CHAS: big impact, small country – when fundraising basics are done well

Still from CHAS TV advert featuring the playpark at Robin House hospice. A boy in a rust-coloured hoodie on an outdoor swing smiles with delight. Behind him is an adult woman with long hair who is blurred but you can still see the smile on her face too.
Still from CHAS TV advert. Image: CHAS

How did a charity in a country with a population of only five million grow its individual giving income tenfold in seven years? Director of income, generation and engagement at Children’s Hospices Across Scotland (CHAS) Iain McAndrew explains.

What is CHAS?  

Founded in 1992 CHAS provides a full children’s hospice service across the whole of Scotland. The charity comprises Robin House Hospice in the west and Rachel House Hospice in the east, as well as community outreach services reaching as far as the Scottish Isles.   
By 2016 fundraising had stagnated. For the three children that die in Scotland every week, CHAS was only reaching one. This was the catalyst for the appointment of McAndrew, a fundraising professional with over 25 years’ experience, whose remit was to improve CHAS’ fundraising and growth. 

The transformation begins

Iain McAndrew, CHAS, standing in front of the brightly coloured letters that the children and their families create.

“We began working with Revolutionise soon after I joined,” says McAndrew. “We knew we needed to transform and started by revisiting our ambition as a charity. This resulted in the development of our ambition: no one should face the death of their child alone. This hard-hitting line acknowledges one of the greatest remaining taboos — that children die. Previously, our messaging had been much softer, and this statement marked a gear shift in our communication.”  
We introduced a new individual giving programme in 2017. At the time, CHAS was only generating around £250k annually, a relatively small part of our overall income. The charity invested extensively in its face-to-face fundraising and its lottery. Our aim was to build and maintain loyal supporters, so we enhanced our stewardship approach. In 2017 we also relaunched the brand, with the CHAS alphabet — letters designed by the children the charity supports — forming the logo and becoming a crucial part of the brand identity.

Listening to families

“We wanted to build awareness of the charity and make it clear to people why raising funds was so important,” explains McAndrew. “That meant telling the truth; not hiding behind euphemisms or ‘fuzz’. We are hugely humbled by the families we support. They feel determined to share their stories, so people can understand the impact of their donations. When we asked them how they wanted us to tell their story, they all said the same — don’t sanitise it; tell the truth about the challenges we face.”  
Demonstrating to supporters the role their donation plays in enabling families to create joyful memories with their child, supporting them through their child’s death and helping them rebuild their lives with the memory of their child ever-present, has resonated with supporters, moving them to act. “And yet all we’re doing is the basics,” says McAndrew.

“We’re the conduit between the families and the supporters. It’s our job to align the two.”   

It is all about the basics

CHAS credits these ‘basics’ for its extraordinary success. In the last seven years, income from individual giving has grown from £250k/year to a projected £2.5 million for the year 2023-2024.   
Excellent stewardship is another ‘basic’, which is proving very effective. Their donor base currently stands at 48,000 — double what it was at the start of their transformation — and their most recent survey showed 99.6% of supporters surveyed were proud/very proud to support the charity.   
“We recognise the cost of recruiting a new donor,” says McAndrew, “so it’s vital we nurture and manage relationships. We thank new donors promptly. We engage them in our appeals and we send them our twice-yearly impact report, The Joy You Give. Our promise is to keep joy alive, even in the face of death. We want our donors to enjoy the experience of giving and understand the impact of their generosity — how their gifts have a real effect on families.” Within their first year of offering support, donors receive a wooden magnet of their initial in the CHAS alphabet, further bringing the children’s designs to life.  
CHAS has also adopted a one team, one target approach, meaning that teams do not work in silos. This has brought many benefits to the charity, including the ability to better recognise when individual donors might be better stewarded by another team. The individual giving team, for example, originally supported a donor who made regular monthly direct debits in addition to substantial one-off gifts. Further nurturing from the philanthropy team led to the individual increasing their monthly donations to a four-figure sum and introducing their network to CHAS. 

A charity first?

Other incredible opportunities have also presented themselves through this approach, such as a philanthropist gifting an events and conference centre and 133-acre estate to the charity to enable them to generate funds. McAndrew explains: “Part of the donor’s decision-making process to leave us this gift was that they trusted us as an organisation capable of absorbing such a gift into the charity.  We also had a vision to run the business commercially whilst retaining the unique spirit of Ardoch. 

CHAS uses the venue, Ardoch Loch Lomond, to host events, including weddings. In a first for any charity in the UK, as far as McAndrew is aware, they’re operating a profit-with-purpose exclusive use events venue, from which all profits go back to the charity.  
Despite the innovation behind this approach, McAndrew insists it is not about doing things differently, it is about doing the basics well. Looking at the figures, it is hard to argue. The development of CHAS’s ambition, No one should face the death of their child alone, led to 67% of supporters surveyed, saying that our ambition captured exactly why they chose to donate. The shared sense of purpose it created, along with the drive and spirit of their fundraising team saw CHAS surpassing its fundraising target by 37% in 2022-2023, a year that posed extreme external challenges, not least the cost-of-living crisis.

Inspiring supporters  

Still from CHAS TV advert featuring a child nearing end of life with his parents and being supported by CHAS Senior Charge Nurse Jane Carter
Still from CHAS TV advert featuring a child nearing end of life with his parents and being supported by CHAS Senior Charge Nurse Jane Carter.

Marketing and communications have been another key focus for CHAS. Last year, our team generated over 195 million opportunities to see the CHAS message through all media channels, including press digital and their TV campaign. In a nation with a population of 5 million, that’s extraordinary.  
“Inspiring people to be part of our mission and ambition is something we’ve honed in on,” says McAndrew. In 2020, we advertised on TV for the first time. The original TV creative aired over three years and 67% of those that saw it said they felt prompted to support the cause as a result. Fresh creative for TV launched in late 2023 and, as part of the wider Christmas appeal, saw the CHAS 2023 Christmas appeal being 17% ahead of where it was in fundraising terms compared with one year previous.

Remarkable results

Closing still from CHAS TV advert, with the charity's logo and a call to donate. It features a child nearing end of life with his parents and being supported by CHAS Senior Charge Nurse Jane Carter.
CHAS TV advert end screen, featuring a child nearing end of life with his parents and being supported by CHAS Senior Charge Nurse Jane Carter.

CHAS now scores ahead of almost all other major children’s charities for awareness in Scotland. The only other charity with better brand awareness is Children In Need. Brand awareness is not the only area that has experienced significant growth. Now (early 2024), the number of supporters who give annually has grown by 29% and the proportion of the population who are likely to consider leaving a legacy to the charity is 26%.  
Out of the 3 children who die in Scotland every week, CHAS is now able to reach more than 2, double the number the charity was reaching in 2016. “We remain committed to our ambition, No one should face the death their child alone,” says McAndrew. “And we mean no one. As we continue to grow, we want to achieve that ambition.”  
Looking at the remarkable growth CHAS has achieved over the past 7 years, there is no reason to doubt they will achieve that ambition.

Inspired by CHAS’s success?

Iain McAndrew gives his top five tips for charities looking to achieve growth:    

  1. Be crystal clear on the purpose and ambition of your charity.  
  2. Be laser-focused on communicating your messages in a way that resonates and is evocative.  
  3. Be bold in your messaging. In refusing to shy away from the fact that children die, we’re at the bolder end of the spectrum. It’s highly emotive and makes people stand up and listen.  
  4. Believe in your strategy. Once you’ve set your goals, be prepared to evolve and develop, but withstand the buffeting. Treat criticism as an opportunity to explain your stance. Our commitment to tell the truth was based on insight from families. Explaining that helps people understand and accept our strategic choices.   
  5. Put your supporters at the centre of all decision-making. Our whole basis of Keeping the joy alive is based on the tangible impact supporters make to families. Let them feel this joy.