Ahead of the launch of #ItsInTheBag , we spoke to Share the Dignity about their campaign, their partnership with Bunnings, and their COVID-19 plan B.

Share the Dignity #ItsInTheBag campaignFor small Brisbane-based charity Share the Dignity, having a national footprint required the help of a corporate partner with a national presence. Enter Bunnings. With iconic stores across the country, and the necessary storage capabilities, Bunnings was the ideal partner for their #ItsInTheBag campaign.

Their annual appeal asks supporters to pack a handbag or backpack for teenagers, women or new mums, filled with essential items such as pads, tampons, deodorants, toothpaste and soap along with a luxury item such as perfume, notepad and pen, and a note or Christmas card. Bags are distributed through charity partners to women experiencing homelessness, fleeing domestic violence, or living in crisis.

Supporters can drop their bags off at any Bunnings store around the country from 20-29 November. This national activation is a far cry from where the appeal first started with Share the Dignity founder Rochelle Courtenay asking people to leave the bags on her verandah.

The partnership with Bunnings also has a humble beginning: “Our founder, Rochelle, actually just called out Bunnings on our social media page. She said, “we need your help!” We thought Bunnings was perfect. Every Aussie has this pure love for Bunnings,” says Share the Dignity Marketing and Communications Manager, Katie Norbury.

Bunnings has capacity to store the bags for the charity until they’re picked up. Which is lucky because a group of friends holding a bag packing event can pack and drop off 100 bags with no notice. Each Bunnings store decorates their bag collection pallet and, internally, they hold a pallet decoration competition – a fantastic way to get internal buy-in and build awareness of the campaign.

“To be able to coordinate this [appeal] out of a store that is in almost every part of Australia, it’s so lucky to have that. [Bunnings] really is the only suitable nationwide company for us.”

Managing an army of volunteers

Share the Dignity’s foot soldiers consist of a team of over 5,000 volunteers who pick up bags from Bunnings, sort through them ensuring they have all the necessary items and no contraband, and then drop them off to over 2,000 charity partners.

They manage their volunteers on Workplace, a Facebook initiative, which allows them to split their volunteers into regions based on where they live. Volunteers are put into state-based groups and region-based groups and can then sign up to as many shifts as they want. Marketplace allows them to communicate virtually to all their volunteers – a must-have feature during COVID-19.

“COVID safety has been our number one priority for our volunteers. We’ve been very strict in saying if you’re ill don’t go to your pick-ups or drop-offs; if you don’t feel comfortable, no one will question you. A lot of our volunteers are older as well, so we really need to prioritise their safety. We did a huge call out for new volunteers [a few months ago] to [have enough volunteers] because we didn’t want to risk anyone’s health or safety,” says Katie.

Volunteers are instrumental in working with charity partners as well. Relationships with charity partners are built on a local and volunteer level. Share the Dignity welcomes any charity who has need to register for bags. They work on the idea that “if you bleed, you receive”, judging no charity or recipient.

Once a charity has registered and submitted a request, volunteers, called ‘Charity Queens’, communicate with each charity and assess how many bags they’re expecting to receive in their community. This sometimes means shipping in bags from different states to meet the demand.

Last year, the charity collected around 135,000 bags, shy of the 160,000 bags requested. This year, they have already received 110,000 requests for bags from only 68% of their charity partners.

“We expect that we won’t meet the target [of bags] because more people are turning to these services and less people are able to donate.”

Their COVID-19 Plan B

But the Share the Dignity team is thankful they can run the appeal at all this year.

“Midway through the year, our goal was for the campaign to even run,” says Katie.

With lockdowns and social distancing, the team feared that they wouldn’t be able to encourage families, friends and workplaces to come together and pack bags. They created a plan B: encourage people to sponsor a bag by donating $99.

“We formed the sponsor a bag option: almost a virtual #ItsInTheBag. People can purchase a bag online and we’ll build the bag on their behalf. That was our COVID back-up,” says Katie.

As regulations on gatherings eased and it was deemed safe to re-introduce their original offering of choosing to pack and donate bags, the team decided to keep the Sponsor a Bag option but changed the messaging.

While it’s early days, it’s proving to be a popular option. Not just among those who can’t come together due to isolation and lockdowns, for whom it was created, but those who are time-poor and still want to support the appeal: working mums, businesspeople and the like. Their goal for the campaign is to have 1,000 of each bag type sponsored.

“We’ve seen a huge uptake in working mums [picking this option]. It’s great to engage them in a different way.”

But they’re definitely seeing challenges brought on by the pandemic.

“Because people are still working from home, we’ve missed out on a lot of those amazing corporate drives that workplaces would run, where they all build bags together,” says Katie.

Promoting this year’s campaign

This year’s promotion for #ItsInTheBag included a QR code for people to scan and track the impact of their support. Down the track, Share the Dignity hopes to evolve this so people can track their bags along their journey to their recipient.

“That’s the dream, but there are so many things we have to consider particularly as we help people during some of the toughest times of their lives, fleeing domestic violence, etcetera. This year we will send out information on how many bags were delivered to charities. Hopefully, we can do that on a state basis and eventually we want to do that on a regional basis so people can really see how their community came together to help,” says Katie.

With a huge presence already on social media, they’re made a move to engaging with influencers and prominent voices in the communities. They built a page on their website that’s hidden from the public but gives influencers access to captions, social media tiles, story tiles for them to post to their own social media.

“In the past we’ve used quite traditional ways of marketing. This year we’ve really tried to reach a younger audience as well. We’re looking for our next generation of Share the Dignity supporters and trying to connect with them,” says Katie.

Women over 40  are the primary supporter of Share the Dignity so for this year, which they reach through Facebook. This year the team has ramped up their messaging on Instagram to help attract a younger audience.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in younger demographics engaging with our content. We’ve found that younger audiences are much more likely to engage with Instagram stories and are much less likely to post, so we’ve definitely worked more on producing more content and engaging them through stories,” says Katie.

Surviving the pandemic

Other parts of the organisation have slowed down due to the pandemic. Their #Pinkbox Dignity Vending Machines, distributing free sanitary items across the country in public toilets, schools, charities, homeless hubs, refuges and Aboriginal health services, have been the most hit. Some of their 189 vending machines are not accessible, and they’ve had to change their vision for this service.

“We had a goal of installing 1,200 dignity vending machines over the next three years. With COVID hitting, we’ve had to reassess this number to protect the sustainability of our charity. It’s an ongoing cost stocking [the machines] continually. Period poverty – it’s not a warm jacket that you can hand to someone and it lasts 10 years,” says Katie.

Despite the setbacks, the team has learnt a lot this year and are keen to continue giving people a sense of community, from the bag builders to the bag recipients.

“The feeling of isolation during COVID-19 was really prominent and quite hard to deal with. These people who are experiencing homelessness feel that every day. The isolation and the social distancing of people not wanting to walk near them or look at them for fear of being asked for money. We all experienced what that felt like to a lesser extent.”

The 2020 campaign will run from the 20-29 November. Keep track of Share the Dignity’s #ItsInTheBag campaign here.


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