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Mark Stewart, Fundraising Department Head at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, describes how it increased its Radiothon revenue to $1.2 million – with the help of its corporate partners. Lise Taylor reports.


RadiothonNaturally, The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, Sydney, often looks for ways to bring entertainment and fun activities into the hospital for its young patients and their families to enjoy. Radiothon, which was born in 2006, is its biggest event.

Fundraising Department Head Mark Stewart says, “Although the telefundraising event serves many purposes – including providing a fantastic donor acknowledgement and recognition opportunity as well as an opportunity for some corporate partners to further engage – it is primarily designed to generate income from new donors.” Just a few years ago Radiothon was raising a few hundred thousand dollars each year. However, over the last two years revenue has quickly grown to over $1.2 million, and the team’s aim is to have it grow further. 

“That challenge will only be realised with greater engagement from our media partners and potentially some change in format. Any new activities will have the objective of reaching a new audience and providing the chance to tell our story,” Stewart says.


2UE: a key working partner

Initially, Radiothon started as a three-day event with Vega radio in 2006. Today, the telefundraising event continues to evolve in line with hospital resources and a changing media landscape. 

“Since 2013, we have been lucky to have 2UE provide all the technical and operational resources for the telecast and coordinate the interviews and patient stories that formed the call to action,” says Stewart. “As programming changes to 2UE’s participation on the day made room, we brought in other entertainment – such as singers from The X Factor and kids’ entertainment, providing
a whole of hospital event that attracts other media partners, including Channel 7.”

Over the last two years, however, with changes at 2UE and with the event growing, Radiothon is now managed internally and has evolved into a coordinated effort between the hospital’s fundraising and PR/communications teams and 2UE – but with a primary fundraising objective. 

The shifting media landscape has thrown up a few challenges. “Having 2UE merge with 2GB is still being worked through,” says Stewart. “Each station had very different support structures set up behind the scenes, so we had to be highly flexible just to hold the event last year. 

“We made huge operational changes but because 2UE was still willing to work with us, we managed to find a suitable solution that could produce a result with much fewer resources from 2UE. It meant we took on a lot of activity we’d never had to worry about before. It was a steep learning curve!”

These developments resulted in less air time, fewer asks, and less time to profile donors, patient stories and research breakthroughs. “If anything, it made the planning of the day much more important as every opportunity was strategically essential. We also had the opportunity to pre-record some interviews, which enabled better planning and co-ordination,” Stewart says.


Organisational considerations 

It takes many months of planning to implement the event each year. “Because it impacts on so many operational areas and the main public space of the Hospital, it is important to liaise with other internal stakeholders very early in the process, especially as we add or move activities,” Stewart explains.

Other key considerations in each year’s planning are:

Media opportunities – to tell the story of the hospital and profile and recognise donors

Stewart says the challenge is in profiling all aspects of the hospital (emergency care, research, intensive care etc) while presenting the case studies in a way that is attractive to media agencies and gets across the call to action: “We have a tagline of ‘Helping NSW’s sickest kids’, which sums up what we do, as we receive the most severe cases across New South Wales and Australia. 

“We also spend significant time finding stories for local newspapers. Giving a relatable scenario to people shows the important role we play. The fundraising team coordinates the interviews to highlight the patients’ stories. Its aim is to demonstrate the impact of childhood illness on the whole family. Sharing these real and very honest stories with the listening public is invaluable.”

Maximising sponsorship opportunities and value to sponsors

The radio interviews and the live entertainment stage in the hospital foyer provide an opportunity for donors to speak personally about why they give to the hospital, why it is important to them and to promote their giving through social media and to their staff. Although Radiothon has some repeat sponsors such as Telstra, Slater + Gordon and Mamma Ka’z, the staff also approach existing donors for additional sponsorship dollars as well as cold calling new prospects. 

“Having something tangible to offer in terms of instant recognition and promotional opportunities certainly helps. We also find local industry to be supportive. Sponsorship opportunities range from $5,000 to $20,000 depending on the activity/item,” Stewart says. 

Corporate engagement opportunities

Apart from the event being presented on air, the hospital itself is full of people. The fundraising team takes the opportunity to bring its larger corporate donors into the hospital, using the stages and potentially (although with limited opportunity) radio interviews to publicly thank them for their support. 

“It is very powerful to have a corporate supporter on stage being thanked in front of an audience of patients and their families – they are looking directly at the people they want to help most,” explains Stewart. 

Call to action in the appeal

The team also ensures it has strong, positive case studies backed up by relevant equipment asks. The equipment provides solid dollar handles and comes from the regularly updated list. 

“The current structure of interviewing the patient, doctor and researcher helps to give the full picture and has elements that engage all different communication styles (analytical, intuitive, functional and personal),” says Stewart. “With time we have been using fewer case studies and exploring each one we do cover more comprehensively, linking each story back to the patient.”

Other supporting promotion

This is one of the more difficult areas for the team to achieve cut-through:

  • A social media plan is scheduled in the weeks leading up to the event asking people to listen in on the day when there will be a link to donate. However, Stewart says because this has to work as part of the greater hospital plan it is not as intensive as the team would like.
  • Radiothon is promoted through Instagram and Twitter, however as the core objective is acquiring new donors, these channels are not considered to be ideal. Some limited success has been experienced with Facebook ads, however the team is not strategically utilising this channel yet.
  • During the two weeks prior to the event, on-air promotions are played on 2UE. The hospital also benefits from live on-air discussion of the case studies and the appeal. “We are lucky that the announcers are such strong advocates for us,” says Stewart.
  • The event is also promoted to existing donors via newsletters and email with a soft ask. “As mentioned, we are predominately targeting new donors and we do have a direct mail activity out at around the same time. Our average gift is $2,112 for the day, which is largely driven by corporate donors (the average is $19,450). Individuals give an average gift of $133 and community groups $2,789. Online individuals are slightly higher at $138 versus over the phone or by mail at $124,” notes Stewart.

The timing of fundraising pitches

Stewart explains it is essential to align fundraising pitches with acceptance around the time of the Radiothon because this helps to close deals, especially if a donor is wavering or considering multiple proposals. It also works in with donors that only distribute gifts annually. “As the timing of Radiothon is an issue for some donors, these are not included, but where a donor is flexible, having the Radiothon event does help,” he adds. 

The pitches to these donors are tailored to their individual interests and often based around more equipment, staffing or research. In major donor cases the patient case study becomes less significant. These pitches are developed by the relevant relationship managers, so the full team is engaged. 

General organisation

“In addition, we absolutely live by our run sheets and the team meetings leading up to the event are critical to ensure everyone is clear on what is happening when, what the priorities are and where we need to be flexible,” he says.

The post-event debriefs are also invaluable. Held no more than a few days after the event, extensive notes are taken on everything and these are incorporated into planning at the beginning of the next event. Feedback is gathered from all over the hospital, including from patients and families.

Stewart says that one key learning centres around workload and delegation of responsibilities. “We used to have one person to manage the whole day. He now delegates responsibility of key areas to others in the team rather than providing hands-on management himself.”


Corporate partners are essential to the event’s success

Radiothon wouldn’t have grown as quickly without the team taking special care of its corporate donors because, as Stewart says, this is the single biggest segment that drives its success. In fact, since 2014 corporate income has increased by 160%.

“Building these relationships takes time, and we build engagement throughout the year, but Radiothon is really the icing on the cake. It’s the day where our corporate supporters will also bring their partners and kids into the hospital so the whole family gets involved,” he explains.

“We are gradually getting better at putting a value on the exposure and PR the event brings to our corporate partners. This allows us to be more selective and to prioritise activities. We are fortunate that we have quite a packed agenda, especially for high exposure times such as morning TV crosses, so we now recognise the higher value of those opportunities.”


The benefits beyond fundraising

The event has many facets, so although it is clearly about fundraising Stewart says there are many ways to engage and many benefits that extend beyond fundraising, including helping the hospital engage with a much wider audience and bringing greater value to those who do engage. 

“Having such a high-profile event in the hospital also allows us to communicate the benefits of fundraising to the staff. Giving them the opportunity to meet the donors and hear of the benefits they have brought to the hospital starts the staff thinking of their own needs and encourages them to engage with the fundraising department,” he says. 


Radiothon 2Fast facts

  • Income has grown from $661,000 in 2014 to $1.2 million in 2016.
  • Growth has largely come from corporate donors with corporate income increasing by 160%.
  • Better promotion has seen online donations increasing each year from less than $5,000 four years ago to over $40,000 now.


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