Red Nose Day is Not Clowning Around.

Philanthropic communications campaigns can be difficult. Data shows a large proportion of generous giving takes place from October to December, and after the holidays it consistently tapers. According to Nonprofit Source, Americans gave $410 billion to charities in 2017 and 30% of annual giving occurred in December alone.

The British charity, Comic Relief, founded in 1985 by Richard Curtis and Lenny Henry, a comedy scriptwriter and comedian duo, sought to help ease the famine in Ethiopia. In 1988, they started their signature event — a biennial telethon fundraiser called Red Nose Day. Their mission has expanded and now they drive donations to help end child poverty and fund programs that provide food, education and health resources to communities around the world. Since its founding, it has raised $1.2 billion, expanded beyond the UK and flipped the model for off-season fundraising.

Why it Matters?

While Red Nose Day was a British activation, it’s grown to be an international day of giving, and today marks their fifth year operating in the US!

If you are a non-profit organization, fundraising is an annual challenge that requires creative and effective problem-solving. How do you drive donations when it is not the “season of giving”? Comic Relief’s Red Nose Day campaign is an example of how to successfully drive donations and visibility year over year — outside of this “season”.

Taking a deep look at Red Nose Day’s international success, especially over the past five years, it’s important to look at the growth of the organization at every level and how they have strategically used communications to achieve their goals.

Clyde Insights

Since two comedians founded the organization, it’s natural that the ethos of the institution is to have fun and laugh. The concept itself of putting on a red nose, which resembles a lot like a clown nose, is laughable. Now imagine getting the rich and famous to put themselves in the same position as you and I by donning a red nose?

Celebrity Endorsement is a tried and true PR tactic, and when it comes to philanthropy, it’s an important tool to wield. Red Nose Day has partnered with Ed Sheeran, Tyra Banks to Jack Black, reaching a diverse range of audiences through the celebrities own personal social networks.

In the UK, the organization partners with BBC, and in the US, they work with NBC. This media sponsorship gives them an enormous platform to reach the public and guarantees limelight for celebrities.

What you don’t see as much is the grassroots activity the organization does throughout the year, which culminates in the televised telethon. Having the one day in the year for the telethon helps to create a sense of urgency amongst the public that their opportunity to give to this great cause is imminent and they need to take immediate action.

When you are looking to build a successful philanthropic communications campaign, these elements should be a part of your strategy:

  • Use humor where appropriate;
  • Identify advocates that can endorse your organization and cause;
  • Establish a media partnership;
  • Create a sense of urgency and that others are donating with an activation that makes people think there is a deadline that they don’t want to miss out on;

These components have helped drive incredible success. They took this blueprint in the UK and replicated it in the US, starting in 2015, and have raised nearly $150 million, which has gone to support more than 16 million children in America. US donations go to nonprofit organizations like Feeding America, the Boys & Girls Clubs of AmericaSave the Children and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Like all successful communications campaign, it’s like an iceberg. The Red Nose Day telethon is the tip that people see. However, the organization has built a steady drumbeat of activities, from creating toolkits and lesson plans for teachers to talk about the initiative to streaming on Twitch with celebrities.

The jump from the UK to the US was a big leap for the organization, but they received support from the government and from the large British expat community already residing in America.


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