The Art of Student Fundraising: Raising money vs. volunteer satisfaction?
by Sarah Musgrave and Sophie-Louise Hyde
Loughborough Students Rag raised over £1.4million pounds during 2011-12 whilst still ensuring that volunteer satisfaction was of key importance to the section.
As Student Fundraising Organisations or Rags (as they are most commonly known), increasingly raise millions of pounds for their chosen charities all across the country each year, it is not surprising that the organisation, their Rag Chair or Manager, and the students involved within the sections, are having to become more business-minded. However, it is with this moment of change in mind that one must ask the question that all Rag Chairs and Committee Members of university charity sections have come to fear: ‘What is more important – the amount of money you raise or the satisfaction of your volunteers?’ Of course the answer might be obvious to you, but in the world of fundraising where competition is fierce and to be best in the field, a keen eye on the finances of your organisation is needed, it can and has been, a tricky question for some.
Rags are no longer just about the infamous Rag Weeks held at their universities across the country. Instead, Rags have evolved significantly over the past thirty years and are now mostly treated as business organisations or companies, raising more money for charities than charities do themselves by encouraging students to get involved and offering once in a lifetime opportunities. For example, Rag sections in the UK throughout the year of 2011-12 raised around £10 million for numerous different local, national, and international charities, including Breast Cancer Campaign, Practical Action, and the famous Royal British Legion’s annual Poppy Appeal. Many events can range from climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to trekking to Machu Picchu in Peru to a week-long Rag Raid in a city that many students have never visited before. These opportunities are rare, and for students a perfect way to feel good about raising money.
However, when considering why students get involved in the charity and volunteering sectors whilst at university, it is important to remember that, more often than not, it is the ‘fun’ element that convinces them to get on board the bus for that local city raid or even spend the best part of a year fundraising for that opportunity of a lifetime. In rare cases, you do see students fundraising for a specific charity because it’s close to their heart – one example is the Poppy Appeal – a serious fundraising campaign that requires formal and serious dedication to the cause, especially when representing the Appeal on a Rag Raid. For this many students go in suits or dresses as a sign of respect – a nice reminder that students aren’t all about getting drunk.
Nowadays, Rags insist on thanking their volunteers for their commitment to both the section and the charities it works for. They hold social events as a thank you to student volunteers, be that free food, free drinks, or a free paintball game; it is important to reward volunteers for good behaviour and allow them to thrive outside of a fundraising environment. In return, friends will be made, loyalties will be formed, and dedication to the section will become stronger. Star Fundraiser stash is also a good way to entice students to fundraise – dependent on the amount of money students raise, they get rewarded with items of clothing, ranging from a t-shirt to a personalised dressing gown or even a onesie – after all students love free things! Many Rags also praise students for their fundraising efforts through special events evenings: Loughborough holds its annual Rag Presentation Evening every June, Nottingham Karnival has its own Snowflake Ball, and Durham holds the DUCK Awards Ceremony. Many of these special occasions include prizes, awards, and dinners, for their student volunteers, and of course the all-important fundraising total is also announced on these evenings.
We are sure for students, having been in the volunteering roles similar to those we have experienced, the answer is simple – you can’t raise money without students having a good time, and you can’t ensure volunteer satisfaction if you don’t raise money. No matter which side of the fence you sit on as an individual, for student and university Rag organisations both are just as important. For these student fundraising sections, without raising these great amounts of money, they could not continue to focus on improving volunteer satisfaction and ensuring their students have fun. However, the same is true vice versa. The vast amounts of money that they raise would not be so high if it wasn’t for their students having a great time whilst doing so. It would be fair to suggest, and we are sure most student volunteers would agree at this stage, that the key to a successful Rag organisation is giving both raising money, and volunteer satisfaction, equal priority.
Sarah Musgrave is the former Rag Chair of Loughborough Students Rag – one of the biggest student fundraising organisations in Europe. She was responsible for the £1.4million fundraising total of the organisation and now works in Higher Education Fundraising at Loughborough University. She was also on the board of the National Student Fundraising Association – a group set up for sharing best practise and knowledge amongst student fundraising organisations. More information can be found here.
Sophie-Louise Hyde is currently studying for a Masters in Creative Writing at Loughborough University and is in the process of setting up her own creative project: www.thestudentwordsmith.com. She worked alongside Sarah on Loughborough Students Rag Committee 2011-12.