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Tuesday, 22 September 2020


Smile Train: How charities can adapt to the current COVID-19 crisis

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At a time when charities would usually be launching fundraising campaigns, taking part in mass participation events, and visiting schools and businesses to spread awareness of their cause; the current COVID-19 crisis has forced many to stop in their tracks, quickly re-strategize, and change the way they operate. But what can be done at a time when the whole country is self-isolating? 

As consumers turn to their mobile phones and laptops to stay connected, it’s more important than ever before for charities to find a way to tap into online conversations and engage with their target audiences through virtual events and digital activities. While following the Code of Fundraising practice and ensuring that their language is sensitive to the current climate, there are a plethora of ways that charities can look to adapt their existing initiatives or launch new ones to keep awareness levels high.

Take the international children’s cleft charity, Smile Train, as an example. Every April Smile Train launches the Big Smile Tea Party. This annual fundraiser encourages friends, family and colleagues to come together over a cup of tea and some freshly baked goods while raising money for children with clefts globally. 

As seeing friends, families and colleagues is not possible for many people at the moment, Smile Train decided to give its favourite annual fundraiser a new virtual twist – to help lift the country’s spirits, keep people connected, and spread smiles across the nation while ensuring the campaign remained a success.

To mark the start of the Big Smile Tea Party month, Smile Train took the event to a whole new dimension by encouraging people across the country to take part in a nationwide virtual tea party, which they coined ‘The Big Virtual Cuppa’ on 1st April 2020.

After only a week’s worth of social media and PR promotion – coupled with some supporting posts from the charity’s celebrity supporters – friends and families from across the UK tuned in to take part in ‘The Big Virtual Cuppa’, by switching on their mobile devices, boiling the kettle, and enjoying a slice of their favourite cake and a ‘good old natter’ with the people they love, while donating any spare money to Smile Train if they wanted to.

Ian Vallance, Director of Fundraising, Smile Train UK, said:

“In light of the unprecedented and challenging times we are currently facing as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak, many of us are unable to host ‘traditional’ tea parties with our close neighbours, family and friends at home.

“The Big Smile Tea party has been running for several years, and is enjoyed by many of our supporters, so it was vital for us to find a way to continue with the campaign in this current climate.

“The Big Virtual Cuppa provided a brilliant opportunity for friends and families who can’t be together, to grab their phones, laptops or iPads and have a catch up over a steaming cup of tea and a delicious slice of cake, while raising awareness for cleft children in need.

“To-date, Smile Train has supported more than 1.5 million cleft surgeries. The funds we received from our Big Virtual Cuppa campaign will enable us to continue our vital work and create even more smiles in the years to come.”

All monies raised through ‘The Big Virtual Cuppa’, will enable Smile Train to continue its life-changing work, providing 100% free cleft surgery and comprehensive cleft care to children in need, so that they can go on to live healthy and productive lives.

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