercise it’s destined for an extemely poor success rate. Much better to involve those people directly in some meaningful way if you are going to use them at all. However, in my view, there is a better way, at least in the case of a charity seeking to raise funds. Rather than rely heavily on others to carry the promotional torch down a blind alley, it would be better to utilise the intrinsic value of the organisation itself to generate the necessary reach among the desired audience. So the challenge for the organisation is firstly to figure out what they have that could be of value to their target audience, and then to share it with them in a way that raises funds along the way. Things of value can come in all shapes or sizes. Off the top of my head, if I was running a rescue team, here’s a few things I’d work on:
1. The first thing rescue teams have of value is general knowledge about how to stay safe and move about on mountains, as well as specific local knowledge about the mountains they pull people off day in day out. Mountain guides and centres use this very effectively to fuel their marketing. Rescue teams could do it too, but add a different perspective. Writing online, training events, lectures on mountain safety are all good fundraisers. I’d love to see an article on why you, like so many novice winter climbers are going to get stuck high on Tower Ridge on the Ben and have to call out a team to bail you out. I’d like to see a good annotated topo of the ridge showing where you can move together instead of pitching your way straight into a benightment, how you can escape from the ridge by abseil or ledges and where climbers commonly end up stuck. The URL for that kind of piece will get the retweets without having to ask, as well as maybe even helping to cut the expenditure?!
2. The other obvious aspect of rescue teams’ work that gets people talking is rescue stories. As any new marketer will tell you, marketing revolves around stories, and rescue teams have them in bulk. Whereas many corporate stories are fake and boring, mountain rescue stories are some of the most gripping ever. The ethics and presentation of them are a discussion for another day, but a blog chronicling the activities of a rescue team in the same style (but with more detail) than in the SMC journal would be a very interesting and educational blog. And one which I could envisage getting a lot of incoming links from some highly useful websites (like the BBC!). Some use of Twitter to relate up to date info on hill conditions, especially overnight, would be a very subscribed feed also. And this aspect of a team’s work is exactly the right type of relationship that is needed with potential donors or customers - a regular one with constant reminders. A one off shot, like a piece on the news or a newspaper just pales in comparison in terms of it’s long term value.
3. Marketing fear and responsibility (e.g. “support the rescue team, you might need them someday”) has been shown in so many other fields such as health to have a poor success rate (understatement). Hence, marketing to the majority of the audience who have never used the service and probably don’t even want to think about the day they might need to demands the approach above - a positive one. On the other hand, those who have had to use the rescue services will have a very different attitude. Is there any mechanism in place to keep in contact with these people and make it easy for them to exercise their gratitude for the service, both immediately and down the line (when they are CEOs of big companies etc)?
4. Donations are important, but sell things too. If there was a good book or stories and pictures from dramatic rescues in the mountains I visit, I’d buy it. I bet those who only go to the visitor centre at the bottom would too. Why let some commercial journalist write it and take the revenue? - write and publish it yourself. 
5.Align to bigger business. For certain companies, a badge that says they support, or better still donate a percentage of their profits to mountain rescue is a tool they can use for their own marketing. In other words, it adds value for them, and you. These alliances are there for the taking. Let others sell donations for you. Sponsorship is another way. I saw the ‘Red Devils’ parachute team on the telly tonight, wearing Victorinox logos. 
I know these ideas aren’t new, complete or detailed and have no idea how much they have been tried or would be suitable. My point is that the status quo is far short of ideal. The folk who are involved directly with the problem will need to iron out the details of solutions, as an outsider looking in it seems to me that a different approach could yield some much bigger results. I hope thinking aloud about this is more useful than retweeting a request for donations?


  1. Anonymous08 June, 2011

    You might want to have a look at the swiss Rega and how they operate and finance themselves. It's a bit of a larger strategy for sure, but it's a very successfull and unique model.

  2. Anonymous12 June, 2011

    Good blog Dave and points well put. I am currently developing a climbing/scrambling challenge (when other business commitments will allow)in Scotland which will raise funds predominantly for Mountain Rescue teams in Scotland. We have endorsement from MRCofS and hope to have it up and running shortly and generate some publicity through UKC.

    Any assistance in spreading the word would be much appreciated.

    Bobby Motherwell